By Raven Watkins, Senior AmeriCorps Member with City Year Tulsa
Coming into City Year, I wasn’t really sure how the students I worked with would accept me. After it was revealed that I would be working in a middle school I was very nervous.
The first day of school rolled around, and I became anxious. I was eager to start my journey of being a mentor and support system for kids, however finding a method of connecting to create relationships with them without them feeling like I was trying to invade their privacy made me a bit panicky.
When I found out that I would be serving in a school with a majority Hispanic student population, I realized being bilingual in Spanish could automatically take some anxiety off of creating relationships with students. Having this gift has opened many doors to building strong relationships with students, particularly those designated as “English language learners.”
A great and popular tool of connection has been journaling. Each kid we have had the opportunity to work with has received a journal from my City Year team.
When I first started giving journals out to students some of them were hesitant about the idea of using a journal to have conversation, or to vent frustrations. Some of the English language learning students I work with we have used it as a way to learn English words, and eventually using those individual words to form sentences.
Many of the English language learning students have gone from writing and translating “Hello. How are you?” to being able to use it in their speech. A lot of them have set a goal for themselves that by the end of the year, through practicing forming sentences in their journals, they will be able to write an entire essay in English without help from myself or Google translate.
They also want to improve their speech from only knowing how to say “Hello, how are you?” to answering that question or even holding full conversations in English. Our mission is to have the entire journal filled with words, sentences, phrases, anything they want to learn in English over the course of the school year.
One of my personal favorite progressions I have seen through this journaling method is in one of my students who understands English, but is too shy to speak it. Through journaling with me, they’ve gained the confidence to greet me in English every morning.
There are other students that like journaling and use it as an outlet to pour out their feelings or have dialogue with us. I keep all the journals in my possession and use it a form of connection and communication between my students and I. Anything that is drawn, jotted down, printed out and pasted, or scribbled in these journals stays between the journal, the students and myself.
Through journaling with my students, I have found that writing is a great way tool for helping them release anger or express difficult emotions, and it also can be a confidence builder. These experiences with my students warm my heart. Not only has the journaling method helped me connect to and create relationships with them, but it has also helped build an unexplainable level of trust with between us, which helps us improve their success inside and outside the classroom.