By Samantha Schnell, AmeriCorps member serving on the Westfield Capital Management Team at Neighborhood House Charter School.
Note: For the remainder of the summer, posts will be published on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The publication schedule will return to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the beginning of August, when the 2012 – 2013 corps arrive.
At the Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS), City Year Course Coaching is a time for doing homework. When the clock strikes 3:20pm, cell phones are put away, and out come binders, planners and homework folders. For the next hour, students and City Year corps members are one-track-minded: finish that worksheet, study those terms, pull those grades up. The goal of Course Coaching is clear: corps members will help students reach their full potential as scholars by providing them with academic support and motivating them to stay organized and focused.
My ten months of service at NHCS have come to a close, and my experience with Course Coaching surpassed my greatest expectations. As it turns out, my Course Coaching room is not only a place where homework gets done; it is a safe space where self-confidence grows and unlikely friendships are formed. Over the months, our room has been home to both laughter and tears; it has seen F’s become C’s and C’s become B’s.
Jenna’s list of goals for the year; she has made incredible progress in all three areas.
At the beginning of the year, the 5th-grade students* in my Course Coaching group seemed to have nothing in common. I used to doubt that Jenna and Keon would ever get along; the former is a shy girl who loves drawing fantastical creatures and listening to country music while the latter is a mischievous boy who has read every book in the Captain Underpants series and longs to be part of the popular crowd. Coming from different groups of friends and different sets of interests, they would eye each other with suspicion, barely exchanging more than a few words. Now, I often see them huddled around the same desk; Jenna always helps Keon with his illustrations when their homework requires an artistic component, and Keon regularly brings Jenna a snack when he returns from his daily trip to the cafeteria. They even teamed up to play a prank on me in honor of April Fool’s Day; upon arriving to Course Coaching, I was greeted by bigger smiles than usual. “We have a special surprise for you,” they said, moments before I sat down on a stealthily planted whoopee cushion.
To my great pride and delight, Jenna made honor roll for the first time this year. This is a huge accomplishment for any student, let alone one who used to say, “I’m fine with C’s; I don’t think I can do better than that.” Keon still has a ways to go before making honor roll, but his attitude and self-confidence have grown leaps and bounds this year. At the beginning of the year, he used to cry and beg me to let him go home. I’ll never forget the first day that he asked me to stay late so that I could help him work on his revisions (at NHCS, students are allowed to revise assignments that they have failed). Before leaving, he even thanked me for my help; coming from a student who used to look the other way when I said “hello” or “goodbye,” this meant a lot.
Course Coaching doesn’t always run perfectly smoothly. Since April 1st, Keon’s whoopee cushion has made a second appearance, and Jenna still tells me that she isn’t entirely sure that she is smart enough to make straight A’s. Despite our ups and downs, I still look forward to Course Coaching every day. On most days, as we pack up our books and unwrap our warheads (this particular candy, favored by all of us, has become our end-of-the-day reward), the room is filled with a sense of triumph, camaraderie and, at least on my end, love. I would gladly sit on a whoopee cushion any day if it means that I get to spend time with students like Jenna and Keon.
*Students’ names and grades have been changed for privacy.