By: Christina Huber, AmeriCorps VISTA, Tutoring Coordinator for St. Paul Public Schools Foundation
After four years of studying English Literature and History, I was ready for a break from the hallowed halls of academia. I wanted to get my nose out of textbooks and away from centuries-old volumes of poetry. I wanted to get my hands dirty; to make an impact on the world. I also wanted to come home to Minnesota.
After a lot of research (I was an English major after all), I decided to apply for AmeriCorps VISTA positions in St. Paul. After several interviews and a bit of nail-biting I was offered the role of Tutoring Coordinator with the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Now, nearly eleven months into my term of service, I am still just as excited to go to work each morning as I was on that first day after PSO (Pre-Service Orientation). Though I serve with a cohort of VISTAs who are all sponsored by the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation, I spend most of my time at Crossroads Elementary School in St. Paul’s North End neighborhood. At Crossroads I coordinate a tutoring program that helps students in kindergarten through sixth grade improve their reading and math skills. It is my job to recruit, train and coordinate a team of fabulous volunteer tutors who give their best to Crossroads students each and every week. Of course, I’ve also had many opportunities to connect with students and staff throughout the year—who knew the best part of my day would be supervising 5th grade crossing guards?
My term of service has, at times, been difficult, challenging and even a bit overwhelming, but it has never been dull. I have seen students who were struggling to understand basic phonics begin to read fluently. I have had the privilege of coordinating an amazing group of volunteers and meeting some incredibly talented VISTAs. I also began to understand what it feels like to step outside of my comfort zone to participate in something larger than myself. I am unspeakably grateful for these life lessons and, as I begin to wrap up my term of service, I can’t help but wonder who has learned more during this year of tutoring—the students, or me?
Pictured are Kimbra Kosak (Crossroads Elementary Reading Corps), Christina Huber (Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation VISTA), Kristina Mandell (Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation VISTA), Melissa Mahn (Crossroads Elementary Reading Corps), who together helped build a playground for Crossroads Elementary School last fall.
By: Kristina Mandell, AmeriCorps VISTA, School-Based Tutoring Coordinator for the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation
The school day ends smoothly, a rarity in a building filled with nearly 900 adolescents. The hallways are empty, but the classrooms are filled with students fixed on the clock, eagerly awaiting the bell to announce their freedom. However, many don’t even notice the time; they’re enjoying their reading time with their volunteer tutor. Their fingers move along the page as they are transported to a world of fantasies, and the volunteers encourage them to dig deeper still. Classrooms throughout the building are able to engage their students through the use of volunteers, members of the community who devote an hour of their time for these students.
When I began my work this fall, I was determined to get as many well-trained tutors into the building as possible, for the sake of the many kids falling behind. Saint Paul Public Schools enrolls over 38,000 students each fall, 18,000 of which are not proficient in reading or math. I was charged with strengthening a program to fight these discrepancies and open the door to achievement. I would change the face of the school through my efforts and an effective volunteer base, but little did I know the change that would happen within me. My efforts will not stop here, as I have discovered a passion for a lifetime of working with student success.
When I was getting close to graduating from college, my main requirement for a job was that it made an impact on the community. After interviewing for the tutoring coordinator position in the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation VISTA program, I knew the meager pay was something I could deal with for this kind of opportunity. Little did I know just how great the opportunity was, surrounded by many like-minded activists who stumbled into it much like myself. Now, a couple months from the end of my service, I look back with absolutely no regrets.
Some days I think I’ve made more gains than I could have even wished for the students. This position, and national service in general, has bettered my perspective. In no way can I do justice to the incredible spectrum of student needs in St. Paul. Nevertheless, I am beginning to understand my own experience with them; both my students and volunteers have taught me valuable things. I learned that just listening to others can instill in you the greatest wisdom. I learned that every situation is a chance to make a change. I learned that things don’t have to go your way for you to know that they’re going. I continue to learn, and it’s the greatest gift from my year with AmeriCorps.