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.