My Year of Service
August 9, 2017
Posted by: Shandor Tighe, JCL AmeriCorps VISTA Program Associate
As I sat in the office of Lakeshore Elementary School on Read Across America Day, I could not help but feel a bit nervous. Something about reading to a class of second graders for the first time can cause a little anxiety. However, when I went into the classroom, and the teacher handed me two books to read to the wide-eyed students, it surprised me how well everything went for the next half hour. The students behaved, they responded to the questions I asked them about the books and I only lost my spot once (due to an unforeseen coughing fit). At the end, the teacher asked me to come back anytime to help. I went into the experience apprehensive, but came out feeling incredible about directly serving the school. It also gave me a new view of my current role.
I am serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. JCL is a non-profit that places volunteer tutors at schools all over the Bay Area to work with kindergarten to third-grade students. The main goal of the program is to end childhood illiteracy through tutoring, parent workshops and book giveaways. Most of my time is spent building capacity for JCL by recruiting new tutors, helping plan trainings for them and walking them through the sometimes arduous volunteer clearance process for the school district where they hope to tutor. The only time I get to visit the school sites is when we host a parent workshop. Having the experience of reading aloud to a classroom gave me a better understanding of what JCL tutors do and a better appreciation for our overall impact.
I found out about JCL by accident. After I graduated last year from California State University, Chico, I started looking for a job as a filler before applying to a graduate school program. After about a month of no luck, I decided to google “volunteer opportunities” so I'd have something to do during the day instead of job applications and Netflix. One of the first results was a link to the AmeriCorps website where I found JCL’s posting. I applied and got the last available position for the year. I am very grateful to have randomly found JCL because it helped me narrow in on exactly what I want to do.
During my year of service, I have seen how JCL affects schools. The tutoring program gives students a role model, teachers a helping hand, and the volunteers a meaningful way to give back. In our East Bay program, which I help manage, we have 121 tutors working with over 242 students. With the help of JCL tutors, students improve their reading to reach grade level and our book giveaways help them expand their personal libraries. The parent workshops give parents tools to bring home to help their children become better readers. 'Reading at Home' and 'Preventing the Summer Slide' are just a couple of the topics we presented to parents. In the East Bay alone, we held twelve workshops for eight schools serving 170 parents. At these workshops, we donated 600 books to the families in attendance. All of this supplements what the teachers do in the classroom. It supports teachers who sometimes do not have enough time to focus on students who need a bit more help to reach their grade level in reading.
When I helped in the classroom on Read Across America Day, I realized that I wanted to continue working in a classroom. This is why I am applying to teacher residency programs next year where I hope to earn my teaching credential and a Master of Arts in Teaching. I have realized through my year of service with JCL that education is the career I want and teaching students is what I want to do.