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Lessons learned from my students: Advocacy, joy and empathy

As AmeriCorps members, we educate and support our students in numerous ways throughout the school year. However, AmeriCorps members end their service years with countless takeaways and learning lessons from their remarkable and resilient students. Read this update on how students continue to leave a lasting impression on AmeriCorps members in the virtual space.

Lessons I learned from my students this school year

I initially was interested in serving with City Year because I felt that it would be an opportunity to uplift and encourage young folks in my community. I knew that this service year would present many challenges and that I would have to stay resilient and adaptable during this year of hardship and uncertainty. Like many other AmeriCorps members serving this school year, I had no idea what to expect from virtual service or how I would be able to connect with my students. However, the moments of virtual service that have been most unexpected are the moments when I found myself not only connecting with my students but learning essential life lessons from them that I will always carry with me. This year, my sixth graders have demonstrated how to advocate for themselves, taught me the importance of joy and laughter in the classroom and shown me how a little bit of empathy can go a long way.

The importance of advocating for yourself

As a student myself, I tended to be on the quieter and shy side. Being an advocate for myself and my needs has never come easily to me. I was definitely not the type of student who felt comfortable asking questions or asking for help when I needed it. However, many of my students this year have demonstrated and excelled in advocating for themselves and their education. At the beginning of the school year when I was a new face in the classroom, my students were not always enthusiastic about sharing their work with me for feedback. However, as I have become more involved in the classroom and trust has been built between myself and my students, there has been an incredible shift in students’ willingness to send me their work and accept feedback for improvement. They communicate when I’ve made a mistake or misspoken when material or directions are not clear and even about tech issues if I’ve forgotten to share my screen or audio.

The importance of joy and laughter

While my students are vocal about advocating for their education, they are just as vocal about letting their hilarious and joyful personalities shine through in the virtual classroom. I anticipated that due to being primarily virtual this service year, that I would miss out on some of the funny moments and jokes that occur naturally when you connect with young folks in the classroom. I am happy to say that I was completely wrong about that. So many laughs have been shared between myself, my partner teacher, and my students in our classroom. Logging in to work or school every day on a computer can feel repetitive and monotonous at times but my students have taught me to not let my joy and personality be stifled by a computer screen. As a quieter person, sometimes it can feel almost intimidating to communicate in the virtual realm because you have to physically unmute yourself or type in the chat, it makes it much easier to second guess yourself. Just as I have attempted to foster a strong sense of belonging and trust in the classroom that allows students to show up and express their authentic, silly selves, they have made me feel comfortable and inspired to do the same.

A little bit of empathy can go a long way

Although advocating for myself hasn’t always been an easy skill for me, being an active listener and demonstrating empathy has always come more naturally for me. One of the most meaningful ways I have been able to connect with my students is by simply listening to how they’re feeling and reacting from a place of understanding and empathy. Listening genuinely and responding in an accepting and supportive manner has allowed students to feel comfortable being vulnerable and truthful about how they are doing and feeling on a day-to-day basis with me.

My students are open and honest, and I feel so honored to have gained their trust and respect. They have really taught me how a little bit of empathy can go such a long way in making connections and building meaningful relationships.

I have so much appreciation and gratitude for my students and their readiness to show up every day and advocate for themselves, bring joy to our days and trust me with their openness and vulnerability. I am extremely excited to be able to transition to in-person service for the remainder of the school year and continue to learn from my students and grow with them.

Article written by Ava Masias, first-year City Year AmeriCorps member.

About the author: Ava Masias proudly serves as a first-year AmeriCorps member on the Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts Team. Ava is a proud alum of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre. When asked why she serves, Ava said, “I serve because I believe in the potential and power of young people and because every student deserves to have someone in their corner. I serve because I understand that to generate genuine change, we must start by serving our communities in the hopes that we will make strides towards dismantling discriminatory institutions and policies that affect young folks’ educational experiences.”

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