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Life as a City Year AmeriCorps Member During COVID-19


As the health pandemic that is COVID-19 has come in and disrupted the first half 2020 for the entire global community, AmeriCorps members are finding themselves getting acclimated to a new and unexpected normal — virtual service. 

No matter how you look at it, supporting students via internet and screen sharing is no comparison to Power Greeting them in-person (with smiles and hugs of course!) or sitting beside them inside a classroom while working through math problems. 

I Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye to my Kids 

“I think for a while I was in shock that this is where the service year ended up,” shares Elizabeth Balch-Crystal, a first-year AmeriCorps member. “Especially when we didn’t know for sure if we were going back. The hardest part for me is that I didn’t say goodbye to my kids. They were in the middle of a lesson and I thought we’d be back in two weeks, so I just slipped out. I’m hoping I can come back and say hi or something.” 

While students across the city get set-up with virtual learning provided by the Philadelphia School District, in-person service for City Year Philly’s corps has been paused. In the interim, corps members have continued accumulating service hours through virtual learning. For some, this has been enjoyable as they’ve found the podcasts, learning materials, and time focused on their Leadership After City Year plans both helpful and informative. For others, let’s just say it hasn’t been the most popular part of the service year. 

Still, if there’s one thing City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps members all agree on, it’s this: they miss their students!  

I really miss one little girl,” says Balch-Crystal. “She’s so sweet and so cute. She’s on both my math and literacy intervention lists and she’s so committed to learning. One of the issues I ran into with other students on my focus list is that — for various reasons beyond their control — they weren’t as eager to learn. But with this student, she just wants the material so much. She just wants to participate and wants to grow.” 

Missing Students’ Perspectives 

For Ayela McDonald, not one, but a group of students comes to mind for her. “There’s a core group of five kids whose personalities are very strong and very apparent. Some of them I’ve been able to work with one-on-one or in small groups, but a lot of them I’ve gotten to know just through general classroom support. They’re interesting characters and it was always great to experience that space with them and see how their minds work.” 

The oh-so-unique perspectives that students bring are what Aeja Spence is missing most about service as well. “I miss having conversations with them. I sat in on my kids’ social studies classes a lot and right before we left, they were talking about the death penalty and laws around that. Then they hear and read things in the news and they form their own opinions on it. It was fun to hear their perspectives at a young age.”  

Adjusting to a New, Virtual World 

Due to physical distancing and time away from their students, it’s been a challenging transition for corps members for sure. “It’s been difficult with all the virtual stuff,” shares Spence who joined CYP in January as a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member. “I’m used to more hands-on and I was just getting used to my kids and doing interventions when all this started. It’s difficult to adapt to it all, but I’ve been working through it with support of my whole team and some of the other midyears I keep in contact with. 

Still, Spence and others express appreciation toward City Year for being as transparent and supportive as possible.  

“I think they’re doing a really amazing job of keeping us connected with everything going on. My email just blows up every day because they want to make sure everything is open and on the table for us and that we’re connected with resources to support ourselves during this crazy time,” says Spence. 

As ACMs await being reconnected with their students and school partners, it hasn’t been without a little fun sprinkled in. Head over to @CityYearPhilly on Instagram and Twitter to check out City Year Philly’s Red Jacket Edition of the #dontrushchallenge and other fun activities. 

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