Jan 30, 2014

MLK Day: A Teach for America Perspective

Reflections on AmeriCorps’ MLK Day of Service
from Teach For America Teachers

In recognition of AmeriCorps’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of service, Teach For America corps members joined their AmeriCorps allies and community partners in service projects across the New Haven community. Below, two teachers reflect on what the experience meant to them.

Carrie Keena (Connecticut Corps ’13)
Served at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in New Haven
Apart from working with amazing students, one of my favorite aspects of being a Connecticut Teach For America corps member is being a part of the community outside of school.

There's no greater way to put my work into perspective than to go out and meet people in the area. In honor of Martin Luther King, a group of us got together on January 18 in New Haven to distribute VITA Free Tax Consultation flyers in parts of the community.  In addition to being able to spend quality time with some fellow teachers I hadn't seen in several months, we met up with New Haven citizens where they live, exchanging hellos and talking about braving the cold weather together – and about how nice it is that there is a service to help all of us out when it comes to those challenging tax forms!

The experience was one of bonding with the community and of feeling good about what I am doing. And that's really important when going back into the classroom and working with our Connecticut citizens first hand.

Lauren Koster (Connecticut Corps ’12)
Served at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History Events
“Welcome! Today is a free day! Here’s a program. Come on in!” This was my script as a greeter at the Yale Peabody Museum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an AmeriCorps volunteer and Teach For America corps member. This day off was not just a “day on” for the sake of service – every day in the life of an AmeriCorps member is a day on. There is always more to be done to help our kids succeed, to close the gap, to get just one step, even a millimeter closer, to the day when all students have access to an excellent education.

I was eager to serve. As a Yale alumna, I love heading back to my old stomping grounds, and I was looking forward to greeting children, and possibly even running into a few of my own students and their families as they came to the Peabody for a day of dinosaurs and drum performances, fossils and slam poetry, butterflies and free books.

As the day went on, I was struck by how incredibly exuberant everyone was despite a rather chaotic scene. Yes, the museum was crowded, and no, we could not give out more than one program per family because we had a limited supply and the end was in sight. A group of exceptionally enthusiastic three year olds were so overjoyed at my greeting that they all hugged my legs at the same time and I was certain that I would either topple over or pass out from the sheer cuteness of it all (I’m not a kid person so this is really saying something). I heard gasps and the exclamation, “Wow! Look at that squid hanging from the ceiling!” from more elementary school kids than I could count.

Seeing students outside of a classroom – in a completely voluntary learning – is a joy to teachers. It fills me with pride and hope to witness kids caring about learning for the sake of learning. I remember growing up with a love of sitting down with a book to know more about an alluring topic or heading to a museum to experience said topic first hand. My fear that children’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge has been satiated by shortcuts and social media was put to rest that day.

“Welcome! Come on in! It’s a free day at the Peabody. Enjoy your time here.” What a glorious day off…