AmeriCorps Works: Aly’s Story

K-3 Reading Corps tutor, Aly Raphael, sat down to talk to MDC Reading Corps staff in honor of AmeriCorps week 2015 to share her insights into how she has seen AmeriCorps work for her students and her career.

How has your service
benefited your students and your service site this year?

It’s really nice that this is the second year of Reading
Corps at my school, so they’re used to the program already and it’s growing
here. It’s nice coming into that knowing that the teachers have already seen
the data and know that the program works. They are really aware of both what
we’re doing and how important it is. We already have some of that background
and even as it grows into new schools, people are becoming more and more aware
of what the Reading Corps is.

On a personal note, this week I was out for a while and
visiting grad schools, and when I came back into the school, the kids are
running up and giving me hugs and smiles, and seeing their faces and seeing
that impact and knowing how much they missed me has been incredible. You see it
everyday, that you’re there for them – they know it, they’re expecting you,
they’re waiting at their doors like “Where’s Miss Aly?” You know, it feels good
for you and it feels good for them and the teachers are constantly coming up
saying, “I’ve seen this student’s data, and it’s really improved this year!” So
even when [a student score] is still a little bit below and you’re still
wanting it to be more – It’s always something and it’s always going to keep improving
and unless you do the work, it’s really never going to get to where it needs to

What have your
students taught you?

It’s so much. It’s definitely nice coming back in here and
really, for me, it’s just been insightful going back to my roots and going back
to the elementary school stage, seeing how people are learning how to read and
seeing the very beginnings of this process that is so often forgotten about. We
grow up and we think of reading as just a part of how we get by in life and how
we continue along. We don’t think about how hard it is to learn and really
seeing those processes and seeing how it is that students are creating those
values of reading and how much support they have at home and how much that
influences them. Things like that have been really really important. I’m interested
in theories of reading and how people are growing into readers and into
communities of readers and it’s such an important part of our society, that we
are able to pass on these lessons and pass on the ability to read, to become
useful, working, connected members of society.

Why is national
service important?

For me, I think a lot of it is that people get so bogged
down in the day-to-day life and saying, “Well, I do this and I’m always working
with the people around me and I’m just thinking on a ‘trying to get by’ level.”
We think about these larger problems and we think about all the things that we
wish we could change and we wish we could do, and so often we say, “Well, I
can’t do that. It’s too big. It’s above one individual to solve every problem
in the world.” And it’s true, but at the same time, you need this level of
commitment in a community, but also on a national level to be able to get anything
done. So I really like this kind of program, and it doesn’t just have to be
reading and literacy or educational gaps that you’re focusing on, it could be
anything, any huge problem. It could be hunger, or societies in general, fixing
cities, fixing any problem that you see, and unless you really focus on it,
both on the community and on the national level in this kind of large-scale
program, it’s never going to change. So this has really been a nice way to feel
like I’m helping out. I’m from DC and I really like being back here and being
able to help students that really need it, but at the same time, you know that
this is happening across the country. Reading Corps is spreading and Reading
Corps is going to be able to make that big difference in the end on a global
scale, hopefully, and really change that educational outlook.

What are your plans
after AmeriCorps? How do you see your year of service affecting your future

It’s exciting! I’m actually looking into grad schools now.
I’m going to continue into a PhD program in English Literature. I’m really
between two schools, but either way, I’m really excited. I’m studying a history
of reading and moving forward based on everything I’ve seen here and everything
I’ve learned in my past, looking into how we become readers and how those
systems of values change and how we can craft, not only the communities and the
values, but also just the systems for being able to become readers and being
able to think about how we read and what we read and why we read the way we
read. So this has been a wonderful experience, just going into that and being
able to think about future research topics and the different possibilities. I’m
really excited to get back into academia, to continue this question on a larger
playing field.

So far I’ve been out visiting with different professors
doing similar work and they’re also interested in both the childhood level and
looking into research strategies and how things are working in schools. So
having this inner knowledge, being in a school right now, and seeing the
processes themselves has been really really helpful towards that and knowing
that I’m going to be able to bring that experience to people who don’t
necessarily know exactly what’s happening in schools right now and how that’s
going to be able to play into modern day research. And this is growing field,
which is really exciting. It’s on the horizon; we always think about using
reading to study other things, but not necessarily reading to read for itself,
and not just for books studies and for history so much as for really looking at
the practices themselves and looking at how we can expand toward the future and
how to use the past to shape our future readers and the reading communities.