AmeriCorps Works: Kelly’s Story

K-3 Reading Corps tutor, Kelly Meany, 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.


(Photo by: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

What has been the most rewarding part of your service so far at your service site?

For me the best part about serving at my school with the Reading Corps is working with the kids – every day no matter how my day began I know that at some point someone’s going to make me laugh, make me happy, or make me feel like what I’m doing every day really
matters. They’ll say something that I’ve been trying to tell them for weeks,
like you know, they’ll be struggling with a page and they’ll pass it and I’ll say
“that’s amazing, I’m so happy” and
they’ll be like “you know why, it’s cuz I practiced!” because I always talk
about how important practicing is and trying their best and working hard even
when its difficult – so its moments like that where I’m like “I’m getting
through to them!”, it becomes something more than what I’m doing for their data
points and their reading skills its about the connections I’m making and
relationships I’m forming that are really rewarding. It’s causing me to change
the way I view everything in life. It’s making me a more grateful person and a
happier person that’s focused on the little moments of happiness and progress
and success throughout the day. I’m able to look at things through a kid’s
eyes…. I don’t know, it’s been amazing, they’re amazing, I’m so lucky.

In what ways have you grown as an educator
and as an individual through your Reading Corps service?

As an individual I’ve become more patient, I’ve
become more optimistic – I’ve always considered myself optimistic but this
program has made me more so in that now I believe that what I’m doing and what
I can do is making an actual difference for the kids I’m working with. And
that’s just because I’m seeing it happen, not even because of the data
necessarily, but because kids’ confidence every day when they come to see me –
it’s different. It’s made me more resilient as well, I have days when kids’
graphs don’t grow as quickly as I want and there are times when it catches up
to me, so I’ve had to learn to take it a day at a time and to think about what
I can do for my kids right NOW and not worry too much about where they’re going
to be in 3 years, which is hard to do. So it’s definitely made me be the type
of person who can bounce back from moments where I feel like I’m not really making
enough of a difference.  It’s also made
me grateful for the many, many gifts I’ve been given, for the education and the
family values that I have.

As an educator I’ve developed classroom management skills
that I’ve never had before, I’ve developed a command over setting boundaries
and expectations and following through with them. I’ve definitely been able to
learn what works with kids, obviously the program works, but also what works as
far as teaching character. Teaching that the struggle is the time they’re
really getting smarter because the brain is a muscle – I always talk about
that. Developing my own voice with the kids that is nurturing but also
commanding respect at the same time, that’s really going to help me in the
future. Knowing how to deal with conflict, like when kids don’t want to do
work, I now know how to respond to that.

Why is national service important?

Service is important because I’ve always
believed it’s not enough to just be good, you have to do good. I’ve been given
a lot, and when you’ve been dealt a good hand, you should be responsible for
giving back. If everyone started to value giving back and serving we could
really make a difference in the way America looks. Service makes you grow, you change
yourself and you affect change in the world and other people. There’s nothing
better than waking up every day and doing something that I believe changes
something and makes a difference, even if just to my 20 students. There’s
nothing that can compare to that and I think everyone should have that. It
would make the world a happier, more grateful place. Obviously not everyone
cares about education in the way that I do or the way that people in the
Reading Corps do, but there are a million ways that you can get involved and
serve, where people can feel like they’re making a difference in something they
believe in and I just think everyone should get a chance to do that for
themselves – not even just for what it does for other people.

You’re on to exciting things next year – tell
me more about your plans and what’s in store for you in the future.

I’m going to be a Capital Teaching Resident
with KIPP – I’m going to be a Kindergarten resident.  I’m so excited! It’s a year of teacher
training; it’s an alternate route. It’s a gradual release model, I’ll be
co-teaching for a year, which I love, so I can get support and learn from a
teacher who’s already really great, so I think it’ll make me the best teacher
that I can be. And that’s what I want to be for all these little babies. I’m
really excited to have my own classroom with another teacher where I have 20
students at once – I’m up for the challenge. Plus I think I have a good head
start with having done Reading Corps. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve already
started to develop a voice and attitude in front of kids.

KIPP’s values align with my values, for example they focus
on teaching character, and they have a different classroom management style
that I appreciate and I’m excited about. I visited the school I’m going to be
working at a few weeks ago and it made me really excited to be a part of it
next year.  It seems like everyone goes
above and beyond there and that’s the way I am, there’s basically nothing I
wouldn’t do for these kids if it made them better because I love them, and I’m
sure I’ll love my kids next year too.
So, I’m going to be a teacher, officially!