Training to make a difference
Rachel Emmer goes through a training exercise with another AmeriCorps member.
"I felt like I wasn't happy and wanted to do something more than 'Pimp My Ride' (a popular MTV program)," Emmer said. "AmeriCorps planted the seed and now my urge to do something for the community is being realized. Tutoring is more than helping children to read and write, it's passing along the joys of schooling which will stay with them beyond their education."
During her year with AmeriCorps, Emmer will earn a stipend of $900 a month and at the end will receive an education award of $4,700 for college expenses. She and the other 52 members in Bakersfield, Delano, Lamont and Wasco-Buttonwillow-Lost Hills committed themselves to a year of tutoring and mentoring children and working on Kern County school safety, child abuse and child care issues. It will include some weekends, too, working on a variety of projects to improve the neighborhood environment for children.
They have sworn to be dedicated and to help them accomplish their year long goal, AmeriCorps provides weeks of intense training. Nov. 3, they learned from Wilma Anderson-Wright. She is no stranger to education and knows what they can expect. Anderson-Wright is a former counselor at West High School and now helps consult others who have chosen to walk down the education path.
"Actions speak louder than words," Anderson-Wright told her audience. "If I say something and don't mean it, my body language will reflect that."
Using PowerPoint presentations and lessons learned from her own experiences in education, Anderson-Wright conveyed some proven methods of teaching which will be very helpful for many of the AmeriCorps members, who will be tutoring for the first time. Sitting next to each other, Eduardo Chavira and Celia Martinez were busily taking notes and asking thoughtful questions to tap in on Anderson-Wright's years of instructional knowledge.
"Our job is help students to lift up their grades, Chavira said. "It will be up to us to make it fun so that they will have a better opportunity to learn, and there are many in our community that need that boost."
Martinez saw yet another important need for the AmeriCorps members.
"These kinds of programs were not available when I was younger," Martinez said. "This is very valuable because there are many children coming into the schools from Mexico that don't know English. We can take what we have learned to help them get up to speed really fast."
Anderson-Wright did not have anybody sleeping in this class. When she sends these AmeriCorps members out to tutor, Anderson-Wright wants to make sure they will be up to the task. One of her exercises had all the students line up on one line and if an experience she mentioned applied to them they were to cross the line. Examples of experiences included: "been to Washington, D.C," "lived in a foreign country," "will party at the drop of a hat," "have had a baby."
"Why did we do this, "Anderson-Wright asked the members. "To understand that we all have some things in common and that we can all learn from each other."
No stranger to this kind of training is AmeriCorps Program Manager Jeff Coomber. He recruits the members, implements their training schedule, oversees their progress and evaluates their performance, while always staying in touch with the goals of the national AmeriCorps program.
"The exercise today was part of our training to develop community leadership skills, to help out in neighborhoods where the members grew up," Coomber said. "Half of the focus is on tutoring and working with at-risk children. Then, we focus on community service, disaster preparedness and so on. When they leave AmeriCorps, we want our members to be well equipped to do whatever job they choose and remain helpful in their communities."
If you would like more information about AmeriCorps or are interested in becoming a member yourself, go the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Americorps web site, http://kcsos.kern.org/schcom/AmeriCorps.
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