Traveling Together – The Road to Success
Interview with Allison
K-3 Reading Corps Member
Allison is a Lead Literacy Interventionist at Explorer Elementary, now serving in her second year. She began serving with MEC in January, 2020 but on-site service was abruptly halted in March, 2020. She completed her service term by volunteering at the North End Community Ministry food pantry. Even with all the uncertainties around what service would look like in 2020/21, there was never any doubt about applying for a second service year. Allison has a Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration and a Master’s Degree in Counseling. Allison previously worked in higher education (student activities assistant director; career advisor) and as a middle school media clerk (while raising her daughter) but has always had an interest in literacy. Other interests include hiking, biking, gardening, quilting, and rug hooking.
What initially inspired you to serve with Michigan Education Corps? I lived in Ann Arbor until 2019 and while there I volunteered with Washtenaw Literacy. I worked individually with an older adult who wanted to improve his reading ability. Additionally, I worked with small groups of adults who were working toward attaining their GED’s. I saw first-hand how challenging it is for individuals who have difficulties reading. And, I realized (probably for the first time) how difficult it must be for students to spend all day in school, a place where they may be experiencing little, if any, success. I gained an appreciation for how hard it is to get a GED, especially since a person may not have the academic background and/or skills to accomplish such a goal. So, when I saw the literacy interventionist opportunity, I jumped at the chance to help students who are facing reading challenges. My hope is that by helping students improve their reading skills, they’ll experience greater success in school and have more opportunities available to them.
What skills have you developed or strengthened during your service term? During my service term I have developed my ability to be flexible. While my daily schedule is consistent, every day can look different (student absences, school-wide programs, teachers scheduling tests, etc) so I have learned how to adapt. Additionally, when we unexpectedly went to remote learning, I had a day to learn all about Zoom and how to change my in-person lessons to remote lessons. Given that I don’t really consider myself to be tech-savvy, I surprised myself with my ability to make that change.
What brings you the most joy during your service days? There are so many little joys throughout the day. Sometimes it’s a student being able to say a letter sound they haven’t previously recognized. Sometimes it’s a student pronouncing an entire word that has challenged them. Sometimes it’s a student being able to read an entire blending word page in a session when it’s previously taken them days. A moment that stands out and always brings me joy is watching a student hop up out of his chair because he’s so excited to read with me. As much as each of these specific moments brings joy, what brings the greatest joy is seeing each of my students grow in their confidence. When I first started working with several of my students, I could barely hear them, they so lacked confidence. Now their voices are loud and clear, even when they encounter words they’re not sure of.
What strategies have you used to engage students and get them excited about Reading? I actually use the Road to Success sticker chart with the stars. Students receive a sticker on a daily basis if they are making an effort during our tutoring time. When a student reaches a star, they can select a reward of their choice – something small, usually a sticker sheet, an eraser, a pencil, or a P.O.W.E.R. ticket (which can be turned into their teacher for an opportunity for a bigger prize). Additionally, I try to find reading materials about areas of interest for each student as I’ve discovered that definitely increases their engagement. And of course, lots of consistent praise for their attempts at whatever they’re reading. A student feeling successful goes a long way toward their being engaged in their reading.
Has your service experience impacted you in unexpected ways? My service has definitely impacted me in unexpected ways. I never thought I would grow so attached to each of my learners. When school was so abruptly halted in March, 2020 I was devastated. That week many of my students had one box left on their Road to Success and they were all asking what was going to happen when they got to that box (on Friday, March 13). That day never came and I wasn’t able to reach my students. When I finally got to see some of them again this past September, I don’t know who was more excited – me or them (but I think it was me!).
How will you use your service experiences to achieve future goals? While my future goals are uncertain (mostly because I’m closer to retirement age than I like to admit), I know I’ll always be involved with literacy.
Is there anything else you want to share about your service experience? I have been so pleasantly surprised by how well MEC is embraced by the teachers with whom I work. On multiple occasions, prior to a student being teamed, I’ve been asked to provide feedback about the my experience with the student. I’ve also had several teachers tell me how pleased they are to be able to tell parents that a student is going to receive one-to-one tutoring with me. I never expected to feel like I’m part of the school’s team.
It is such an honor to get to work with these students and serve the Kentwood community.