Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I am writing this post from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi within the walls of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church where I am working in my second phase of AmeriCorps*NCCC. Before I delve into the Katrina restoration in this beautiful community on the coast, I need to take you back to my first project at Maple Elementary School in Sacramento, California. To understand where I am now, you must understand the effect my first project had on me and the pace it set for me before arriving in Mississippi. Let me take you back a few months to my first project as an AmeriCorps*NCCC member...

AmeriCorps*NCCC is arranged as a four-phase program in which you will complete four service projects during your 10-month commitment. A team-based program, you work with a 10-12 person team the entire time, completing projects in each of AmeriCorps' target areas: environment, education, disaster relief, and unmet human needs.

My team--the lively and diverse Blue 7--was first assigned to an education project at Maple Elementary School in South Sacramento. This initial assignment was met with mixed emotions--excitement to spend time working with children, disappointment to spend the next few months living on the same base where we had just spent the last month training.

(The first month in NCCC is called "Corps Training Institute" where all members are not only certified in CPR, First Aid, and Disaster Relief but also trained and groomed as leaders within the Corps...AKA most everyone is very excited for the month to end and project assignments --implying relocation--to be delivered.)

Mixed emotions aside, it was now our job to embrace the assignment and learn about the community in which we were to serve. In doing our research, the need became evident and initial feelings of disappointment began to fade as we learned that we would be working at a school that had been sanctioned so many times due to low test scores that teacher's salaries were now in jeopardy. We learned that with a school population of 70% Hispanic and 30% Asian, English was a second language for the vast majority of the school. We learned that crimes rates were high, incomes were low, and nearly every single student was on free government lunch due to welfare.

As the first AmeriCorps team to ever step foot within this low-scoring high-risk school, our responsibilities were to act as tutors and mentors to the children, each of us working in our own classroom. Our quantifiable goals were to help raise their reading & math test scores by 10-20% through 1 on 1 tutoring. Our intangible goals--the ones that ended up far surpassing the importance of the tangible test scores--were to act as role models for children who needed people to look up to.

Next post, day one at Maple Elementary and the many incredible days that followed :)

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