Wendy - Early Learning Tutor impacts lives every day

How AmeriCorps Service Transforms Lives

Wendy is a Lead Early Learning Tutor serving in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She joined Early Learning Corps in 2022, after life threw her a few tough curveballs. Serving preschool students for two school years has changed her life and her perspective entirely. Keep reading to hear Wendy in her own words tell her story and learn how AmeriCorps transforms lives. 

Life Before

2020 threw everyone for a loop, but we often forget that ordinary—and not so ordinary­­—life events carried on during the COVID shut down: babies were born, people died. My partner, Jim, had a massive seizure just a week before COVID took over. After going through a health security check and receiving masks, we were the only ones sitting in the massive waiting room of the Gonda building at Mayo Clinic. A neuro-oncologist showed us Jim’s MRI images on a computer screen. The tumors lit the gray masses like fireworks and white shadows.  

I spent the next five months in a perpetual state of vigilance, nursing Jim by myself at home. By the end of his life, Jim needed 24/7 supervisory nursing care. I left my full-time teaching position at a nearby community college. I administered a dizzying array of medications and drove him to and from numerous radiology, clinic, and ER visits—none of which I could attend with him because of the virus. It was like sending a child into the dark forest, hoping the woodsman would find him before the wolf did. Jim passed away in August 2020, not even six months after the seizure. 

Joining Early Learning Corps

After his death, I tried teaching again. It was now all online, and enrollment had declined significantly. Many of my students had children who needed constant parental supervision. Coursework for parents was not an option. I hung onto teaching one or two courses a semester, but ultimately, it became clear that I could not sustain myself financially. I left the community college position entirely. In the aftermath of losing my partner and my job, I looked for my next step and applied to AmeriCorps.  

It was the best decision I ever made for my financial stability and mental health. 

What began as a quick Band-Aid extended to a two-year journey into stability, professional growth, and some of the most gratifying important service I’ve ever done. I became an Early Learning Corps tutor at an independent “High-5” pre-kindergarten classroom, in a building shared with a high school for pregnant teens and mothers. Our classroom draws from as far away as St. Paul, but it also serves children whose mothers are enrolled in the high school program.

What Service Looks Like

My days begin with greeting children with our “feelings song” to check in on their emotional wellbeing. Our interactions give them a foundational transition that includes affirmations and encouragement. Next, I assist with sign-in by guiding students to learn to write their names, practice their letters, and complete the morning routine.

My caseload is seven students, and as soon everyone is checked in, I begin intervention activities in numeracy and literacy skills. In their eyes, it’s just math games and reading stories. And we are having a darn fun time. But our play is very carefully researched and structured to provide deep learning: it’s a scaffolding of skills in numeracy and literacy that will give them a successful start in kindergarten. I can see it in my kids’ broad smiles and wide eyes: the pride and joy of learning, deciphering, and knowing how to use new skills. Throughout the year, I also watch their assessment scores go up and their confidence grow. 

No less important than academic skills, they develop a critical relationship with me. Children learn that I am one of the safe and trusted adults in their life who will watch out for them, believe in them, and love them unconditionally. I cannot think of a more critical and important contribution to their growth and development as kids and future adults. 

What Service Means

Like the children I tutor, I also needed stability. I needed to be surrounded by people who believed in me, gave me excellent learning opportunities, and a chance to shine, to be my best, true self. Isn’t that what we as human beings all need, especially in times of transition? 

Everyone who serves in AmeriCorps does so knowing that it is a temporary assignment because members may only serve a maximum of four years. Some members will go on to become educational assistants or teachers. Some become social workers or therapists. Others apply their skills to being better parents or grandparents as they pursue other work.  

The primary focus for AmeriCorps is the impact it has on the people and communities it serves. However, I cannot stress enough how the program is also transformational for everyone who engages as a service member. It seems my whole life has been building to this point in preparation to answer this calling. 

It doesn’t take a pandemic or a life partner’s death for AmeriCorps to illuminate a path out of the darkness and into the beautiful light of humanity. There are as many reasons to join AmeriCorps as there are service members. But one thing we all have in common is its ability to change the lives of people in our community while profoundly impacting our own. 

Where to Apply

Interested in being like Wendy and making an impact on the lives of students in your community? Apply today at join.readingandmath.org. We have opportunities to tutor across the country in reading, math and early learning.

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