by Hillary Sanfillippo
After volunteering this past Monday at Leal Elementary School, I couldn’t help but think how grateful I am for being able to work with the same students as I had the semester prior. Along with providing continuity for these children, re-connecting with my previous students has been very gratifying. I remember being fearful last semester that I would not see these children who have impacted my life so much in the coming years, however I have been able to see them on a weekly basis this semester. I enjoy when the children share their favorite memories with me, because it reminds me that I have made a difference. One girl who I particularly helped last semester approached me last week regarding a personalized bookmark I made for her and each of her classmates as a farewell gift on my final volunteering day. She motioned for me to come forward and asked if I remembered giving it to her. When I nodded my head, she grinned and whispered, “I still have it!” It was the most adorable interaction I have had with the students! Several weeks later, another boy approached me, letting me know that he too still used his bookmark. It is gratifying to hear these students share their memories that we have had together from the previous semester because it makes my volunteering in their classroom this semester that much more comfortable.
Since I will be a bilingual Spanish 2nd grade teacher in the future, I have taken to heart the experiences that I have had at Leal. I have learned a lot through volunteering in classrooms with Spanish-speaking children. First and foremost, my Spanish has significantly improved. I have expanded my vocabulary and am able to conjugate most verbs in conversation without hesitation. I am appreciative of any experience that will better my Spanish because I plan to use and practice it for the rest of my life. Secondly, I am more aware of how Spanish-speaking children cooperate while submersed in an English-speaking classroom. I was surprised to see these children interact with English-speaking children very well, and the classroom teacher informed me that sometimes this has not always been the case with other classrooms she has taught in the past. Thirdly, I can see how developing a relationship with a student can foster educational growth. The children who I have worked with last year have installed more trust in me and are more comfortable around me than the English-speaking children that I have not spent as much time working with. I believe that it is important to enforce student-centered teaching rather than concept-centered teaching; therefore this directly enforces my teaching beliefs. As a whole, the opportunity of volunteering at Leal has helped me grow as a teacher and as a person. I will carry these experiences with me as I continue my college education and embark into the workforce. I wish only the best for the students at Leal and hope to volunteer once again next semester.