|Garden Hills Elementary School, Champaign|
In addition to practicing my spoken Spanish, volunteering with SOAR has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of the achievement gap, as well as working with students from different backgrounds. The students that participate in SOAR are primarily from the bilingual program at Garden Hills Elementary and many of the come from low-income families. They perform at lower reading and math levels than most of their peers and many of them are trying to learn English at the same time. Some of the students have parents that speak little to no English themselves.
These differences can present several challenges—if the family has a lower income, the parents may have to work more and as a result, are around less to help the child with school work. Or, perhaps they are just learning or refining English and may struggle assisting the child. Sometimes these at-home challenges are mistaken for an environment in which the parents do not care. This is one of the biggest fallacies related to the achievement gap—it’s not that the parents in low income families don’t value the education of their child, but often they lack resources that inhibit them from being able to fully support the academic advancement of their child the same way a middle class family could.
Areas in which the majority of the population is low income frequently struggle maintaining teaching staff in their schools. Days are long and demanding and I'm sure it often seems as though there is no progress being made. For these reasons, among others, there are many regions in need of teachers. Teach for America is an organization that seeks to fill these vacancies. Next fall, I will be teaching science in a high school in Alabama with Teach for America. After tutoring with SOAR, I developed a strong desire to work in an educational environment. This is quite the change-- I entered my freshman year with the intention of one day attending medical school and absolutely no desire to teach. Through working with the students at SOAR, I have seen the difference that dedication and hard work can make in the lives of students. One of my friends tutors a student that was new to the program last year and the amount of progress this child has made in amazing. I never would have guessed that one person could have such a positive impact on another’s life, but I have seen it first hand through the student-tutor pairs. The students are always so excited to see the tutors and the tutors serve as positive role models in the students’ lives.
I hope to take this experience and create a similar environment in my classroom. I know that teaching will be challenging—not every day will be a good day and there will be times when I will feel like I’m not making a difference. But with perseverance and the right attitude, I know I will succeed in helping my students.