February 14, 2022
Serving during COVID-19: Reflections from an AmeriCorps member
I dreamed of being an AmeriCorps member since I was a tutor with Reading Partners during my first year of college. I did not anticipate eventually serving from my living room.
Now, I am a senior AmeriCorps member serving my second term. Last year, my Reading Partners laptop was covered in sticky notes of quotes from students, notes from trainings, and reminders of why I serve. As I sat on my couch or stood at my kitchen counter, these sticky notes helped me stay sane and grounded.
A service term can be unexpected, but ultimately unforgettable and fulfilling. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the experience of serving as an AmeriCorps member with Reading Partners. Last year, in the D.C. region, we served entirely remotely. This meant that creating relationships with students had to be more intentional. Forming bonds with teachers was also a challenge. The balance between work and life was confusing, since we were serving from our couches and kitchens. I wondered how I could do my best work at home while serving during COVID.
Setting intentions and taking breaks
Nonetheless, virtual service has its benefits. One huge benefit was that the possibility of creating self-care time throughout the day was more within reach. Knitting or crocheting during meetings, taking lunchtime walks, and chatting with my housemates in between tasks all helped me stay grounded.
We also had to be more intentional with how we formed relationships, it was a priority of mine to set aside time for lengthy conversations with families, tutors, and teachers alike. My school partner and I had daily Zoom meetings to talk about our priorities for the day, which helped us both start our day on the right note.
Transitioning to hybrid tutoring
Nevertheless, I’d always hoped to serve in person, so I stayed on for a second AmeriCorps term and had the opportunity to lend my expertise to a new school. While this year is closer to a traditional service year with Reading Partners, our program continues to be impacted by the pandemic. COVID is a looming threat; student quarantines, PPE, and outbreaks are all top of mind for educators across the country.
Learning how to work in-person again was a definite transition! The hustle and bustle of being in a school makes the early wakeups and long commute feel worthwhile. At Simon Elementary, where I currently serve, we have a hybrid tutoring program, where students are physically in the reading center and meeting with their tutors on Zoom. I get to see students laugh and draw on white boards and see their real-time reactions to their tutors. Being in-person makes this feel one step closer to a typical program year.
Working in schools is ultimately a wonderful experience, and what many AmeriCorps members came to Reading Partners to do. Relationship building is different than it was last year: now a “hello” in the hallway can easily start a conversation. When walking students to and from the reading center, we get to enjoy precious quality time to get to know each other. I have the opportunity to pilot our group tutoring program, as well, which has so far created a laughter-filled dynamic that could only exist in a physical classroom.
As I sanitize the center in between tutoring sessions, I feel so grateful for the opportunity to serve in a wonderful community of students and teachers. As an AmeriCorps member serving during COVID, I have learned above all, to appreciate the small moments with students that make each challenge feel worth it.
If you’re interested in learning more about AmeriCorps service, click here.