November 16, 2017
DC AmeriCorps member uses personal experiences to pass on love of reading
Alima Shaw is a senior AmeriCorps site coordinator with Reading Partners at Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC. While growing up in DC, Alima moved around a lot with her mother and younger brother. As a single mother, her mom strived to ensure Alima went to a good school and always stressed the importance of education. Coming to DC from Sierra Leone, she hadn’t had as many opportunities as Alima would have, and always said, “As an American, you can be or do anything you want in life.”
To encourage her to take advantage of all of these opportunities, Alima’s mother always reminded her that she was smart and could do great things if she took advantage of the education available to her. Alima was greatly impacted by the teachings of her mother, and as a result became a child who loved reading so much that she would often read books during bedtime with a flashlight.
After graduating and starting college, however, Alima became disillusioned with the idea of pursuing an education, because it seemed too expensive for a kid from a low-income background with average grades. Led by these fears, she dropped out and decided to look for opportunities to work with her community.
It wasn’t until I got into AmeriCorps that I realized how many children in DC were just like me — always moving and never able to hold on to anything.
As a Reading Partners AmeriCorps member, Alima has been able to work with kids growing up in environments just like hers as a child. One child specifically, a fourth-grader who was first enrolled reading at a second-grade level called Michael*, had a profound impact on Alima.
When Michael first started visiting the reading center, he was exhausted with school and would try to get Alima to do anything other than reading. After working through some lessons, he started to get more comfortable and even excited about reading. Alima would talk to him about his weekend and his home life, and they gradually became more familiar with each other as humans and readers. By the middle of the school year, he was making steady progress and wanted to come to the center even when he wasn’t scheduled to. By the end of the year, after all of their hard work, he had caught up and was reading at a fifth-grade level!
”As I was assessing him,” Alima said, ”even I was surprised to see the tremendous growth of this previously unengaged and disinterested fourth-grader. Reading Partners had ignited a spark. He saw his world in a different way through reading. He was an expert at making inferences and understanding the author’s message. He was more interested in the books we were reading and had no problem getting right to the lesson without much coaxing.”
During that same year, Alima decided she wanted to go back to college. ”Serving as an AmeriCorps member with Reading Partners helped me figure out that I want to continue working in schools or with children. I went back to school this semester to finish my Bachelor of Arts in sociology.”
Reading Partners unlocked the potential in Alima, who is now on the path to getting the education her mom always emphasized, but also in Michael, who is still on grade level and hasn’t stopped bugging Alima about coming to the reading center even though he is no longer eligible for Reading Partners’ program.
”I love being able to give students like Michael that valuable one-on-one time,” says Alima. ”If I can make sure that just one child keeps that love of reading all through high school, I’ll have done my service.”
*Name has been changed.