Samantha Romano, Higher Achievement Program

My name is Sam Romano and I am majoring in CLEG (Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government) with a minor in International Relations. I am connecting CSLP to my Introduction to CLEG class, and I am currently volunteering for Higher Achievement’s Alexandria center as a mentor. As a mentor, I go to Hammond Middle School in Alexandria, VA once every Monday from 5:45pm-7:30pm.

At the center, I teach a small group of two fifth grade students lessons in English Language Arts. Our lessons mostly focus around social justice with a consistent theme of “voice.” Higher Achievement chose the voice theme as a tool of empowerment for fifth grade scholars. It is about encouraging and allowing students to know that it is okay to use their voice to take action against social injustice, and many other issues.

Due to the fact that scholars have a whole school day, after-school activities, and then they go to Higher Achievement, my expectations for my scholars were that they would be engaged in the lessons; however, they might be very tired and not as focused as they would be at an earlier time of the day. I also expected for my scholars to be respectful and contribute ideas as more as a small group, instead of as individual ideas.

My expectations have been exceeded in every sense of the word. My scholars, even after having the long work day they have, are fully engaged in the lesson plans. They contribute so many ideas and make so many connections that I did not think they would make. They are some of the most mature fifth-graders I have ever met. They also have a very strong sense of individuality. Instead of thinking as a small group, they both make their own independent connections and state their own thoughts and beliefs instead of simply saying, “No, I agree with him.” While, yes they may definitely agree with each other on certain things, they are not afraid to also contribute a different thought or example as well as saying they agree. They seem to really have a good grasp on the material.

My scholars also go above and beyond in demonstrating that they really want to learn. For example, they always want to read the readings out-loud instead of having me read them. If they don’t understand something or want to delve deeper into a topic, they are not afraid to ask questions. When I ask them to make one connection or come up with one example, they come up with three. They are an absolute pleasure to teach, and I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with such amazing scholars.

In conclusion, my biggest takeaway from this volunteer work is that every student deserves an equal shot at a proper education, and that every student holds potential to learn. Watching students get excited about learning and engaged in the teachings is one of the most wonderful things I have ever been a part of.

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