by Claire Cooper
In my AmeriCorps position with the Center for Refugees and Immigrants Tennessee, I enjoy the opportunity to mentor and tutor students in the Refugee and Immigrant Student Enrichment afterschool program at Apollo Middle School. Our students come from diverse national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Through my role as an AmeriCorps member, I support our students as they complete language and math related activities, their homework assignments, and a variety of enhancement activities such as art, cooking, sports, and music making.
For me, the most enjoyable moments usually come during our “book club days,” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when my group of young ladies delve into reading Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue. To begin with, students were responsible for brainstorming book options for the club and then they had to democratically narrow down the list. This small initial step of providing students more autonomy and an opportunity to direct their learning during RISE – an opportunity that is rare in the larger classrooms of the school-day - has clearly led to an increased and sustained excitement for this part of the day. Though we have been reading the story together for over a month, the students’ interest in the story and their investment in analyzing the book has only increased. The students initiate and sustain active discussions regarding the motivations of the characters and value differences evident in the dystopian world of the book, and they work together to evaluate the text. I’ve also been impressed by the way the students in lower grades strive to persevere reading the text that is above their level – something they may not be reliably exposed to elsewhere.