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How AmeriCorps Helps Students in the Classroom

By Johnson Ho, City Year Jacksonville AmeriCorps member

In 90 of the largest 95 U.S. cities, students of color are more likely to attend schools with mostly poor or low-income peers than their white counterparts, according to a recent story from The Atlantic. This inspires me to serve as a City Year Jacksonville AmeriCorps member. I believe that every child and community deserves to be successful, regardless of their socio-economic status or their ZIP code.

City Year brings talented young adults, like myself, together and prepares us to serve in teams across the country, at high-need schools. My teammates and I provide academic support and mentorship to students through one-on-one and small group interventions. 

On a day-to-day basis, it sometimes can be difficult to tell if I am making a difference through the interactions with my students. Improvement doesn’t happen over night. Success comes in little wins, like it did with one student whom I will refer to as Z. During my first week of service in a 3rd-grade English Language Arts classroom, I didn’t really notice Z because he was very quiet and well-behaved. But the second week Z started to become the center of attention in the classroom by talking loudly and disrupting others. I started noticing that Z acted out when he felt frustrated or uninterested in academic work. As a result, his grades were dropping. 

Quickly, I supported him with one-on-one behavior interventions during class time and during lunch time. We talked about modeling positive leadership, how to manage his feelings of frustration and disappointment, and how to express his feelings verbally rather than by acting out in class. 

When Z and I worked one-on-one, he could focus on his work without any distractions. Despite some “bad days” Z started making progress. Through this persistence (both his and mine!), the little goals started to add up and I began to recognize patterns of success. The day that report cards were given to students, Z ran up to me and showed me his grades; he made the A/B honor roll list for the first quarter! At that moment, I knew that I was making a difference in his life, helping build his literacy skills, giving him more challenging work even after we’re done with the homework my partner teacher assigned and helping Z stay accountable for holding respectful values throughout the day with others. As my service year continues, I am thrilled to continuously build a stronger relationship with Z and other students like him. 

One day, while I was strolling through Treaty Oak Park in Jacksonville, I noticed the quote, “Never doubt that a small of group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This quote by Margaret Mead resonated with me because of the amazing experience I am having on my City Year team. We embody the diversity, unity, collaboration, and idealism needed to achieve our goals for our school, students and City Year as a whole – and it’s inspiring to know my teammates are supporting their own students and AmeriCorps members across the country are making an impact every day. Even through the difficult moments, such as the challenges I faced connecting with Z and other students at first, my team constantly uplifts me to strive for more and bring me back into perspective of why I serve. 

Johnson Ho is a native of Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated from Terry Parker High School and the University of North Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a concentration in child development. Johnson also interned at Head Start and a local afterschool program, which led him to pursue the field of education and become a City Year AmeriCorps member. Johnson’s favorite thing about Jacksonville is the Riverside area, where he frequents the amazing restaurants and socializes with the friendly locals. Johnson’s goal this school year is to help students by instilling confidence, encouraging hard work, and bringing smiles to faces! After City Year, Johnson will serve as an Urban Teacher in Washington D.C. for the next four years, continuing his passion for educational equity.