This blog post was written by Erica Weilein, AmeriCorps member serving at Orr Academy High School
“Ms. Erica, can you do me a favor?” It was this seemingly innocuous question about two months into my service that came to represent my time at City Year and pushed me through the difficult moments to come. A student I had been tutoring after school every week needed help. This was nothing new. What the student wanted, however, was. His friend had gotten in an accident, and he wanted to get him a “Get Well” card. The problem was that my student had no idea where to buy such a card and no one to buy one for him. He turned to me because he trusted me to be there for him when he needed it. This moment solidified the role of a City Year AmeriCorps Member for me. I am not just here to teach my students; I am here to be a mentor, a role model, and to create a safe environment for them to learn.
Ms. Weilein goes over an English assignment with some of her students at Orr Academy High School
City Year was something I never saw myself doing. I never wanted to be a teacher. My whole life I have wanted to be a doctor, and I have recently been accepted to medical school. It was this career choice that actually led me to City Year. As an undergraduate, I volunteered as a tutor at Lurie Children’s Hospital. I had wanted to get experience in a hospital setting, and tutoring is where the hospital needed volunteers. Though my placing there was coincidental, I grew to love my position as I had the opportunity to help in-patients who didn’t get the chance for normal schooling.
As I neared the end of my undergraduate career, I began to realize that I wanted to take a break before continuing on to further schooling. A friend of mine told me about the program she was doing. It was called City Year. It was a culturally-rich education program where she wore a uniform, complete with red jacket, every day. It sounded like nothing I had imagined doing; thus, I was intrigued and applied.
When I began training this past August, I had no idea what to expect. The month before school started was filled with sessions on how to fulfill our role in the classroom. I started the first day thinking I was going to help my students improve in their English class. And, at face value, that is what I do every day. However, as the year went on, my role grew as well. My students don’t see me as just someone who supports their teacher; they see someone who they can come to with problems and who is constantly on their side. City Year pushes me to give all of myself every day. My students have big goals and a long road ahead of them. Through the skills I have gained this year and the relationships I have fostered, I am helping them achieve the most essential of those goals: high school graduation.
Erica and the rest of the Get IN Chicago team at Orr Academy High School!