Children, Youth and Families

Partners for After School Success (PASS)

What Members Say About PASS

Bridge Lake Point Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

Left foot, brown rock, I said sternly, knowing she would make it to the top.

Throwing her head and arms back for dramatic effect, Dayja yells, Ms. Kim, I can't, I'm coming down! It's too hard.

No you're not. You can do this because you know what else is hard? At this point the student is rolling her eyes ready for another one of my lectures on accomplishing goals. Making the G.A.P. Award is difficult, but you worked so hard to improve your grades this quarter. Another hard thing is choosing to have a positive attitude, which you have also done. Want to know what's hard for me? Working with crazy teens everyday, but I love being here watching all of you achieve your goals. Now…left foot, brown rock, Dayja. There I stand after my little speech, cheering her on as she makes the choice to climb away, to the top.

That's my girl! Oh Ms. Kim, I can't do it, it's too hard, I say mockingly.

Ms. Kim, you crazy, Dayja says laughing. Big high fives are exchanged when she gets to the bottom of the rock wall and we discuss how overcoming challenges isn't always as hard as it seems.

I've worked in various capacities with teens and one thing that I've noticed is teen's false belief they can't accomplish a task, even the small ones. This fear of a challenge manifests greatly when climbing rock walls or ropes courses because an element of trust must exist and some teens have a mistrust of adults due to past experiences. However, with the encouragement of a team and the trust that comes from building a rapport with teens, the task always seems a little less out of reach. When one of our volunteers wrote a grant for our teens to be able to rock climb for free I was excited for the task ahead because I knew climbing to the top of a rock wall would show each of the teens at the BLW Center that when they set their mind to something they can accomplish any goal. Watching the teens climb for the first time and climb tough walls was an amazing experience. Each teen encouraged their peers and they knew I wasn't far behind to loudly shout out words of encouragement.

The student mentioned above has been struggling academically and behaviorally since the beginning of the school year so when she faced a challenge at the rock wall I was determined to have her prove to herself that she is capable of anything. Giving up was not an option, especially when she seemed to have been giving up on so many other tasks, so I talked her through each step until the top. It was a moment that her and I look back on as a building block for our relationship and for her continued growth.

AmeriCorps members and students at a library during Mayor's day.
Goodman Community Center
Madison, Wisconsin
tough, new, courageous bad language, ears covered, stop mentor, teacher, care
Meadowood Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

As a second term PASS AmeriCorps member I have learned more than I could have thought possible. I have risen to tasks that others have balked at and have excelled. I have also faced numerous conflicts that have forced me to grow and develop, not only as a youth worker, but as a person. As I reflect on the past year and a half I am forced to reflect on my first encounter with AmeriCorps.

I was deep into my search for jobs. It was the summer after graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I was determined to find employment that would not only be relevant to what I studied, but would also prepare me for the path to graduate school. It was pure chance that I stumbled upon the job listing for AmeriCorps. The description sounded ideal and so I applied without a second thought, totally oblivious to the journey that waited. Over the first year I experienced behaviors and people who pushed my patience to the very limit. I was called upon to make decisions that I had never before made and dealt with consequences that shook my resolve and tested my faith in myself. However, despite the hurdles I came out of the first year ready to begin another.

This year with AmeriCorps has been one of the most fruitful of my life. I have developed abilities that related to all manners of conflict resolution, grown in my confidence by leaps and bounds, and have learned to be truly flexible and ready for whatever life sends my way. The first few months of my second term started in much the same way as the first, however; this time we were all preparing for our biggest change, moving. In January we finally were able to move into the building next door and that has been one of the greatest successes of my time with AmeriCorps. With the move we were able to expand our programming, offer longer hours, provide more for adult participants, and even have time dedicated to high school students so that they were no longer outside causing issues and harassing neighborhood security patrol.

Overall, the time I have spent with AmeriCorps has been some of the best and most rewarding. I am grateful for everything I learned and all the experience I gained. I would absolutely recommend AmeriCorps as a career option for anyone aspiring to work with youth and families.

Sherman Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin

I was told over and over to apply for an AmeriCorps Pass position by a Pass member at the time. I just kept pushing it off and never looked at the application. Then one day she went into detail about what they do and how I would enjoy my time if I applied. After that conversation I just kept pondering about the job, and ended up applying just to see what would happen next. Soon enough I had a phone call letting me know that I was hired and when I would start. After starting I was overwhelmed by the joys of my students. All you hear when walking down the halls is, hey, Rory! It's an experience that will be hard to beat, simply because these kids are so intelligent, outgoing, and energetic. They are the innovators of tomorrow and every day I see them, you can see the gears turning in their heads.

This is an experience that will take you to infinity and beyond. You will do things you never thought you could do. You will see things you never have seen before. You will make ever lasting memories for you and the students you come across, whether you know it or not. YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. And that's the biggest thing you will appreciate when your time is done.

McFarland Youth Center
McFarland, Wisconsin

We've created a human program that works for veterans. There is no reason it can't work for civilians. Exactly, I said to myself as I sat reading an article in TIME magazine called ‘Can Service Save Us?’ almost one year ago. While the article focused on how recently returned veterans (and society as a whole) benefited from serving others at home, I was convinced it would ‘save’ me as well – but that sounds rather dramatic; let me explain.

Last summer, I was in a very different place. I felt lost and unhappy as I struggled to identify my point and purpose in life. It was something I thought about constantly – and I was driving myself crazy. That's when I had the good fortune to pick up TIME magazine. The article highlighted several programs that have helped veterans find purpose in civilian life, but one in particular stood out to me: AmeriCorps. Within minutes of finishing the article, I hopped online, explored the AmeriCorps website, and decided to apply to a Madison-based program called Partners For After School Success (PASS). I felt confident that by spending a year helping others I would cease to think about my own “problems” and, inadvertently, discover more about myself and my direction in life.

And I have. I no longer spend each and every day thinking about what to do with my life because I'm too busy living it. I've learned how to interact with and relate to young people (read: our future); I've learned about the close-knit relationship between literacy and success in life; I've learned about patience, selflessness, and the intense desire to change the world around us for the better; I've learned that kids are messy and forgetful but also joyful and forgiving. Perhaps most importantly, I've learned to lighten up. To laugh, to goof around, to take life less seriously (after all, how serious can you be with play dough in your hair?). In short, I've rediscovered how to be a kid. And, for a person who, less than one year ago felt imprisoned by their thoughts, that feels rather liberating.

AmeriCorps member and students at a board table.
Elver Park Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin
My student's voice softens, reluctant to read. With all her tough talk, neon personality, sharp exterior, in front of a text, she's vulnerable. Secret insecurities exposed through embarrassed exploration of a word she doesn't know. “emm…empor…empow…” “Empowerment.” My job: to Empower, to praise, to raise self esteem. Another student sits in a catatonic computer game state, but he's not just another student. He has social problems; behavior troubles; Outbursts after losing a game, perceiving an unfairness, and being told what to do. But this student can be coaxed out with the right book (about spies, mostly), the right game (active), the right communication (calm, positive, and persistent). Not just another student, my favorite student. My job: to cultivate relationships from patience, compassion. To recognize individuality. Every one of our students careen through the open space of the gym, beach balls soar into the air, basketballs crash against the backboard. Take in the madness. Celebrate their participation, even when it is silly, half-hearted, or infuriating. Eventually we'll focus, develop a goal, work as a team towards a more ordered chaos. My Job: To guide and help bring out the best in students who are already talented, determined, thoughtful, individuals.
AmeriCorps member and students at a school library.
Jefferson Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin

This is my first year as an AmeriCorps member and I must say that it has been exciting thus far. I became a member because I would have the opportunity to help students excel academically and personally. It has been a pleasure working with my students through AmeriCorps. Although I am here to help the students, they have helped me more than they know. Through the relationships that have grown and are continuing to grow, I see the importance of a cool adult person in the school that is not necessarily a teacher. I get an opportunity to get to know the students, apart from their academics, which gives me a chance to gain their trust, and so, helps me slip in new, positives ways of thinking.

I've learned that, this whole thing is a process; effective work with students is a process. This process takes seed, time, and harvest. It is easy to get caught up in the “want&rdquo: when working with students: I want you to get your homework in on time, I want you to get to class on time, I want you to be more respectful, I want you to value yourself more. These are all wonderful goals to have for our students and can be achieved. However, sometimes we get so caught up in the “wants” that we have for the students that we lose sight of the “do's”, and so, get discouraged when we don't see immediate results. I have learned that it is important for me to plant the seed of change within the student and after that seed has been planted, I have to employ patience, and that requires time.

While I'm patiently waiting (and true patience is being constantly, consistently the same) I can't just sit by idly in anticipation; I have to do something. That seed has to be watered, nourished, and cultivated. It is the work that is put in during the time where patience is being employed that will help determine the abundance or scarcity of the harvest that is received.

Cherokee Heights Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin
A is for AmeriCorps the service organization, whose sterling reputation extends across this great nation / As a recent graduate a plan I did lack, and so I thought why not spend some time giving back? B is for bubble, that's where I was raised / So it's no surprise those first few weeks left me phased C is cyberbullies who hide behind I-phone screens / Kids today find creative ways to be mean D is for Dmia who taught me that the biggest of burdens can rest on the smallest of shoulders/ Be kind to others, sometimes they're carrying boulders E is for energy, in this job a must / Never give your smile a moment to rust F is for futures, I promise yours can be bright / If you just set a goal and work with all of your might G is for gunshots at Russet Road and the mall / They're shaking inside but pretend to stand tall H is for homework club and 100 assignments to juggle / After 7 hours of school 1 more is sometimes a struggle I is for I as in I have a dream / And never letting Dr. King's vision lose steam J is for journey, this one has been long / But each day my students model what it means to be strong K is for Khari who was faced with a choice / And stood up to become a positive voice L is for literacy, too many are reluctant to read / Trust me, thinking for oneself is a tool we all need M is for middle, stuck in the eye of adolescence / Yo-yoing between self and coalescence O is for owning our words and our deeds / Reflecting on mistakes before we proceed P is for the patience it takes to master a new skill / Just because you haven't learned it yet doesn't mean you never will R is for Robert, his teachers aren't fans / Sometimes I think they forget his family lives in a van S is for self-worth, young girl you have merit / Don't be stifled by insecurities you inherit T is for trust, a privilege rather than a right / To earn it you must build relationships tight U is for Unify, the club with a message so great / We're more alike than different despite immutable traits V is for voices powerful and direct / 13 year olds possess more insight than you might expect W is words with the power to change minds / You really are smart, forget the role you've been assigned X is for xbox, playstation, and more / You're telling me you've never heard of N64!?! Y is for yeet, merch, and bae, slang words new school / Miss Emily, seriously, were you ever cool? Z is for zero as in zero regrets / I'll be proud to call myself an AmeriCorps vet
Vera Court Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

I wasn't looking for a new job. I wasn't looking for a new direction in life. I wasn't looking for a way to help others. I was looking for a new guitar. Yep, that's why I checked craigslist last year, to buy myself something new. What I found and where that has lead me has changed my entire purpose in life and caused a growth in me that I am incredibly grateful for. I never got that guitar, but I am a lucky man for what I got instead.

Truthfully, I didn't know much about AmeriCorps when I stumbled across a job description on Craigslist. For whatever reason; fate, dumb luck, boredom, my finger slipped and clicked the mouse, I really don't remember but after I read the position description I felt like PASS was something I needed to look into. After applying I interviewed at Vera Court Neighborhood Center, was offered the position a day later and promptly accepted. Logically, joining AmeriCorps made no sense. At the time I made good money polishing steel, was going to school in hopes of becoming a firefighter and had exactly zero experience working with youth. Needless to say I was breaking what had been a linear progression in my life and venturing into unknown territory… and it felt great.

Within two weeks of being on the job at Vera Court, I had very little interest in further pursuing firefighting. That is not to say I don't consider firefighting a very righteous career but simply put, I fell in love with youth work. Coming to work each day doesn't feel like a burden at all. In fact, I'm surprised they pay me to goof around and be a dork with amazing kids all day. That's not to say I don't take my job seriously. It's a privilege to be in a position to help shape the lives of young people and I don't take that responsibility lightly. However I've realized I am in a unique position to make an impact not as a teacher or authority, but as a mentor who can cause change simply by showing love and empathy to youth who don't feel that enough.

The past 6 months have been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. I'm hopeful that I have helped the youth I serve grow even a fraction of how much I have grown as a person. My life has been changed forever by joining AmeriCorps and I am so grateful I killed some time surfing the web last spring. I feel a call to work with youth and I have my experience working at Vera Court through PASS to thank for that.

Georgia O'Keefe Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin
I was scared: Of moving to a new city, of living on my own, of paying bills for the first time. I was nervous: For the first day or orientation, for meeting my supervisor for the first time, for tutoring eight kids 1:1 in literacy. I was excited: To be making new friendships, to be financially independent for the first time, for getting the opportunity to coach BOTH boys and girls basketball. I was saddened: To learn that one of my students parents were getting divorced and making their kids choose sides, to see kids treating their “friends” terribly, to learn that many of my students have insecurities about their physical appearance. I was frustrated: That I couldn't see immediate changes in my tutees reading abilities, that students dismissed me whenever I tried to keep them on track, that my students did not see their full potential and run with it. I was exhausted: From trying to get my students to actually do homework during homework club, from working 9-10 hour days for the first time in my life, from trying to keep structure during after school programming I was proud: To see one of my basketball girls box out during a game after we worked on it at practice the day before, to see one of my tutees move out of Read 180, to see my Project Unify kids get so passionate about Spread the Word to End the Word. I was impressed: By my Read 180 teacher's patience with her students, by my Principal's dedication to making O'Keeffe Middle a safe and proactive learning environment, by some students' willingness to make the right choices despite peer pressure. I was motivated: To be a positive role model for my students, to work harder in order to be there for my students when they need me, by other PASS Members to be a better me. I was moved: By the compassion that one young girl showed during a courage retreat, by a thank you note I received from one of my tutees, by the overwhelming support I get from not only staff at my school but also fellow PASS members. I am hopeful: That my basketball girls will continue to learn and love the game, that I will continue to learn how to be a great youth worker from my supervisor, that my students will continue to teach me every day!
AmeriCorps members climbing a hill.
Vera Court Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

I wasn't sure what to expect when I applied for PASS, all I knew was that I had known past members that loved their experiences, and I also knew that working with kids was something worth doing for a year. After a couple months of working at Vera Court I realized that, I was waking up in the mornings ready and excited to see my kids. To get the chance to interact with the students was a privilege, and I wanted to enjoy every day of it. I wish I could give you just one story that “changed” my life. But that is not true, I can't give you just one moment or experience. Every day I was able to see kids grow, challenge themselves and learn. And I will be taking those amazing moments and skills I have gained with me, everywhere I go.

Everything I have done with PASS, has challenged my personal and career goals. Although I started this PASS journey not sure if working with kids was what I was meant to do, I know now that it is what I enjoy to do. Not sure where in life I will end up, working with kids to help them develop as leaders will be my drive for now and in the near future.

Wright Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin

As an AmeriCorps member serving at JC Wright Middle School, I strive to connect with students in a meaningful way. I feel responsible for being “my best self” every day for students and staff in this dynamic education community…

The pressure is on!

As a literacy tutor for 9 students, I value each kiddo’s unique worldview.

The students share stories, experiences, struggles…

I am inspired!

As an after-school program leader, I juggle expectations and flexibility, structure and fun. I am part of a passionate team of staff that values and celebrates the impact of after-school activities…

I am privileged to be serving kids!

During my second term serving as an AmeriCorps member, I have made many discoveries, both about myself and about the meaning of service.

Some of my most meaningful discoveries this year have either caught me completely by surprise or have come through in the subtleties of my conversations with kids…

These most unexpected moments have allowed me to grow!

When kids trust enough to open up to me, I feel that I have done my job as an AmeriCorps member. For me, service is all about building relationships and learning from each interaction…

I have learned more from my students than I could ever teach them!

This learning is the central reason why I engage in national service.

Serving with AmeriCorps is an opportunity to engage with a community, to grow personally and professionally and to work towards positive change in society…

I have hope for a brighter future for the students that I serve!

This hope is my inspiration to continue serving my community, even after my term with AmeriCorps is complete. I plan to seek out opportunities for community engagement that are mission-driven and have proven success.

I have seen the power of projects and organizations that work!

Through national service, I have grown. However, more importantly, communities have been strengthened.

I am proud to be part of the building up of communities and the

cultivating of dreams!

AmeriCorps members and students working in a community garden plot.
Patrick Marsh Middle School
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Previously, my education was centered in science. My life was a frenzy of charts, facts, figures, and note cards which I studied until my brain was sore. Four years of this daily mental exercise left me with an immense appreciation for the beautiful chaos that is biology. I was amazed by what I studied, but by graduation I was less than satisfied. My head was in my major, but my heart was not.

I stumbled into PASS with an open mind, mostly because I was unsure of what to expect. However, after the first month at my host site, I felt completely drained. Flooded by self-doubt, I planned my tutoring sessions with a meticulous hand that did more to calm my nerves than to foster student growth. Feeling incompetent was an every day struggle, but there was a magic surrounding the school that was palpable. I wanted to do more.

It was after a particularly difficult week when our principal sent out an e-mail to lighten our spirits. In it, he wrote, Gratitude is a muscle. You should work it every day. What clarity this advice brought me! I sat back in wonder, thinking about where I had started and how far I had come. Biology is an exercise for the brain, for memorization, for discovery. Youth work, I realized, is a study in compassion.

I think about those days of struggle and feel how my heart has opened in response to them. Working with youth is an every day exercise as well. You grow every day to become more patient, more understanding, more loving. You also learn every day to become more strict, more forceful, but you learn to do this with the same gratitude that becomes stronger over time. I feel like I am still in school, learning alongside the students that I tutor every day.

To graduate from PASS will be a day that I know will bring me fulfillment and great pride. I am excited for the future, knowing that every day I work, I gain a better understanding of my students as we work together towards creating a solid future for themselves. And for this, I am grateful.

Goodman Community Center
Madison, Wisconsin

I serve to help the students and families that are misrepresented due to the color of their skin, the accent in their voice, or zip code in which they live. I serve because I came from a community just like theirs, and only because someone decided to help me I am able to help them.

I serve because I know the importance of a role model to someone who is in need. I want to be that person for my community.

I am a second year AmeriCorps Member with great enthusiasm towards youth development.

Bridge Lake Point Waunona Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

Partners for After School Success was the fill-in for my gap year between undergrad and the rest of my life. I chose to join PASS because I had three previous terms of Americorps under my belt…so why not?

The job description reads something to the effect of, provide youth development programming that aligns and extends school day learning, promote school engagement and life skills, and engage youth in community service and volunteer opportunities. While those are the main objectives of PASS, the real deal is that this program allows you to find what you truly want out of life. It took my big life questions of, What? Where? How? and made a clearer path by defining what I don't want, which is just as important as finding out exactly what I want to do. Getting to the nitty gritty of what's required of someone in this position, it comes down to professionalism, punctuality, dependability, and most importantly empathy for those you work with. The kids you see every day climb unbelievable odds, surpass adversity, and go on to plan for futures that their life situations would never let them dream about.

It is here I built these relationships with elementary, middle, and high- schoolers, reaching out to them as one of their own. I've found I work better with kids on their own level rather than as an authoritative voice speaking down to them. It is for this reason that I find my future career plans do not involve youth work. PASS has taught me that I wouldn't truly appreciate a job as a teacher, counselor, or programming coordinator for the simple fact that I like to be WITH my kids, not leading them.

Among other necessary workforce skills, I've found an appropriate level of professionalism with my colleagues; I've improved my time management skills by constantly rearranging my fluid schedule to accommodate those around me; I've realized how much a relationship can grow by merely becoming someone others can depend on; and I've connected with so many kids, students, co-workers, and supervisors by allowing myself to be more empathetic and offering a listening ear.

PASS is an incredible opportunity for anyone who plans on going into youth or social work, and even for those who don't. No matter my future plans, this program has helped me, quite frankly, grow up and decide what I want out of life. And a program that does THAT is priceless.

Hamilton Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin

When I started my AmeriCorps term in August 2014, three months after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in Religious Studies and South Asian Studies, I didn't think that there was anything beyond patience and “general cultural appreciation” that I could offer a twenty-five middle school students, whom I first met rushing into MSCR Recreation from different directions. Although I had taken plenty of courses on culture and history, citing cultural anthropologists and religious studies scholars wasn't aiding me in making sense of what these kids were going through, and relational ethical theory in modern Hinduism certainly wasn't a point of connection between any of us. As I started building relationships with students however (over a bit more trivial interests), I started reflecting on a question I was repeatedly asked by my program all throughout college: How can we not only learn about, but learn from?

It was an unusually deep and nebulous question for an entire college program's learning objective, but it has never resonated more with me than in my first term as an AmeriCorps. We can learn about our “kids”, their struggles, their environment, their psychology. We can learn about systems designed to keep some students out. We can learn about cultural differences. We can learn about strategies that help facilitate extended learning. But what can we learn from students?

I learn from students every single day. Contrary to every stereotype of “unruly” students who need programs like AmeriCorps, these students have taught me patience, acceptance, and resilience. I have seen students model skills in their own lives, against all odds, whether it be remaining flexible when after school programming is unpredictable or continually bouncing back positively after encountering a struggle. In my AmeriCorps term so far, I have learned about a plethora of youth work strategies and I have honed skills I never knew I had, but most importantly, I have learned from and in doing so have learned that our students are often our most valuable assets in learning.

Kennedy Heights Neighborhood Center
Madison, Wisconsin

I've always been an introvert, but it's not something I ever thought would be a professional weakness. A few weeks before starting my year of AmeriCorps service, though, I began to think that being introverted might be to my disadvantage.

I had only worked with kids briefly in Baltimore before accepting the position at Kennedy Heights. The kids I worked with had always jumped on me and asked me so many questions. They always seemed to like the volunteers who were bubbly and outgoing. I worried that the kids I worked with at Kennedy Heights wouldn't like me, that they wouldn't see that I was a trustworthy and fun person behind the quiet exterior. As I began to work with the afterschool program at Kennedy Heights, my fears about my introversion were realized. It's not that the kids flat-out didn't like me. I just felt like I couldn't get to know them as well as some of the more outgoing staff members. Why couldn't I be like Steph and joke and tease them? Or like Karen with her quick hugs? It seemed that my being shy was hindering my ability to form connections with the kids.

As always, time passed and change happened as I connected with the students. II realized being shy and introverted never actually stood in the way of me connecting with the kids. Maybe I would have “made friends” with the kids more quickly if I was more outgoing. But who knows if those connections would have been as strong. I even realized this week that being a bit more subdued socially helped me forge connections I couldn't have otherwise.

One student in our program, Angie, is shy just like me. She often sits on her own during snack time and prefers to be on her own rather than in groups. When Angie needs something--help with homework or information about an upcoming field trip-- she comes to me. Most days, she won't even talk to our more outgoing staff members, but I've had in-depth conversations with her about many things. Maybe being as introverted as I am allowed Angie to feel more comfortable approaching me, especially when the field of youth work seems somewhat monopolized by extroverts. I now realize that rather than hindering any work I may do with youth, my introverted nature simply helps me form connections of a different kind, and perhaps with different kids, than if I was more extroverted.

Spring Harbor Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin
I can still remember the smell, I was sitting on my computer in my apartment in Chicago; I had just had lunch so it smelled like vegetable stir-fry in the room. I saw an AmeriCorps position and I started to apply. I can still remember the smell, I was just getting done working out when the director called me to give me more information on the program, dripping from sweat my smile grew big. I can still remember the smell, I was laying outside on a hot summer July day eating some wonderful strawberries when the supervisor called me to offer me a position. I think I yelled “Thank you and YAY!” maybe a little too much. I can still remember the smell, I wanted to make an impression on the first day of orientation so I sprayed myself with my Flowerbomb perfume I only used on special occasions. I can still remember the smell, We went to our site for the first time to meet our supervisors. The teachers had just had a meeting so the rooms smelled like pizza so I knew I was going to love this school. I can still remember the smell, It was the first day of after school program. The goldfish smell filled the room as I began to introduce myself into a new world. I can still remember the smell, When one of my students was having a really rough day we sat back and ate raspberry chocolate while reading. I can still remember the smell, When we were eating pizza and one of my students turned to me and said, I will remember you for the rest of my life. I can still remember the smell, Of being stressed out about being an AmeriCorps member and wondering what I could do better. I sat there contemplating over reality TV and homemade popcorn. I can still remember the smell, When my student opened up to me about a hard break-up and we shared our stories and figured out how to overcome while jamming to Beyonce. I can still remember the smell, When one of my students participated in the Special Olympics Project Unify Triathlon, we all smelled like chlorine but the smell could not wipe the smiles off our faces. I can still remember the smell, When I started to realize how lucky I am to be a part of such an amazing school, program, and city and how much I have loved every moment of this extraordinary experience. I can still remember the smell, When my days are feeling low or I am wondering what to do with my life, I know I can still look back and remember the wonderful smells of two years in AmeriCorps. I will still be able to remember the smells of my school, Friday meetings, time with AmeriCorps and my students and remember how much I have learned and grown through the year and that I will keep growing.
Toki Middle School/Goodman Community Center
Madison, Wisconsin

Dear Mr. Love,
You are one of my favorite teachers ever and remember to turn to this whenever you are lonely or need to be inspired. Here are some quotes I like.
At least we decided to live on our feet than die on our knees
P.S. I know it's not really aproprite but you don't have to show anyone.
Love your favorite daughter,

This is a message written in my AmeriCorps journal from one my Project Unify students (spelling and all) who considers herself my “daughter” and I couldn't be more honored. We are supposedly there to help the students. Coach them, tutor them, and mentor them. But with the experiences that I've had at Toki Middle School I'm beginning to believe that I might learn more from them as they do from me. I love the connection they allow me to have and I adore the way they look at me, and confide in me about personal situations. And I love, love, love how they say I'm their favorite “teacher”. I can't walk into the 6th grade lunch period without being swarmed with hugs. It's one of the luckiest feelings in the world. Just at this moment while writing this reflection a male student just said I love you Mr. Love. 7th grade male! That's a very rare thing.

I don't even want to write a deep reflection, I just want to brag about how proud of my students I am. Two of them graduated from read 180 last week. The girls basketball team finished 3rd in the Tourney. My “crew” class behaved better in the beginning of the year, but they're still sweet kids and some of them did very well in Battle Of The Books. The sixth graders (my faves) did better than the 7th and 8th graders in the school orchestra. I took a hundred pictures and I stayed the entire night and told them 100 times how proud I was. You want my honest reflection? I went to school for a couple things; film and video production, Massage Therapy and Bodywork, also planned on going to culinary school next year. I have NO idea what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it wasn't until PASS AmeriCorps that I considered working with children. Now it's all I can think about.

Allison Miller
Blackhawk Middle School
Madison, Wisconsin
Some days you feel like screaming in triumph, in frustration. Some days you only listen, speak, watch. Some days you go in 13 directions at once; chaos. Some days your focus is so intense, minute, structured. Some days you create, some you tear down. Some days you laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Some days you are a friend, some an enemy. Some days you teach. Some days you learn. Some days you're invincible; you win. Some days everything gets to you; you lose. And on those days, you do what you can. On those days, you get things done. Every day is some day.


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