Adapted from a testimonial by Geryel Osorio, City Year Boston Senior AmeriCorps member.
My passion for service began in my homeland of Bogota, Colombia. At the age of 6, my family immigrated to Miami, Florida, and I began second grade in a public school. My parents didn't have the opportunity to attend college at my age, but they prioritized higher education for me. Growing up, my dream was to be a doctor and even though I was on the pre-med track in college, I felt something was missing for me. I was always interested in community service, and my parents encouraged me to continue serving our community. Those experiences stuck with me and in college, I joined a volunteer program that taught STEM to grade school students on the weekends. It was the first time I considered working in schools and I found myself really enjoying it. Soon, I was looking at programs to work at after college and that's when I found City Year.
I connected to City Year's mission and social justice values, and knew I wanted to be in a classroom where I could support students in various areas. I served in a 6th grade inclusion cohort model, which meant I supported students who needed more individualized attention and had the chance to work with them on multiple subjects. Choosing to serve as a City Year AmeriCorps member in Boston, I was surprised to find that my school had an extremely diverse community. I felt comfortable having conversations with many of my students in Spanish from the first day of school. Having that small thing in common went a long way in developing relationships with them later on.
Most of my students needed someone to keep them engaged in class. I saw this with one of my students, Rose*. She was a natural born leader, but during the day she'd put her head down or start crying in class. When my partner teacher and I would notice those behaviors, I'd pull Rose out of class to give her a break. In those moments, she opened up to me and I learned that she recently lost her mother and lessons about family were upsetting for her. Having those small breaks to talk about what was going on outside of school really helped her refocus. As she opened up to me, it became easier for me to redirect her in class.
We worked together in English and language arts class. She was a great writer with a vivid imagination, but had a hard time organizing her thoughts. In the beginning, we worked on narrative writing, creating paragraph introductions and transitioning between thoughts. Rose did well working in small groups and took the lead on reading directions and helping other students. So, I'd circulate around the room and leave a sticky note with the writing goal she should target in her essay. Later I'd check in on the goal and ask her if she remembered to include her thesis statement or evidence and examples. Having a small visual reminder helped her stay on task and allowed her to be independent. When we were in other classes, I reminded her to use her skills and showed her that strong writing was important in all her classes.
By the end of the year, she was working on a long personal reflection for one of her classes. I was amazed by how much progress she’d made. When she read me her story, it was organized and beautifully written. Her teacher said she was one of the top writers in the class. I was so impressed with how much she’d grown and I felt confident that she was ready and more prepared for 7th grade.
I had the opportunity to work with lots of incredible students who needed support in different areas. That's what's great about City Year, we work with students who need an extra push to excel. Like my student Yasmin*, who did well in school but was shy and rarely spoke up. The paraprofessional in my class shared that she could use a mentor to come out of her shell. I started checking in with her in the mornings and we set goals together, like making eye contact and raising her hand. Yasmin didn't always feel comfortable talking to other students, but I saw her really transform once she joined the Gender & Sexuality Alliance group led by me and a fellow teammate. She started speaking up, sharing her opinions and taking the lead on projects, and that translated to the classroom, where she raised her hand more and talked with her peers.
At the end of last school year, Yasmin gave me a card thanking me for talking with her and telling me, "I don't have any role models, but I really admire you, Ms. O." I was so proud to see how confident and engaged she was in class. This year, we eat lunch together and continue working on goal setting.
I was able to mentor both my students and see the difference having a role model made for them. Both Rose and Yasmin saw me as a big sister and we talked about immigrating to the States, citizenship, being a first-generation college student and a Latina. But sometimes they just wanted to know what music I was listening to, how I did my makeup, and of course, about my romantic life. And as we opened up to each other, I realized why I came to City Year.
Growing up, I had very few teachers of color and, like my students, I found it hard to talk to someone about my experiences or find a mentor. Being in the classroom as a City Year Boston AmeriCorps member made realize how much representation in education matters to students and families. I believe for students of color to succeed in school and for education to have a better impact on their lives they must grow up seeing people of color in positions of power and leadership.
During my corps year, I was involved in the Women of Color Affinity group and received so much support that helped me during my service. I returned to City Year because I wanted to continue being a mentor for AmeriCorps members of color. After I graduate from City Year, I plan on continuing to mentor youth, but I also want to combine my interest in education with social justice, and go to graduate school to study the intersection between Public Health and Race and Gender Studies.
My service has been an unbelievable experience and has shown me the value of mentorship and the impact we can all have when we stand with our students.
Geryel Osorio is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps member. Currently, she serves on the Wellington Management Foundation team at the McKay K-8 School.