Kali Erstein is a Citizen Schools Teaching Associate at the Louise A. Spencer School in Newark, NJ. “We were jumping up and down screaming,” she reflected. “I took a picture and saved it on my phone... I said to myself ‘God, I thank you.’”
Ms. Mallette reminisced about watching her son, Jaryd, receive a STEM award for his participation in Robotics, the highest rated apprenticeship at Louise A. Spencer during the Fall 2011 term. Ms. Mallette and her youngest son, Jayden, screamed in excitement as Jaryd accepted the award with such pride and joy. “His whole face was lit up,” she said. Ms. Mallette commented on how informative and interesting the Fall WOW! event was at Spencer. “Jaryd was nervous during his presentation but he still managed to explain everything,” she reflected. Jayden, Jaryd’s brother, told his mother at the WOW! that he couldn’t wait until next year when he would be in 6th grade and could participate in Citizen Schools.
As the weeks flew by the Fall semester, I noticed that Jaryd really started to enjoy his Robotics apprenticeship. Jaryd connected his passion for drawing with stenciling pictures of characters from the famous series Transformers. During Citizen Schools, after Jaryd completed his homework, I gave him permission to draw pictures of robots and he would show me his creations with the biggest of smiles. I could really see a transformation in his confidence and self-esteem. Even his fellow classmates noticed and complimented his artistic and creative talent.
“I’m getting a better idea of what Jaryd may do in the future,” Ms. Mallette told me. “I want these kids to make it. Pick an awesome career… Just do it.” She encourages his drawing and interest in robots at home. As a special-needs student, Jaryd is catered to with various teaching and learning methods to meet his educational needs. The Robotics apprenticeship opened a world of opportunity for Jaryd to learn and explore something that really interested him. “People don’t know where he came from,” Ms. Mallette explained to me, “We didn’t think he could come this far and look, in his first year [at Citizen Schools] he wins an award in front of everyone!” Ms. Mallette commented that with his learning disabilities, he is a walking miracle to be able to do all that he is doing. With Citizen Schools, “he’s achieving so much,” Ms. Mallette said, “people don’t know what this [program] does to help.”
Ms. Mallette also noted that through his involvement in Citizen Schools, she has seen Jaryd become more independent and outgoing, and is getting better at handling conflict situations in a more mature way. “It’s been a beautiful experience for both of us,” Ms. Mallette said. From my own earlier experiences with Jaryd, in instances of conflict in the classroom, Jaryd used to shut down or even act out. Nowadays, Jaryd handles confrontation in a much more calm and collected manner, and has learned to just walk away.
Ms. Mallette mentioned three obstacles that Jaryd faces: “[If] you’re born black, you’re in Newark, and you’re male… those three things are held against you. You don’t want to be just a statistic.” Ms. Mallette constantly encourages her two sons, and wants them to continue to learn and grow in a healthy environment. As for the future, Ms. Mallette said: “I want them to own their own homes, their vehicles, and work when they can and want to.”
“They need more teachers like you,” Ms. Mallette said, “that care and have patience, work with their (students’) flaws, and encourage them in their futures.” Although I am flattered, my reply to Ms. Mallette is that we equally need parents like you, who encourage and support our young scholars so that they may achieve success in both school and the real world. Parent support is so crucial to our work at Citizen Schools. Positive encouragement at home, at school and in the community is necessary to build a support network students can rely on. Ms. Mallette’s continued support and positivity are examples of how parents and family members help keep our program at Louise A. Spencer strong and in demand for students.