Meet Ahmad Jitan, a second year AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow serving at Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham, NC... Why did you choose to serve with Citizen Schools?
After graduating from Duke, I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take, but I knew that I wanted to serve the Durham, NC community in a meaningful way. As I thought about what exactly led me up to the point of graduating from college, I remembered all of the people in my life who supported me to get to where I was. My “success” wasn’t just an individual achievement but the result of the collective effort of supportive and caring people. I wanted to have the opportunity to be a part of that collective effort for other children in public schools.
Growing up in the public school system in the South, I remember how my schools struggled to support the needs of all of its students, especially students of color and those from a lower socioeconomic status. I also remember many big-hearted individuals— family, educators, and community members— who collectively fought to ensure myself and others got the education they deserved. I wanted to join that fight and to help bring others into it as well.
What excites you about being an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow and/or working with students?
Every student has the desire to learn and to grow and to succeed. All they need is the right environment to do so. I love that I have the opportunity to help create an environment for young people to make so many new discoveries about themselves and the world. Inside and outside of the classroom, middle school students face great challenges. Given the right support and guidance, those challenges lead to dramatic growth. As cliché as it is, I am growing alongside the students. As a teacher, what excites me the most is the opportunity I have to listen to my students. If I listen closely enough, they tell me everything I need to know to help us achieve our goals.
What part(s) of Citizen Schools' model do you see adding value in the classroom and to your students growth and development?
To me public education means that every citizen shares a responsibility in the education of our youth. Part of what I see Citizen Schools doing is bringing together various stakeholders and reminding them of their duty to serve the need for quality education in our communities. When those with the most need, our students, are put at the center, we’re better able to listen to how we can close the gaps that exist in public education. With Citizen Schools, I can act as the bridge to allow for families, teachers, and community members to be able to advocate for the success that they all want to see from our students.
What is your favorite student story?
Tydira’s personality was too big for the four walls of a classroom. By the time she got to Citizen Schools, she was bored and ready to make the three hours she had with her rookie teacher the most exciting she could. Tydira’s grades were OK, A’s, B’s, and C’s; but this was a girl who was intellectually gifted, who could’ve been co-teaching my 8th grade class if she wanted to. Tydira challenged me to make the time she spent in Citizen Schools meaningful to her. I struggled the whole year to get Tydira to focus her energy so that she could stay in her chair and keep her shoes on, much less complete an extension activity in our English Language Arts lessons. At some points, I did feel discouraged that no progress was being made, but I reminded myself of the small successes and how it feels to be a middle schooler.
At our first WOW!, I realized part of what Tydira needed. When she finally had an audience to herself she shone so bright and grabbed the attention of the whole room. She wanted recognition for her successes. She wanted to be heard and to matter. I still struggled with Tydira, but I worried much less about her. I knew she was headed for greatness. I knew she was going to drive people up the walls until she got her way, and at the end of the days she was going to get it. At the end of 8th grade, she was inducted in to the Junior Honors Society and got into the college-track high school of her choice. The last day of Citizen Schools during our field day, she saved a water balloon just for me. That was either her way of telling me “thank you” or letting me know she was still in charge. Either way, I was excited to see her go on to bigger and better things.