Boomerang: From Citizen Schools Student to AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow

Sophia Pompilus is a first year AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow in Boston, Massachusetts.   Like most younger siblings, I copied everything my older sister did. So when my parents enrolled her in Citizen Schools, as a copycat, I was ready to join along with her. My sister always came home excited, chatting away about all the fun she had with her Team Leader (now known as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow or School Support staff who lead instruction during what has become Citizen Schools’ expanded learning day). However, as an eight-year-old, I was too young to join Citizen Schools at the time.

Then the summer before the third grade arrived and I was finally old enough. I joined Citizen Schools in 2000 as a member of a summer day camp program. From there, I went on to be a part of the fall, spring, and summer sessions for the next four years. As a youth, I continued to enroll in the program because of all of the opportunities Citizen Schools exposed me to. I was living in such a vibrant city but was unaware of my surroundings. My Team Leaders opened up my eyes to see what was out there. My parents also really appreciated the high level of family and community engagement. They loved how my Team Leaders kept them informed of what Citizen Schools was doing and made a joint effort to shape my future. Citizen Schools greatly impacted me as a youth growing up in the Boston Public Schools, and the relationships I had with Citizen Schools staff then still continue today.

During the fall of my senior year at Georgetown University, I made the decision to apply for the AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship through Citizen Schools. I remember reflecting on all the people who had played a part in my education and I could not help but jump first to Citizen Schools. Of course, I had awesome teachers, but in schools with low funding, limited resources, and large classrooms, my teachers could not provide the one-on-one time and mentorship I had with my teachers in Citizen Schools. I knew I was lucky to have been in a program where people were committed to looking out for me, even beyond my participation in the program.

Fast forward 14 years and I now serve as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, MA. I see a lot of similarities between my students at Orchard Gardens and the younger Sophia Pompilus. I too had parents who immigrated to the United States recently. I too grew up in a large family, with parents who worked long hours. I too had nominal exposure to the city and world around me. But just like the students I teach, I too had a lot of potential to succeed academically. My Team Leaders helped me see the potential in myself, and now I can do the same for the students I serve.

As an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow I fulfill two main roles at my school. For four days a week, I partner with an amazing 6th grade science teacher to assist her classes during the school day. In this capacity, I work with a diverse group of students; some are English Language Learners, some are top scorers, some are struggling. Being able to work with a veteran teacher in the morning helps me establish credibility as a supporting adult for my students. Throughout the week, I work with a smaller group of students, mainly the English Language Learners, in order to reinforce the material their class is learning. I teach these students the same concepts the rest of the class is learning, using modified assignments in order to best accommodate them. Since the beginning of the year, I have seen students who were once wary of asking for help, reach out to me for assistance in any situation.

In the afternoon during Citizen Schools, I also work as my campus' Student Engagement Lead (SEL). I support other AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows with behavior management by running our school’s Step Up Room, where students go when they need to be refocused or redirected. Our students are in school for 10 hours a day and there are many underlying things going on in their lives. Oftentimes, this results in a lack of focus as the day goes on. As a SEL, I am a counselor for the students, helping them think through the challenges they face and guiding them in finding solutions. My room is an open and safe space where students can advocate for themselves regarding issues happening in and out of the school.

The students I serve are rapidly developing, revealing personality traits I didn’t even know existed two months ago. I get to hear about their interests, their fears, their goals, their families, their pets, you name it. Hearing about these their lives reminds me of why I was so eager to join Citizen Schools as an eight-year-old, and today, these are the same things that motivate me each day I wake up for work.

Join Sophia as an AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellow! Apply here!