In celebration of AmeriCorps week, we wanted to share stories of the incredible impact that our National Teaching Fellows, who serve as AmeriCorps members, have had on middle school students across the country. Who better to ask than one of our student alumni who experienced that impact firsthand? We spoke with Citizen Schools alumnus and current high school senior Valentine "Val" Banor about his experience in 8th Grade Academy (8GA)-- the Citizen Schools leadership program for eighth grade students. Val's connection with Teaching Fellows Robert Kordenbrock and Sheldon Johnson helped carry him through middle school and high school. Their support, encouragement and investment in Val helped lead him to win the prestigious POSSE scholarship, which will support him through college and beyond.
Let's listen in...
CS: What did you like most about being part of Citizen Schools?
Val: The best part of Citizen Schools was the Teaching Fellows like Sheldon and Robert. Everyone on the staff was friendly and cared about us. They made it a fun and comfortable place for us to go.
CS: What type of impact did the Teaching Fellows have on you?
Val: They were a big influence on all of us. They really prepared us for high school and college and told us what to expect. I had already gone on college tours in eighth grade when some of my other friends didn't go on tours until their junior year of high school. In 8GA I got to volunteer by tutoring some of the younger students. It was my first volunteer opportunity. Now I am the secretary of the Key Club in my high school and I do a lot of volunteer work. That wouldn't have started without the Teaching Fellows encouraging me to help out.
CS: Did you stay connected with the Teaching Fellows after 8GA?
Val: Yes. In 9th grade, Sheldon Johnson invited me and a friend to go on a trip to the University of Michigan, where he went to college. At first I was nervous to go all the way to Michigan, but I loved it. We got to meet his friends and see what his college life was like. It was one of my favorite experiences. After that I wanted to go there too, just like Sheldon. I'm actually wearing my Michigan shirt right now!
CS: Speaking of college, tell me about applying to the POSSE Scholarship program.
Val: My brother won the scholarship four years ago so that was an influence. The Citizen Schools staff recommended that I apply, so I decided to go for it. I got accepted! I'm going to Centre College in Kentucky. I like all the people I've spoken to there and I think it's the right place for me. The other POSSE scholars in my group are just like me. I'm excited, but nervous as well. The future comes one day at a time, so right I'm focused on graduation. In 8GA the Teaching Fellows actually had us write letters to ourselves to open on graduation day. That's one of the things I'm most excited about!
CS: Looking back on your time in middle school, do you think having mentors like the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellows is important for kids?
Val: I think it's extremely important! I was a shy kid until meeting the Teaching Fellows like Robert and Sheldon. They got me to be creative. In the long term, Citizen Schools actually prepares you to grow up. I'm so grateful for it.
The impact of mentors like the Teaching Fellows at Citizen Schools goes far beyond the walls of a middle school classroom. For Val, and thousands of students across the country, the love, care, guidance and support they provide lasts a lifetime. During AmeriCorps week, take a minute to learn more about national service programs like the National Teaching Fellowship. The next deadline to apply is March 18, 2013.