My name is Emma Hodgson and I am a corps member in AmeriCorps NCCC. NCCC stands for the National Civilian Community Corps. The National Civilian Community Corps consists of teams of 18 to 24 year olds who travel around the country doing different service projects for organizations in need. It is a ten month commitment and the teams have three different projects throughout that time. Alpine 7, the NCCC team I’ve worked with for the past four months, arrived in Tucson on January 8th and will be leaving Tucson on March 31st after twelve weeks of service.
During the time that the team has been here we have accomplished more than I could’ve imagined. Our job has been to work at eight different high schools on beautification projects, tutoring and more! In addition to that we have become IRS certified and have been filing taxes for low income families through VITA, as well as calling parents and encouraging graduating seniors to apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) One of our bigger hands on projects was helping open the new College and Career Center at Palo Verde High Magnet School. We assisted with organizing college materials, painting murals and decorating the center to make it look as welcoming as possible to the students who walked through the doors. We also began work on a College and Career Center at Catalina Magnet High School as well.
The work that we have been doing for Tucson Community Schools Initiative has really touched everyone on the team. I remember looking around the College and Career Center at Palo Verde for the opening ceremony and realizing that there would be students coming through those doors for years to come trying to find help with their post graduation plans. There are so many graduating seniors that struggle finding the support that they need and now they can have it. This would give students a chance at a better and brighter future than they might not have had otherwise. I also noticed our impact during tutoring sessions at the schools. Twice a week the team has been going to Desert View High School to help students with ACT prep. Standardized testing has always been a struggle for me and it was no different for these students. Colleges put so much pressure on students to be the best that they can be for the ACT and SAT that it’s hard for them not to be overwhelmed. By giving them feedback on test taking strategies and going through the test with them helped students feel less nervous. Being more confident on this test and doing as well as they can could be the key to opening up more opportunities for graduating seniors.
The entire team can agree that working with the ELL (English Language Learner) students was by far the best part of our time in Tucson. We were given the chance to work with the ELL students during class time at both Catalina Magnet High School and Palo Verde High Magnet School. We would assist with the lessons that students were being taught in class as well as practicing conversational English with them. I have said this to the team many times and this won’t be the last; I feel that during our time with the ELL students we have been learning just as much from them as they are from us. One thing that really stood out to us all is that all the ELL students really want to be at school. You can tell just by the way they talk to us that they really want to be there. At my high school back home most people went to school but only because it was required to go to school. Students at my school were not as enthusiastic as the ELL students here. It made me realize how much people take things like education for granted. Another thing that many people take for granted in the U.S is safety. One of the ELD teachers at Palo Verde gave us a book filled with the stories of past ELL students in her class to read. I remember one of the students was from Iraq and was remembering what it was like to have bombs going off just outside there house. Just going to get groceries or going to school for this student was life threatening. They continued by saying how they liked living in the United States because of the fact that they didn’t have to worry about bombs anymore. That one sentence has been repeated over and over again in my head over the past several weeks and will forever be engraved in my brain. I will never know what that is like to be in danger for just stepping out onto my doorstep. My neighborhood back home is very safe. You could probably take a walk by yourself at night and be fine. It made me reflect on all the little things in life that I have taken for granted each day. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC in hopes that I would figure out what I wanted to do with my life. This experience made me want to look into doing more work with refugees as a job.
It is week nine of the team being here and the topic that we have all been dreading has been brought up; saying our goodbyes to the students and staff that we have worked with here. There are students and staff at each of the eight high schools that have played a role in making our time here in Tucson so memorable. In the next couple of weeks we will have to say goodbye to it all. It has truly been a blast working on this project from hands on work on school campuses to calling parents to make sure that their kids are being offered Federal Student Aid. It has been tiring and challenging at times but I am a true believer in the idea that the hard is what makes it great. Tucson is a great city and I cannot wait to come back to visit or possibly even move here in the future. Regardless, I will be coming back to Tucson in one way or another.