2018 PFIG Recipient Elizabeth Hamlin
Journal Entry #1
This summer I am interning at the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond. Youth Life operates different learning centers to develop leaders by making long-term investments in children from at-risk communities. They support students academically and help develop their character from a young age. As an intern at this amazing non-profit, I serve elementary aged youth and help in providing a safe, community-based environment to help develop their skills and character. I work with a small group of elementary students every day and plan lessons for them. I am now a few weeks in and have been loving every minute of my time with this organization.
Youth Life's summer program looks mostly like a regular school day. I arrive at the learning center around 8 a.m. and get everything organized for the day. I cut out materials I need and post anchor charts for an activity we are working on on the wall. I make sure all books are ready and that our table is clean. At 8:30, all of the staff meets for our morning meeting. We go over information that we need for the coming day and check in on how everybody is doing. I love this time that I spend with the other interns (there are three others) and the two head teachers at the center. It is such an encouraging community of people to work with. Around 9, the kids come rushing in and greet us all with hugs and huge smiles. We serve them breakfast and other children from the neighborhood come by for food as well. After breakfast, we jump into Language Arts. This is our longest block of learning for the day. I deliver read aloud, word work, guided reading, and writing lessons. I work with three children that just finished first grade. For read aloud, I read a book to my students and we discuss different reading comprehension themes each week that coordinate with the book. For example, this week we are discussing characterization. I ask them about the different traits characters have in a book and if they are outside traits or inside traits. For word work, we usually work on a vowel or sound. This week we have been working on the -SH sound. Guided reading means the students read a short book to me. This is helpful because I can see where they are struggling and plan to target some of those areas in the coming weeks. Writing is usually some kind of exercise to see how their spelling and confidence with sentences is. This week, we have been talking about writing letters and how to set them up. After the language arts block is over, we have lunch. We serve all of the children in our center lunch and others from the neighborhood as well. Following lunch is recess and then it is time for math. For math, I work with two rising 6th graders, which is a great change up from the littles I work with in the morning. Following math, we usually do some kind of fun activity and then do behavior points and send them home.
My time at Youth Life so far has been amazing and extremely challenging, in the best way. I have always wanted to go into education but this is the first time I have been hands on in a classroom planning my own lessons. That in itself has been pushing me out of my comfort zone, but has been incredibly rewarding so far. Having a team of people to encourage and help me when I am struggling has been such a blessing. The children we work with also come from tough home lives. Many wear the same clothes for multiple days in a row and have never been told "I love you." While our goal is to teach them and make sure they are learning academically, it is also to make sure they know that they are so loved and have a purpose. I think the biggest challenge for me so far has been with discipline. Each of these children are so precious and I have struggled with knowing the right way to correct poor behavior without causing a disturbance or it being taken really badly. Each day, these children are teaching me new things and hopefully I am teaching them many as well.
I look forward to the next half of this internship and furthering my connection with each child even more. So far, it has been incredibly rewarding.
Journal Entry #2
I have just finished up my fourth week at youth life. The experience has been incredibly rewarding so far and I have loved being with the children. This week we went to a state water park for our weekly field trip. We have a field trip every week and the water park was one of my favorites. Many of the children I am teaching have never learned to swim so watching them go down the water slide and play on a water playground was very special. Everybody was all smiles all day long. One little boy who has a particularly hard home life went down the water slide upwards of 30 times! It made all of us so excited to see them so happy. I am shocked by how fast the time has been flying with Youth Life. I have gotten into a great routine and love teaching and spending time with these children so much! I feel like they are teaching me just as much as I am teaching them which is very cool. I am in the process of planning our final two weeks of lesson plans and picking books to read. For next week I have "finding the main idea" as our main lesson for reading and working on -CK words. These are things that I have found my two rising second graders struggle with some so I am excited to freshen up their skills in these areas. For math, we are going to practice long division with double digit divisors. I have been busy finding worksheets and games to make this time more fun because long division can seem so daunting. I am really looking forward to continuing to watch my relationships with these children grow even more in the next two weeks!
I am also loving my time with the other interns and head teachers. They have been such a blessing throughout my entire experience. My first week at Youth Life was challenging and it all felt very new but they immediately made me feel comfortable and loved. It is such an encouraging bunch and we are all asking eachother if we can help in any way and I don't know what I would have done without them this summer. My favorite part of the day with them is after we send all of the students home. We gather around a table and discuss our high and low points of the day and go over what eachother did reallly well and what things we can all work together on to improve for the next day and coming weeks. Some days are pretty smooth and we spend this time laughing and bonding and others are extremely challenging and emotionally exhausting. On those days, we spend the time encouraging eachother and remind eachother that tomorrow is a new day and with that a fresh start and clean slate.
I have learned more than I could have possibly imagined from Youth Life, the students, and the other staff members and I am going to be so very sad to leave them in 2 weeks!
Journal Entry #3
It has been a couple weeks since I finished at Youth Life and I have had a lot of time to reflect on my summer there.
The last couple of weeks were spent finishing up lesson plans and activities. We had our last fun Thursday field trip which was mini golf and an art therapy class! They were read a story and then created an art project based off of the characters in the story. It was so much fun to watch them be creative with their art project. They took it very seriously since it was on a real artist's canvas with acrylic paint. They got to take them home after and we loved hearing about who they were going to gift it to or where they were going to hang it at home. We also finished up working on our elective STEM activity of straw rollercoasters which were a huge hit! They had to build a roller coaster that a ping pong ball went down just out of plastic straws and hot glue. They worked very well and we loved watching them come up with creative ways to attach the straws and get the ball to turn.
The last week of learning center was mainly focused on behavior as the beloved mystery trip was at the end of that week. Mystery trip is the overnight field trip that takes place at the end of every summer. It is a reward for the children that had exceptional behavior all year and also attended 100 days at the learning center throughout the school year and summer. The location and activities are a complete surprise to the kids and they look forward to it all year long. We had around 11 children end up being allowed to come on mystery trip. They all arrived thursday morning with their little suitcases packed as if they were going away for an entire week! They packed snacks, clothes, bathing suits, sweatshirts and were prepared for anything. We loaded them up and the excitement levels were through the roof! We first took the kids bowling in Fredricksburg, VA and then drove them to Front Royal were we had rented an AirBnb. The kids played arcade games, painted nails, and watched the Greatest Showman. We had spaghetti, hot dogs, and s'mores and it was so much fun to celebrate their hard work and good behavior. This trip was such an awesome way to wrap up the summer and celebrate how amazing these kids are.
I am very grateful for the opportunity and the time I got to spend with each staff member and student at the learning center and it has made me more excited than ever to follow my dreams to be a teacher after I graduate!