A Message from Miss Carissa

The Andy Roddick Foundation is joining with the National AfterSchool Association to celebrate the professionals that are at the heart of afterschool programs during "Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week" April 24-28, 2017. #heartofafterschool

Carissa applied to be a mentor with the Andy Roddick Foundation in the spring of her freshmen year at the University of Texas at Austin, wishing to explore the idea of becoming a teacher. Now three years later, she will welcome her first students as a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, this fall. In her own words, here is Carissa's journey.

I applied to be a mentor with the Andy Roddick Foundation in the spring of my freshmen year at UT. I had just decided that I wanted to explore the idea of becoming a teacher and had enrolled in my very first teaching courses that semester. I thought working at a camp with elementary students would be a fun way to spend my summer. It’s safe to say that the summer of 2014 definitely exceeded my expectations. While I look back on that summer as an overall positive experience, there were definitely many challenging moments. Managing a classroom of 10 second and third graders is a lot tougher than you might expect.

What you probably would expect, is that 2nd and 3rd graders tend to get into arguments a lot. Our first year of camp, we had a little mantra for problem solving. we would pull two kids aside when there was an issue and have them practice positive communication skills by voicing why they were upset. It went something like this:

“Jane I did not like when you did blank. Blank made me feel blank. I wish you would have done blank instead.”

One of the kids in my group found himself partaking in these types of conversations multiple times a day. I spent a lot of one on one time with him that summer talking about making good choices, thinking about what we say before we say it, and how to communicate in respectful ways even when we’re mad. As time went on, I noticed small improvements in his behavior and the way he got along with his peers. By the end of the summer, I actually witnessed him step between two other second graders that were arguing and pull them aside to practice the conflict resolution techniques that we had gone through so many times before. This was one of my proudest moments and when it really hit me that all our conversations had really made an impact. Over the course of the next three summers, I would come to have many more experiences just like this one. Moments when one of my kids would say or do something and I would think back to our first few days together and marvel at how much they had grown…physically emotionally and academically. Looking back now, I can say confidently that these moments are what made me realize that teaching is what I want to dedicate my life to.

If I could summarize my experience with ARF with one statement it would be this. Even after my toughest days, when I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotional…I never once considered quitting. If anything, I looked forward to coming back the next morning and trying even harder to overcome whatever obstacle had presented itself the day before. This was because of my kids and the tremendous growth that I was witnessing among them every day.

 I watched my kids go from struggling with their ability to sound out simple words during literacy time, to voluntarily reading chapter books to their younger friends. some of them went from being timid and disengaged, to enthusiastically performing a Hawaiian dance in front of the entire camp. I got to see them explore new cultures, try new foods, and discover new personal strengths and interests. Natasia is incredibly good at golf, Michael has a knack for swing dancing, and it turns out Katiriah really enjoys sushi. Every day was an opportunity for these kids to learn something new, not only about the world, but about themselves…and thats an incredible thing to be a part of. The Andy Roddick Foundation gave these kids a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and an environment in which they could thrive. Working in this community, with these students has been one of the most rewarding experiences and I couldn’t have imagined spending my summers any other way.