Honors Alumna and 2014-2018 Chancellor’s Scholar Rachel Tapia is spending the year working with AmeriCorps. Tapia is an AmeriCorps member in Bridgeport, Connecticut, working with Great Oaks Charter School. As a part of the Great Oat TutorCorps, she is a small group teacher and specialist for 6th grade students, most of whom are around two grade levels behind academic standards. In addition to supporting class materials, Tapia also gives lessons on fundamentals of reading, writing, and the English language. As she explained,
"For example, one of my groups consisted of six non-native speakers of English, so we would work on the writing skills taught in class, but also on learning English more generally—often spelling, pronunciation, and basic verb tenses.”
At Appalachian, Tapia earned a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing a minor in Psychology. For her Honors Thesis, Kill the Messenger, she was mentored by Zachary Vernon, assistant professor of English. Dr. Ellen Lamont, assistant professor of sociology, served as her second reader.
Tapia is finding AmeriCorps more than just a job, it is service. As she notes,
“This is not just a stepping stone on my path to grad school and becoming a professor. The Bridgeport education system, like many public school systems in urban areas, has pushed many students through without teaching them essential things they need for their everyday lives, never mind college. There have been days that I have gone home and cried because I am exhausted from doing everything I can and it still not feeling like enough. But when I come to school and my students tell me about a book they're reading or a story idea they have, I am so proud because I know that just a few months ago, many of these students could barely read at a third grade level, and now they're challenging themselves to read whole novels. Every day I am reminded of how resilient kids are.”
Tapia is enjoying her work with AmeriCorps so much that she is applying for two other positions within the same school for next year. However, she shared,
“As much as I love AmeriCorps, this position has also been incredibly challenging. I'm far from home, which I didn't think would be as big of a problem as it is, but Bridgeport is still unfamiliar to me and doesn't feel like home, which is probably because I put so many hours in at work every day. I'm in at 7:15 every morning and never leave before 5pm, and sometimes I'm here as late as 7:30pm, working nonstop the whole time.”
Tapia reports that her Honors experience at Appalachian prepared her for her current position with AmeriCorps, both academically and personally. She said,
“While challenging academics in Honors pushed me further than I may have otherwise pushed myself, it is the level of personal attention in an academic and professional environment that benefited me most, thus benefiting my students now.”
She further explains that,
“Academically, the Honors College challenged me. But it is the level of personal interaction I had with Honors faculty and staff that helps me most at this position.”
Once Rachel completes her year (or more) of service with AmeriCorps, she does plan to go on to graduate school and teach in higher education. Currently she is exploring doctoral programs in comparative literature at the University of Michigan and linguistics at Yale University. We look forward to sharing her story as she continues to face challenges, grow, and thrive with the foundation of Honors at Appalachian.
Top photo features Rachel Tapia doing an after-school activity with English Language Learning students. In this activity, Tapia writes things in the room in English on sticky notes, and the students have a time limit to place as many sticky notes as accurately as possible. On this day, the students decided to have Tapia play in Spanish, and one student wrote this sticky note. Tapia stuck it to her forehead and kept it there for the next hour of the lesson. Photo by Rachel Tapia.
Story by: Garrett Alexandrea McDowell, Ph.D.