By Jenny Pedraza, APR
If you ask Alexis Mitchell, ’21, a Virginia Commonwealth University liberal studies in elementary education major, what it takes to succeed while working with the community, she says, “build connections with people, put yourself in their shoes and always keep their situation in mind before making decisions.”
Mitchell has worked in Carver Elementary classrooms since her sophomore year, through a service-learning class as a student mentor and most recently as an America Reads intern.
This semester, she works three days a week with a third grade class of 17 students. Mitchell supports her mentor teacher, acting as a second set of eyes, tutoring students in small groups, overseeing lesson plans and grading papers.
According to Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director in the Center for Community Engagement and Impact, the America Reads program at VCU dates back to the 1990s. In 2016, a new partnership with Carver Elementary was formed that placed VCU students in classrooms to assist K-3 teachers with literacy and other classroom needs. From this new partnership, the America Reads internship was created, utilizing work-study funds to compensate VCU students for their work in the schools. Interns work approximately 12 hours per week throughout the school year.
“We work in partnership with Carver Elementary and Richmond Public Schools (RPS) to address student needs that they have identified, including literacy at Carver Elementary,” Luna said. “The America Reads internship allows VCU students to build strong relationships with their mentor teachers and the children they serve. The program helps to carry out Dr. Rao’s promise that all VCU students will participate in at least one hands-on learning activity during their time at VCU.”
In 2018-19 and 2019-20, there were 10 America Reads interns in Carver classrooms. The program was paused due to COVID-19, but two returning interns were hired to work virtually for the 2020-2021 school year, including Mitchell.
Beyond transitioning to a virtual setting, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unique challenges for the students in Mitchell’s classroom, especially during the holiday season. As a volunteer project outside the scope of her internship, Mitchell raised funds to deliver food and school supplies to her students’ families. Through family, friends and a raffle of an Echo Dot speaker, Mitchell raised $500 in two weeks. [View Image]
“From this project, I learned that I really have made a connection with the Carver community and the students there, and that was always my main goal coming in,” she said. “It felt so much more rewarding to give back and lend a hand, because I knew the people who my efforts were going to help. I learned that things that seem small to you can really make a big difference to someone else.”
Mitchell’s experiences in the classroom and getting to know a community of students and their families directly aligns with her future goals. After graduating this May, she will start a master’s degree in education at VCU and participate in RTR – Teach for Change, a highly selective graduate teacher residency program that recruits, trains and supports teachers for high-needs and hard-to-staff schools. She hopes to become a teacher in Georgia or Richmond and possibly become a principal one day.
For more information on VCU’s ongoing partnerships with RPS, contact Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org.