“I wish my teacher knew I don’t have a friend to play with me,” a student in my classroom wrote one year.
The little girl who penned those words struggled with profound shyness and anxiety that made it difficult for her to connect with her peers.
Reading those words reinforced my belief that educators are not only tasked with teaching reading and math, but also creating a classroom environment where kids feel safe and supported.
By the end of the school year, that shy little girl was given an award from Denver’s mayor for modeling leadership skills, showing strong character, and supporting her peers.
This is my fifth year as a third grade teacher in a Denver public school where nearly 90 percent of my students live below or very close to the poverty line. My journey began when I was 20. I wanted to serve my country, so I joined AmeriCorps, working at City Year, a program that places diverse teams of AmeriCorps members in urban public schools full-time.
As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I collaborated with teachers to provide support to students who needed it most, planned volunteer events, and ran extra-curricular activities. After giving a year of service, I left with a passion for education and a mission to become a teacher in the highest-need schools in my city.
My pathway into teaching is not unique. Many AmeriCorps alumni choose to go into the education field after their service year, creating a robust and diverse supply of teachers prepared to help students achieve at high levels, grow as learners and graduate from high school, prepared for college and career success. Like me, many AmeriCorps alumni are helping to build a brighter future for all of our students.
AmeriCorps has emerged as a critical pathway to teaching. It provides an additional assistance for those interested in becoming teachers: the Eli Segal Education Award of nearly $6,000, which can help defray the cost of earning a teaching degree. I used the education award to pay for my undergraduate degree. Later, I joined another AmeriCorps program—the Denver Teaching Residency—and used a second education award to help fund a master’s degree in education.
AmeriCorps is the reason why I became a teacher, why I’m the type of teacher I am, why I seek to understand the realities my students face and why I prioritize building relationships with each student..
The White House recently released its FY18 budget request that calls for the elimination of AmeriCorps and other national service programs. Simply put, eliminating AmeriCorps would end a critical pathway into teaching and hurt students in our highest-need schools
We can’t afford to lose this pathway when teacher shortages are so common across the country. In Colorado, the Denver Post reported that 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill existing vacancies, but those graduating from teacher preparation programs have declined by almost 25 percent in the last five years.
Defunding AmeriCorps would also hurt classrooms across the country. AmeriCorps and other national service members serve one out of every 10 schools across the county, and one out of every four high-need schools.
This year, nearly 12,000 traditional district, public charter and parochial schools receive support from national service programs.
I know tight budgets require difficult decisions. But as an educator, I believe that the decision to defund AmeriCorps is a trade-off that we should not make if we’re committed to a successful future for our children. Comprising just 0.03 percent of the federal budget, national service programs are not driving the federal deficit and should be protected — not be considered for elimination.
I urge members of Congress who in the past have displayed strong bipartisan support for national service to see the investment in AmeriCorps for what it is: a commitment to teachers, schools and our children. That’s an investment worth protecting – even expanding – as we consider what’s best for our students and for the future of our country.
Kyle Schwartz is a third grade teacher in Denver and a proud City Year and AmeriCorps alumna. She is the author of the book “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for our Kids.”