Claire was a long way from the Dominican Republic. On her first day at Salem High School, she was in awe of the school’s size, of the students buzzing about, and of the many voices speaking a language she couldn’t: English. When she made her way to her first classroom, she found it strangely dark and empty, and when a teacher saw her sitting there, the only thing Claire could say — because it was the only word she knew — was, “Help.”
It was an experience Claire would never forget, but would never have to go through again. Salem High School is a part of United Way’s North Shore AmeriCorps program, and through this initiative and others like it, we’re dedicated to ensuring all youth can succeed in school and graduate.
How the program Works
Since 2013, United Way and AmeriCorps have partnered with public school districts and community organizations in Salem and Lynn — and most recently Gloucester — to provide English language learners like Claire with impactful mentorship and educational support. AmeriCorps Members work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade, focusing on three main concepts: comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. They support social emotional development and overall classroom success as well, helping their students with math, science, literature, and any other subject they might be struggling with.
Before Members set out to serve, United Way provides them with a three-week training program, preparing them for the year ahead. Once at their assigned school, Members work with students from October to July, and United Way is there the whole way. Through periodic check-ins, we take a measure of student and member progress, including the administration of a pair of exams measuring both English proficiency and social emotional development.
For students with needs outside of their education, we help Members connect their students to out of school time opportunities at United Way partner organizations. And when their students need it, Members also act as a kind, open ear and comforting presence to rally around.
Claire’s Personal Connection
For Claire, that comfort would come from Mia Riccio, the AmeriCorps Member assigned to Salem High School. They met during Claire’s junior year at Salem High School, and worked together throughout her senior year as well. Improving Claire’s English was central to their time together, along with more general academic help, but as time went on, Claire would need more support than she’d initially thought.
At the beginning of her senior year, Claire’s grandfather passed away, causing her to miss a full month of classes. When she returned, she began to fall behind in Geometry and Algebra and was at serious risk of failing them. To add to the pressure, her father was pushing hard for Claire to get into a good college no matter what. Finally, as if she needed anything else to worry about, Claire didn’t know how to apply for college in the first place, making her father’s demand seem almost impossible.
It was at this tipping point that Mia provided the break Claire needed. She sat with Claire during her Geometry classes, helping in any way she could, whether it was translating a strange word or helping with the nuances of the subject. They worked together both in and out of the classroom and together made sure that Claire passed. She did.
Making it to College
After she’d cleared that hurdle, another, possibly higher one remained: applying for college. Thankfully, Mia was a resource there as well. She and Claire started to work together as part of the College Success Program at LEAP for Education, another United Way partner agency. LEAP helps students like Claire explore their college options, get help applying for financial aid and scholarships and generally understand how to fill out the mountain of paperwork that comes with a college application. Claire wanted to make that process as smooth as possible, not only fulfill her father’s wishes but also to secure her own future.
As with Geometry, Claire made it through. She successfully enrolled at North Shore Community College, and she and Mia kept working together, brushing up on English, ensuring she managed her time appropriately and generally keeping her on top of her schoolwork.
Mia was there to provide softer support too — in the time since she made it into college, much of her family has moved back to the Dominican Republic. Now without her parents or sister, Claire’s only relative in Salem was her brother. Between juggling rent, bills, school, supporting her family across thousands of miles, and holding down a social life, having Mia around was a welcome relief.
Today, Claire is a junior in college and looking forward to what her future might bring. She wants to graduate and pursue a masters degree. Right now she’s studying biotechnology, but her interests have expanded into forensics and anthropology. One of her dreams is to move to Texas and study anthropology there.
Safe to say that’s quite the leap from the person she was when she arrived in the US. Now, because of Mia’s help and that of North Shore AmeriCorps and LEAP to Education, Mia is chasing some of the most complicated, detail-oriented work there is. Her story is a prime example of why United Way fights for the success of all of our young people. There’s no telling where they’ll go when they get the support they deserve.
If you’re looking to becoming an AmeriCorps Member and mentor to students on the North Shore, you can apply to the program directly through our online application form. For any other information you might need about the program, contact Sean Cicero at firstname.lastname@example.org.