VISTA Spotlight: Anna Michelson
July 15, 2015
This year I served at Wellstone International High School. Wellstone serves newly arrived English Language Learners, many of whom had limited or interrupted formal schooling before coming to Wellstone. Some students had never been to school before, and many are learning to read for the first time. These students face the double challenge of learning how to read AND doing it in a new language.
I worked with the reading teachers to research, implement, and evaluate literacy strategies to meet students' unique needs. I am happy to report that 83% of the students I worked with met or exceeded expected reading growth!
It was a joy to work with these students and teachers every day. Of course there were challenges, but students' hard work and positive attitudes made it all worth it. I chose VISTA service because I wanted to explore the education/non-profit field. I wanted to work in a school, but I'm too introverted to be with students 100% of the time. Wellstone provided a great balance of behind-the-scenes capacity building and direct service. This year I've learned a lot about literacy education and about immigrant experiences. Many students shared stories of incredible hardship, but had a bright outlook for their future and high academic expectations for themselves.
After my VISTA term ends I am starting a PhD program in Sociology at Northwestern University. My time as a VISTA reinforced my love of research and writing. In my future research I want to explore the sociology of education, especially the experiences of immigrant youth like my Wellstone students. I would encourage anyone considering national service to do it. VISTA provides a lot of opportunities for professional development and networking. More than that, however, VISTA is an opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone, see what you are capable of, and to have a positive impact on someone's life. I am thrilled the majority of my students made great literacy gains, but truthfully, even if only one of them had my year would have been worth it.