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The View From 14 Inches

Earlier this month I began my Experience Corps work with Washington, D.C. elementary school kids to build their reading skills.  It has been both exhilarating and exhausting.  And although I’m having a tremendous amount of fun, I am already developing calluses on my back side getting used to sitting in a chair that’s only 14 inches off the ground!

Ms. Diljohn and her students.

H. L. Mencken once famously said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  My Experience Corps corollary is “Nobody ever went broke overestimating the energy in an American public elementary school.”  Those kids have got a joie de vivre (enjoyment of life) that doesn’t quit, yet their teacher expertly channels that enthusiasm into an eagerness to learn.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues.  For part of the morning they sit “Criss-Cross Applesauce” while working on their reading skills – phonics and vocabulary.  Several of them fidget during this time – I can remember this wonderfully descriptive word from my early days, which was, I believe, oftentimes used to describe me – but my teacher has a bevy of techniques to calm and refocus the kid’s attention.  She periodically sings rhymes and songs along with the children to gently reinforce positive behaviors and channel the exuberance I’ve described above.  And she keeps them moving with a purpose!

I’m there through June of next year, and will frequently blog about my experiences.  One of my proudest accomplishments to date is to sing the classroom song about “Days of the Week” that’s based on the musical theme from the Addams Family! Give it a try.

Robert Hodder is blogging about his first year as a volunteer with AARP Experience Corps, helping kids in a Washington, D.C. elementary school with their reading skills. AARP Experience Corps will be expanding into its 20th city, Chicago, in the 2013-14 school year and is in the process of recruiting volunteers. You can also follow Robert and his experiences on Twitter. For information on how to volunteer, please contact Patrice Gerideau at pgerideau@aarp.org.

Photo credit: Robert Hodder