If you've read a newspaper or even just a social media feed from the Chicago area lately you've seen a lot of news about our schools. Some of the news is confusing, some of it is maddening, and none of it seems great for our kids.
In the midst of budgets, politicians, and bureaucracy, however, there are also shining stories of great individuals that stand above the rest to make a positive difference in the lives of our kids. Today I'm really excited to share an interview with one of those individuals.
Meet Playworks coach, AmeriCorps volunteer, and Chicago native: Ariana Walls!
Coach Ari, as she's affectionately known to the kids at B's public school, has been volunteering her time and talent all year through the AmeriCorps program. As part of her work at the school she planned a "Community Engagement Initiative" that included repurposing the school's paved playlot. The Little Dragans and I helped out for a bit, and then I caught up with Coach Ari later for some more details. I hope you'll enjoy hearing about her experience and seeing the pictures of her project.
Coach Ari's plan for the playlot: basketball court, four square, hopscotch, and lines for the different classes. I'm ready to play!!
KD: What are your responsibilities as part of AmeriCorps?
AW: As an AmeriCorps member my biggest responsibility is to complete 1700 hours of service. Through Playworks, I was given 10 months to complete the hours. As a Playworks AmeriCorps coach at NTA, my job focuses around recess, an after school leadership program and non-competitive sports leagues throughout the year. Along with the 1700 hours, AmeriCorps members are required to attend service projects once a month, as well as plan a "community engagement initiative" or CEI event. For me, my CEI was the playground painting.
KD: What have been some of your favorite memories from this year?
AW: My favorite memory from this year would have to be with one of my 3rd grade classes. The class was particularly loud and disrespectful that day making it really hard to get through our lesson. The next day I had 25 hand written letters in my mailbox from that class. The kids were so sweet, talking about how much they loved recess and learning games from me. It was the first time I had that "ah ha" moment and felt like I was making a difference.
KD: Is there anything about your work this year that has surprised you or from which you felt like you really learned something?
AW: NTA has a really diverse staff, culturally and racially. I think that I have learned so much from my recess staff in particular. We are all such different people and come from different backgrounds but are here at the school for the same reason, to provide a safe and fun space for children to play. I was the rookie coming in this year, but my recess team really took me under their wings and welcomed me during the first few months of the school year. They also grasped onto the Playworks language and values that I was trying to incorporate in the school quickly, which made for a well meshed team.
KD: What was your project for NTA's play area and how did you come up with this idea?
AW: I came up with the idea to paint games and boundary lines on Federal Street a few months ago. For my CEI, I had to identify an area either in our school or community that had a need. I identified that one of NTA's biggest needs surrounding recess had to do with the lack of boundaries and games. Each day before recess I would have to place cones to try and distinguish different play areas. I would also have to chalk out four square courts and hopscotch. As you can guess, this took up a good amount of time and was not very effective. If it was a windy day, the cones would blow all over leaving kids unsure of where to play certain games. I realized that if I could have permanent boundaries, recess would be able to run way smoother.
KD: How do you think the project will improve the experience of NTA students?
AW: I have already seen an improvement at recess! The street is brighter and more inviting so more kids feel welcomed to play (which is awesome)! Boundaries are clear and understood by even our youngest students, making recess fun for them and stress free for myself and my team. I am hoping that in the years to come, many students are able to have fond memories on the space we created.
Thank you so much, Coach Ari, for serving our community and for showing us all that one person can bring about change if they are creative, motivated, and optimistic like you are! You have made a lasting and positive mark on our school, and we thank you for your service.