Currently finishing her senior year at Fordham University, Jenny Portillo is the founding member of our P.S. 73 literacy tutoring program and a brand new Teach for America recruit!
When she graduates this spring she’ll have a double-major in English and history and a completed senior thesis on the shared constructs and themes of traditional poetry and hip-hop music. She counts Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree among her favorite books. “I think his message of selfless love is meaningful for any person at any age,” she says.
In this month’s Community Spotlight, Jenny updates us on the P.S. 73 tutoring program and provides a first-person account of teaching and learning from students.
Over the past year we have continued the poetry project and added a newspaper project for the students. The tutors are teaching all of the students the fundamentals of writing poetry and articles. We also plan to incorporate photography into the projects. Our goal is to create another poetry book like we did with last year’s group and produce a newspaper as well. We will also bring the kids onto the Fordham campus for a “college day” in April.
One of my favorite activities has been watching the students develop their own types of poems. Some of the kids were reluctant when it came to writing their own poems and wanted to simply stick to the newspaper project. However, the tutors continually reassured them they could incorporate many elements of poetry into their newspaper articles and other forms of writing. Clapping out syllables and talking about music that incorporates elements of poetry has gotten the students much more excited about learning about poetry.
After last year’s group came to visit the Fordham campus in the Bronx, they talked about how motivated they were to work hard so they too could go to college when they grew up.
The kids are constantly asking me and the other tutors about where we come from and what college is like. The students continually ask the tutors what it takes to go to a college like Fordham. I brought last year’s group on campus and they described as one of their “best days ever.” After last year’s group came to visit the Fordham campus in the Bronx, they talked about how motivated they were to work hard so they too could go to college when they grew up. The influence the tutors have had on the students is obvious and the kids’ enthusiasm for someday attending college is truly inspiring.
One of the lessons from my work with CFK that will definitely follow me to Dallas when I begin teaching in August is to not be afraid to have fun.
Despite working with kids both in Houston and in the Bronx for several years, I never really considered being a teacher. I always wanted to be a lawyer and thought that law school was the next step after graduation. After hesitantly meeting with the Teach for America recruitment director and telling her about my experiences with CFK, I realized how truly passionate I am about education. TFA’s mission to bring better educational opportunities to students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them resonated with me after working with an organization like CFK.
One of the lessons from my work with CFK that will definitely follow me to Dallas when I begin teaching in August is to not be afraid to have fun. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a child excited about things like newspapers and poetry which typically appeal to an older crowd, but when you let yourself have fun and get excited about the projects, the kids will feed off that positive energy. I remember the kids kept getting distracted during one afternoon last year so I let them read some poems I had been working on for a class, they turned it into a dramatic reading. I was a bit embarrassed at first, but then saw how much they were enjoying listening to each other read; I couldn’t help but enjoy it too.