This morning we finally set out for our first day of direct service, working with Northwestern University Settlement ¬†House (NUSH). I could describe how we initially got on the blue line going in the wrong direction due to poor train labeling, but that’s not important.

We started with a brief tour of the NU settlement house, which, we were informed, is the oldest consistently operating settlement house in Chicago (since 1891). We saw their conference room, which used to be a pantry, a bingo room, and a coffee house all in one. We were also shown the newly renovated pre-K room, which was a good way to see how the large amounts of funding -both public spending and private donations- for the settlement house have been used to improve the facilities. We also saw part of the Noble Street Charter School, which adjoins the house, including its very nice theater and its cafeteria.

We then spent the next hour or two helping set up for the day’s event: a Day of Literacy in honor of Martin Luther King Jr (remembering the holiday today). I helped set up a reading room geared towards younger kids in the basement. We rocked it, I have to say -the Americorps people said so, at least. People also helped set up decorations and a “railroad” tracks around the event area to lead to certain spots in a family-friendly way.

Then brown bag lunches in a conference room with a glass tabletop. Nice.

But the highlight of the day was working with other volunteers to provide activities related to reading for children. The idea was to give them access to reading materials, as well as other ¬†forms of expression that inspire them to read and enjoy reading. I helped some kids design colorful “bookmark buddies” that they can use as place-holders and companions when reading. These activities were particularly enriching for us because it gave us the opportunity to interact with our target population at last.

After the event and dinner we sat down with a handful of volunteers from Americorps to hear about their experiences in high school, with the organization, and when working in charter schools. They were all extremely friendly and open about their personal stories. Our conversation with them was very eye-opening and provided a unique insight into the experiences of those who have made long-term commitments to combating this issue.

In the evening we held a reflection session to discuss the day and all of our experiences. We especially focused on the question: Charter schools are known for instituting strict systems of deadlines and discipline that show signs of helping kids get accepted into college, but is this the key to success, or is it “hand-holding” that does not help the kids by teaching them self-discipline and autonomy?

Also a shout-out for Yanel for making a sandwich for me for lunch tomorrow while I use my time to write this blog post instead.