Part I of Natalie’s Elementary Education Journey
This is a story about a revelation leading to Natalie’s elementary education journey and how she decided this was the career for her. Natalie El Amrani is a 24 year old Elementary Education student at St. Petersburg College. She entered her final internship in August 2018, and will graduate in December 2018. The journey in getting this far has not been easy, but Natalie is firm and determined.
Even though Natalie counts her blessings, she grew up in a dysfunctional environment. Her father immigrated to America in his 20’s from Morocco, Africa. Instead of making something of himself in this land of opportunity, he got quickly swept up by the fast life. Today, he is still working as a bellman in a downtown St. Petersburg hotel.
Natalie’s mother was a single mom and tried her best to provide for her only child, as a claims representative at Social Security. She was an amazing, protective mother that always put her health and happiness second to make sure her child was fed and content.
After graduating high school and deciding to enroll in college, Natalie’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled with the disease for 3 years before she lost the fight. Her death, in 2015, shattered Natalie. At the time of her death, Natalie was one semester away from graduating with an associate’s degree. After graduation in the summer of 2015, a life changing experience fell into her lap while searching for a job: AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps Changed Her Life
AmeriCorps is a voluntary program supported by the United States federal government. There was an AmeriCorps opening with an organization named Step Up for Students. Step Up for Students is a nonprofit housed in Florida providing low income students and students with special needs with scholarships to help pay tuition for private school. The AmeriCorps program sent volunteers into private schools in South St. Petersburg to help floundering students.
Mt. Zion Christian Academy was where she was placed, the elementary school associated with Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Her goal at Mt. Zion was to boost literacy and math skills through the implementation of software programs: IReady (literacy) and Dreambox (math), effectively group students for intensive pull out tutoring in order to provide academic support. Another goal was to create and run an after school and summer program housed in the gym of the school. Natalie received a small stipend for her AmeriCorps service and spent every day from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. at Mt. Zion for a year.
Her focus after school and for the summer program was to create and build cultural awareness and tolerance. She taught students about different countries and continents. Together they explored exotic styles of music and dancing, and students looked forward to it every day. Focusing mainly on the Caribbean, because so many of Natalie’s students had family from the islands, made the Caribbean culturally relevant to them. Many students didn’t even know where the Caribbean was, although they themselves were Jamaican. She taught history of the Caribbean, and dove into reggae and soca music. The experience was absolutely life changing for Natalie.
Two of the most important lessons learned were that true injustices exist in public education, and there is a great need for positive mentors in the lives of boys and girls. Throughout her service, Natalie connected with a number of 4th and 5th grade girls on personal levels. She saw her younger self in them. She was in a position to help young girls understand the importance of determination and self-confidence. Over time she created a few mentorships, which took place on the weekend. Opportunities arose to take the girls to cultural festivals, feed the homeless, dine on the waterfront, and see many places that they never knew existed although located minutes from where they lived.
It was this experience, with AmeriCorps, that made Natalie realize she was destined to become a teacher and her focus would be Elementary Education.