Paloma Deerfield just completed her service as an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Instructor at Buchanan and Cesar Chavez elementary schools. Paloma began her service later than many of her fellow members, but writes that “the classroom community that my learners and I created in the few months that we learned together was a unique experience that I hold dear.” After AmeriCorps, Paloma will continue to work at her “dream job” at Midnight Vault comic book store in downtown Grand Rapids.
Time is such a relative, nearly inapplicable measurement of the strength of bonds formed by individuals. In the four short months that my learners and I spent together, learning from one another, a strong bond and a great sense of community formed.
I look out the window of my classroom, waiting to see my learners file in, hoping that everyone shows up for the last day of class. Familiar forms catch my eye coming in from the parking lot. I see the two men of the class, Martin and Rodrigo, walk towards the school doors, carrying a bag nearly bursting at the seams with Fanta.
“Teacher, we have two different types of Guatemalan tamales!” Rodrigo beams, excited to share the cuisine of his home country.
I glimpse another learner, Fernanda, as she crosses the parking lot, two grocery bags in each hand. She enters the classroom huffing and puffing, but with a smug smile on her face. Fernanda refuses to reveal what she has brought until everyone has arrived. Eventually, all of my regular learners are present, with each of them bringing a minimum of two bags filled with either drinks, food, or utensils. They tell me that after the penultimate class, they lingered in the hallway as I left, delegating who would bring what to this surprise celebration. The impressive spread spans two whole tables: We have two different types of Guatemalan tamales, more Fanta than anyone can consume, some interesting Puerto Rican sandwiches, delicious Mexican rice, and the most thoughtful dish, homemade chicken mole. Fernanda beams as we all stand in grateful shock as she reveals that it is she who has made the mole.
“Fernanda!” Minerva screams. “I can’t believe you made mole!” Minerva pulls Fernanda into a big hug as she continues to laugh and shout in disbelief. Mole is a dish typically prepared for special occasions, and takes a lot of time and care to prepare, and Fernanda remembered that I had been asking questions regularly about this traditional food. Having it sitting in front of us on this very special day touches all of us.
Everyone is beyond excited to share their food, and of course to try all of the food that their classmates have brought. Everything is absolutely delicious. The youngest learner, Rodrigo, goes in for thirds. I express how incredibly grateful I am not only for the food, but for all of the hard work that they put into the class every time that we met. I couldn’t have asked for a greater group of learners, nor do I think they could have asked for a better community of classmates who were so willing to help one another to understand and succeed.