Similar to many other retirees, Darci Beacom found her way to AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP as a way to “explore beyond the community of my house, and renovations, and the grandchild.” Her journey led her to the Shoreline Lake Forest Park Senior Center, whose Power of One Volunteer Program placed her at Shorewood High School as a mentor to students in the school’s English as a second language (ESL) program.
Shorewood ESL teacher Sally Thomas jumped at the chance to experiment with having an adult in the classroom. As Darci explains, she and several other volunteers were interested in working with older kids, and their involvement was “kind of a breakthrough program at the high school level.”
Contributing to Power of One’s success was the diversity and expertise among the volunteers. As Darci says, “We had a fellow who was an absolute wizard at math and somebody else who knew several languages – so we all brought something different to the classroom.” Guided by the teacher, her emphasis was on really getting the kids to stay focused and practice their English. The classroom they were in was specific for reading comprehension and writing at the upper level.
“The whole RSVP program is amazing. I had no idea there were so many facets to it. … My husband and I are working both ends of the spectrum: I’m working with kids as they come up, and we’re working with seniors as they’re trying to stay in their house.” ~ESL tutor Darci Beacom
Because they would rotate classes, the kids would then go on to a regular chemistry or biology class. Darci describes her professional background as “a lot of experience in corporate America.” She had mentored a Spanish-speaking adult family some years earlier while living in Illinois, but that had been mainly “for getting assimilated to the country and its values.”
When entering the high school classroom for the first time, she admits to being concerned “because there wasn’t one common language.” She had some knowledge of French and Spanish, but “none of the students had those languages in their background.”
Relieved at not having to know the students’ languages, Darci was able to relax with her young charges. “They would laugh with us – they would laugh at us, probably. But they worked so hard. It was very inspiring to see how hard those kids worked.”
Being in the classroom for a year enabled Darci – who modestly describes her primary volunteer talent as “enthusiasm” – to find her footing. She learned that Ms. Thomas structured her class as pods, which rotate among the students’ language skills: “One pod would be focused on building language vocabulary and another pod would be working on comprehension and writing. And so, it was actually very easy to come into it, because the expectation was that English is what they were there to master.”
Like everyone else, when the pandemic hit, the ESL volunteers had to scramble to adjust to a new reality. But Darci explains that Ms. Thomas “worked with the school district to get the OK for the volunteers that were assigned to her classroom to continue to participate via Zoom. We participated by helping in breakout rooms, as though we were in the classroom.”
Darci also worked one-to-one with a student whose parents expressed a desire for help for their daughter “following the curriculum that [Ms. Thomas] had laid out.” Now, Power of One – along with the ESL program – is again on hiatus. Darci says that during pandemic restrictions, “Our program follows what the schools are doing. Until they make the decision it’s okay to bring nonformal educators to the classroom, we’re on hold at all levels.”
Darci remains confident that she will again be able to rejoin her students in the classroom, not least because she thinks Ms. Thomas is “absolutely incredible. She is very creative and empathetic. When I see a teacher working that hard to help the kids succeed, I just want to help. I’ve been in touch with her, and she is thinking they will open up next term. That’s what I hope.”
Meanwhile, Darci continues to contribute to her community as a volunteer. “The whole RSVP program is amazing. I had no idea there were so many facets to it. We also volunteer for Northwest Neighbors network. It’s to try to help seniors stay in their houses, as long as they want. My husband and I are working both ends of the spectrum: I’m working with kids as they come up, and we’re working with seniors as they’re trying to stay in their house.”
Thanks so much for your service, Darci!
If you’re 55+ and interested in learning more about volunteering through Solid Ground’s RSVP of King County, please contact RSVP Coordinator Megan Wildhood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786.