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An Unexpected Gap Year Becomes a Year of Service

When Marielle Kamath’s gap year between college and medical school turned into two years, she saw AmeriCorps service as an opportunity to give back to her community. Kamath is a Reading Corps tutor at Jefferson Elementary School in her hometown of Rochester, Minn. She plans to start medical school in the fall of 2021.

Serving close to home: I grew up right here in Rochester — right up the road from Jefferson, actually. I went to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. I was feeling pretty burned out and knew I wanted to take a year off before going on to medical school, so I came home and got a job in a 3-D printing lab at the Mayo Clinic. Then my gap year turned into two gap years; the pandemic presented me with an opportunity to stay in town and do something meaningful.

I tutored while I was in college and really enjoyed it; I love being around kids. So when it was clear that I’d be taking another year, I knew that was something I’d like to continue. I didn’t know about AmeriCorps tutoring programs until I did a Google search for opportunities near me, but I saw right away that it would be a perfect fit.  

I started tutoring virtually in the fall, and now that we’re back to fully in-person school, I’m working on reading with about 30 K–3 students at Jefferson, Monday through Friday.

How my students are preparing me to be a better doctor: One thing I’ve learned is how to adjust my communication level depending on who I’m working with. Students are at all different levels — and what I love about them is that they are spunky and sassy enough to say “I already know that!” or “What does that mean?” so I know when I can communicate better according to their needs. When you’re a physician working with patients, everyone will be different and everyone has different communication styles. I’ll always remember that.

Patience is another thing I’ve learned. Some kids will really test you. I’ve gotten good at not reacting and at finding good ways to calm down a kid who’s frustrated.

And I’ve decided that education is something I want to continue in my future career. How that will manifest, I’m not sure, but I love the idea of taking what I know and using it to help educate the next generation.

Engaging kids during remote learning: With the first through third-graders, we could read and do the normal things we’d do in face-to-face tutoring. The youngest students were the ones who struggled the most with virtual tutoring. I found that playing games around letter sounds and word blending was the way to keep them interested. Some of them are barely five years old, so they are quite little.

One of my kindergarten students was incredibly quiet at first. During our first three months of working together, the only things he would say were “I don’t know” or “no.” And now he’ll have a full conversation with me! He puts words into a sentence automatically to make sure I know he’s comprehending! He waves at me every time he sees me now.

It has definitely been a big change from sitting in front of the computer screen to interacting full-time with young kids — I really enjoy being in a school setting with them, because they’re so fresh and passionate about everything. They want to learn, they’re curious and excited, they’re happy to be around you even if you’re not having the greatest day.

Giving back: I was lucky to have a wonderful education thanks to my parents, and I recognize that not every student gets those benefits. I was adopted, and my parents have given me every opportunity that I could ever have dreamed of; I don’t know where I would be had I not ended up in Rochester with two really awesome, giving parents. I had extra help when I struggled in school, and a lot of students don’t, whether because of financial issues, or parents who have to work multiple jobs and don’t have time, or parents who didn’t learn in this country so are less able to help.

Education is the key to everything: Learning how to read, write and speak are the most foundational, basic skills you need to succeed. I want these kids to be prepared.

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