An Antidote to Cynicism

Two Fellows at Adventure Park

For those who have read the steady barrage of negative news stories this summer and are disheartened about the future of our country, I wish you could have been in Bridgeport, Connecticut the first Friday in August to see what I saw. On that day several hundred people, many fresh out of college, gathered in Bridgeport to begin six days of training before starting their year of service in AmeriCorps as a GO Fellow.

The course of programming for the event — The Forum — is designed to train Fellows for the work ahead as tutors and mentors to students in partner schools in Bridgeport, New York, Newark and Washington DC; many of them will become classroom teachers. The sessions at the Forum ranged from one designed to foster creative problem-solving, to another on building authentic relationships with children, to workshops on developing mentoring skills. The event also featured outside experts, including Dr. Anne Shields, a professor at the Relay Graduate School of Education on the topic of cognitive development. Huge thanks to the entire GO Foundation team, especially Khadija Marks and Rich Denor, for the time and energy they invested to plan, organize and run this training; they worked their hearts out.

The Forum is a gathering that is also meant to help inspire Fellows and steel them for the challenges in the year ahead. It included an afternoon at the Bridgeport Adventure Park where GO Fellows got to experience a challenging rope and zipline course as they built rapport with with the teammates they will be living with, and serving alongside, for the next year.

One of the highlights of the program for me personally was the talk given by Mike Goldstein and Jared Tailefer entitled “Phoning Home” about the importance of regular contact with parents which included techniques for building trust and establishing rapport. Mike is one of the most gifted pedagogues in America and is the godfather of the tutoring movement, having coined the term, “high-dosage tutoring”. Jared is the leader of the Great Oaks-Legacy Charter school of Newark, a role he’s held since founding the school more than a dozen years ago; 18 years ago he began his own year of service as an AmeriCorps tutor in Boston.

In kicking things off, I spoke to the group and referenced political scientist Robert Putnam who’s most recent book is called The Upswing. In it, Putnam describes the Guilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th century as a time of great social upheaval in the US, but also a time of fervent social innovation, when some of our country’s most enduring social service organizations were created including the Red Cross, NAACP, Boy Scouts, Rotary, YMCA, Big Brothers & the Audubon Society, among dozens of others.

At the end of his book, Putnam looks to young people to be the catalysts for creating a better world and sees a precedent. “Then as now, these young changemakers felt that they had been born into an America completely different from the one in which their parents had been raised…In many ways, they were right, and their reimagining of what America could and should be set our nation on an entirely different course.” I believe the 200+ young people who will be serving through AmeriCorps as GO Fellows this year are those changemakers; they are what give me hope about the future of our country.

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