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Photo by Tyger Williams/Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photographer

For the next two posts, we are going to share the voices of Carver High School students who have been co-teaching with ISE instructor Julie Coopersmith. Teens are the reason why we do this work, and we are honored to hear their stories. Let’s go!

Today, let’s meet the fantastic Sierra.

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Tell us a little bit about you, your name, your grade, and some of the things that interest you?

My name is Sierra Jones. I’m a senior here at George Washington, Carver Engineering Science.

I’m interested in becoming an entrepreneur. I actually have my own business called CC, which stands for “See Everything Clearly and Euphorically.” I’m trying to uplift people, get them to see things in a different perspective, and send positive messages–because I’m a very positive person. I’m all about everyone being happy, everyone being comfortable, enjoying themselves. That’s what my business is all about. It’s tie-dye apparel, so I have bleached hoodies, shirts, shorts. I’m actually getting ready to do a pop-up shop on April 9th. My very first. 

So you’re not thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. You are an entrepreneur. 

Yeah, but I want to continue on that path. I’m also involved in a program called SquashSmarts. And, I just had an interview yesterday with this real estate scholarship program because I’m interested in real estate, flipping properties and stuff. It’s a program that’ll pay for my classes to get my real estate license, and then pay for my real estate license if I get into the program. I’m very excited for that, and I really hope that I get it. 

What made you become interested in being a co-teacher? 

I’m all about getting myself out of my comfort zone. That’s what excites me–doing things I’ve never done before, because after a while I get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, so I’ll look for new things to do. Hearing Ms. Julie say that she needs volunteers, I was like, you know, that’s something that’ll make me nervous. I’m kind of scared for it, but I should volunteer. And I did, and I actually ended up loving it. 

Was becoming a co-teacher hard? Were there any challenges that you weren’t expecting? 

A challenge I had is my voice sometimes gets a little shaky because I’m nervous. Other than that, I wouldn’t say there were any challenges really. I went into each class very open-minded because you can’t really predict how teens are going to act. So if you go in having expectations that they’re going to do something and then they don’t do it, that is what brings your mood down. That’s why I don’t have expectations in life, because when we have expectations, that’s when you get disappointed. I just go with everything, open minded, like anything could happen, like anything’s possible. When I went in [to the class], I knew some kids would be on their phones, some kids would pay attention, some kids would be asleep because that’s what happens in my classes. That’s all kids do. They’re always on their phone, and they don’t want to put it down. 

You said that you would feel nervous. How did you work through that or work around that? 

When I get nervous, I stutter a little bit, so I would just stop and then pronounce the word I stuttered over slowly. And then I would get back and pick the pace back up.

What were some positive things that happened?

The kids actually paying attention and engaging and listening! When I would do a meditation, some kids wouldn’t volunteer, but then the ones that were volunteering, it was like, Oh my god, like they’re actually listening. They actually like this. This was one of the positive things for me.

Has being a co-teacher helped you with your personal growth or academic growth? 

Yes. Personal growth, mostly. I’m an entrepreneur, so I have to put myself out there, market myself. Being a co-teacher helped me get outside of my little box that I was in. It showed me the importance of speaking in front of a crowd and building bonds or connections with people. Some of the kids in the classroom that I teach see me in the hallways and they’ll wave to me.

As the semester progressed, did you notice or feel a sense of connection or trust building between you and the other teens in the classroom? 

Yes, I did sense a build of trust because before in the beginning, they didn’t really ask any questions. They paid attention, but not really. But I feel like as time went on, they pay more attention. They’re asking me more questions and getting more comfortable with me. I really like that because I’m all about making people comfortable and making them willing to talk to me, and letting them know that I’m here for them if they need me.

Do you think it was easier for you to teach and adapt in a classroom where you didn’t know mostly everybody? Or do you think that made it harder?

I think that made it harder. Usually with people that you know, hopefully they would give you their full undivided attention and respect everything you’re teaching.

But I felt like there was really no difference. I still got a good amount of respect, not knowing anybody.

What’s been your favorite part about co-teaching?

Planning lessons have definitely been one of my favorite parts. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m sure some of those kids have never done a meditation before.

Yesterday, we did a movement exercise, we did a couple of stretches, and then we did a meditation. I’m sure some of them have never done that before. To me, that’s important, stretching your body and staying in a good mental space. I was just trying to get them to see that. That was one of my favorite parts about teaching. 

You’ve been on both sides of this. You took the class twice and now you’re co-teaching. Has that changed your understanding of the teaching material and how it applies?

On my dad’s side, they’re very big on meditating, so I was already kind of exposed to it before the classes. Now being on both sides, I feel like it didn’t really change anything but more so just expanded my knowledge on it and gave me a better understanding, a better perspective seeing it from both sides.

Can you talk a little bit about how this experience made you understand things better?

For instance, going from a student to a teacher, I already know being a teacher is very hard. 

Being on both sides just showed me that it can go either way. As a student, I understand why [students are]  on their phones because class is not interesting enough for them to pay attention, but as a teacher it’s like, I’m so nervous. How do I get them to pay attention? How do I get them to engage? I understand it better. 

Now that you’ve had some experience teaching, do you think that’s something you might want to do in the future? 

I was thinking about becoming a motivational speaker because I give my friends advice. I give advice all the time. My best friend told me, “Whenever I get mad or upset, I think, what would Sierra do? How would Sierra react?” Her saying that is like, Wow. I’m really getting through to people. People are actually listening to what I have to say. And if she’s listening, I know other people listen. I’m all about just helping and uplifting people. That’s why I give out so much advice because everyone has the right to know everything. Information should be free in my opinion.

 What has it been like working with Ms. Julie? 

Awesome. She is great. She’s very understanding and patient and very appreciative. I really appreciate that. 

Can you talk about some of the things that you’ve learned from watching her teach and planning with her?

Seeing her be able to flip her switch, if that makes sense. She’s a very cool, calm and collected person, very relaxed when she’s talking. But in a classroom, when the kids aren’t listening, she flips that switch and she’ll raise her voice and get them to listen. That’s one of the things that feels essential to life – controlling yourself and being able to flip that switch when you need to. She definitely has inspired me to work more on my self-control. 

What have you been most proud of in this role? 

I’ve been most proud of my motivation to keep up with planning the classes and creating lessons for the kids to stay engaged.

Can you say more about what role mindfulness has played for you?

Meditating and being mindful has taught me to just sit and observe and think for a second before reacting. Meditation doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be a whole big process. It can be really quick and essential. Just taking that five minute breather could change your whole mood. I try to get [my students] to see that as best as I can. 

Would you encourage other students to apply to this kind of experience? 

Yes. I was actually trying to encourage seniors this year to do it not only because it’ll benefit them and help them find their voice and get outside their comfort zone.

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We greatly appreciate Sierra sharing her experiences, wisdom, and lessons learned. And make sure to check next week’s blog where you’ll get a chance to meet the amazing Simir.

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