My Experience with Literacy First and Mindful AISD

By Celeste Tovar, 2020-2021 Literacy First Tutor

Check out some of the mindfulness resource videos Celeste has created through her community partnership with Mindful AISD.

After making the decision to take a gap year and move home to Texas, my sister recommended I do a Service Year with AmeriCorps. I did some research and came across Literacy First. I saw this as a valuable opportunity to see what it’s like to be an educator and work with kids. With all the problems in today’s education system, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my gap year than helping our community grow. I decided to serve with Literacy First because I wanted to work under the guidance of skilled educators whose values and motivations align with my own. I knew this opportunity would help me be an active community member and play my part in positively transforming the trajectory of student lives by supporting them on their journey to read and encouraging them to find freedom through words.

My AmeriCorps experience has been a beautiful chapter of my life. As someone interested in pursuing a career in education, this has definitely been a unique introduction to teaching and education. Even though I’ve heard other members say this experience has helped them realize that a career in education is not for them, I have never felt more motivated to become a teacher. I figure if I can do remote teaching, I can manage almost anything.

I remember being so anxious at the beginning – wondering if parents would like me, if students would like me, if parents would think our sessions are pointless and pull their child out of tutoring. Most of that anxiety left my body after my first day of official tutoring, when I met my first group of kids, whom I’ll never forget. I immediately bonded with them and their parents. I still get anxious before I meet a new student and have to call their parents and start building that relationship, but it always goes so well. I really do admire each of my students so much. I value the teaching skills I’ve obtained as a remote tutor this year. While I do wish there were no pandemic so I could experience in-person teaching, I see so much value in being introduced to education and youth work through distance learning. It has been a privilege to witness each student grow in their confidence and love for reading; and an even deeper privilege to have received their families’ trust, in addition to their own. Together, my students and I have learned how to make stories come alive and how to pause, think, reflect, and ask questions; all while still prioritizing our wellness and offering opportunities for stretch and meditation breaks throughout lessons.

As part of my service year, I volunteer with Mindful Austin ISD to create Spanish mindfulness content with the vision of promoting self and communal care and wellness. This content includes one to three-minute videos focusing on mental, social, and emotional wellness, healing, and maintenance. I plan on spending my last three months with Mindful Austin creating more videos and visual graphics. As a disabled person with multiple disabilities that influence my learning, social skills, and emotional expression, I was elated to learn about the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning in Austin schools. When I found out about opportunities for community partnerships with Mindful Austin ISD, I immediately reached out and applied. Prior to my partnership with Mindful AISD, my experience with mindfulness included completing courses in Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence through my college, as well as occasional content-creation for social media. I practice mindfulness and meditation daily, in addition to other physical and spiritual health and wellness activities.

I believe these activities are essential for everyone, and I believe in the importance of teaching these skills and practices to others at an early age. I try to target my videos to people of all ages, but I am not a professional and am a bit camera shy, so there is room for growth on my part. There are a lot of mindfulness terms I am familiar with in English, but never knew how to say in Spanish, and I’m glad I’ve finally taken the time to learn them. There were a lot of times when I filmed videos while stressed out, and the content and practices helped reground me and bring me the relief I needed. I do want to make a set of videos that is designed specifically for young children. The world expects so much from young ones; we ask kids to listen and pay attention, but we don’t teach them how. Children are enduring so many changes during the pandemic and are experiencing trauma and fatigue just as we are as adults, and we cannot teach them to put those feelings aside and ignore them. Acknowledging one’s emotions and needs should not be seen as a burden, but a necessity. Bite-sized mindfulness, like guided exercises during class or video exercises accessible at any time, can make a larger impact than many of us realize. Just like having strong reading skills, possessing self-awareness, self-calming, self-regulation, compassion, and kindness skills can change the trajectory of a person’s life. I, myself, have had self-destructive tendencies in the past and learning to be mindful changed everything; mindfulness taught me how to be aware of what triggered destructive behavior and how to see it approaching so I can stop it in its tracks. We all want children to succeed academically, but in order for this to happen, their essential needs have to be met first. Once a person knows how to ground themselves and sit with and manage their behavior and emotions, this emotional intelligence acts as a tool to then help them grow socially, so that they can practice respecting others and demonstrating pure compassion, kindness, and love to the world around them. Mindfulness is not only beneficial to the individual; its ripple effect facilitates the creation of a world that nurtures all beings.

In the fall, I will return to Pomona College in Claremont, California to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Chicanx Latinx Studies. I plan to continue my education post-grad in pursuit of my goal to become an Ethnic Studies teacher serving public schools. In September, I will begin conducting research to contribute to a disability justice movement focused on creating permanent roles in schools for remote teachers. Remote work and learning should continue to be an option post-COVID as it has proved to be beneficial to many members in the disability community.