Central Michigan University is located in the small town of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where there is no mountain to climb. Mount Pleasant is apart of Isabella County, which is one of the most impoverished communities in Michigan. Many CMU students are not aware of this, because, to be so blunt, most students at CMU live in a little bubble. This bubble does not stretch far into the community. This bubble does not show that almost 50% of the community is living at or below the poverty line. This bubble does not show that there are community members struggling to find their next meal. This bubble surrounds CMU’s campus, the various Mission street stores, and the cute coffee shops. This bubble does not go far into the community, and this year I thankfully popped my bubble to expose myself to the high need that this community is seeking.
This semester I am student teaching at Mount Pleasant Middle School, formerly known as West Intermediate. I am teaching four periods of 7th grade English Language Arts and 2 periods of Study Skills for students with IEPs and 504s. Over 63% of my 128 students are living below the poverty line. Over half of my students wear the same clothes everyday. Many of my students are focused on where their next meal is coming from, if their parents are going to be at home, and whether or not they will be walking into their home with fighting or abuse after school.
I have volunteered in this community so much more now than ever before. I seek out local businesses. I stay after school to help students during Oiler Hour (after school tutoring program). My heart breaks for this community. We have had 15 snow days this semester. Many of these students won’t get any food on these days “off”. Many students don’t have heat. And when my heart is breaking for these students, there are people in this same community who have no idea what is going on because they live in this bubble.
I am up every morning at 4:30am, at school by 7am, and then home by 4pm. I am “working” full time, but not getting paid. Student teachers are expected to plan, teach, and do everything that a normal teacher would, but with no income. I’m thankful to be in a school with students that make me want to be up every morning. They inspire me to keep going. They have made me fall in love all over again with my passion for teaching. This might not be considered volunteering to some, but to me, my time I have poured into this community and school is irreplaceable.
I am excited to be serving a similar community in Phoenix, Arizona starting in May. I will be teaching middle school ELA in a community that is 75% hispanic/latinx, 15% black, and 4% white. As a white, female teacher I am figuring out how to best advocate, listen, and help my students feel welcomed and loved. This journey is not going to be easy, but Mount Pleasant Middle School is preparing me to take it on.