Congrats to Willmarine Hurst, our March Volunteer of the Month! Willmarine started volunteering with Big Class during the 2015-2016 school year, helping with in-school projects at Sylvanie Williams and Akili. This year, she's been working with 11th graders at Carver to write personal histories about the connection between a moment in their lives and a moment in history. Thanks for all your hard work, Willmarine!
What first brought you to Big Class?
For the four and a half years that I was displaced to Plano, TX post Hurricane Katrina, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Plano Independent School District (PISD). I also worked as a tutor in a tutoring club in Plano. I saw many of the students that I worked with here in New Orleans at some of the schools around the PISD. I have always enjoyed working with young people and learning from them. So, when I returned to New Orleans, I saw a sign on the library bulletin board for Big Class. I was interested in seeing if this was something that I could do and it was. It gave me an opportunity to, once again, engage with the young people in our city. It also feels good knowing that as a part of my life's legacy I have instilled in these kids the necessary tools to perfect one of the most important and effective vehicles of human expression ever created... the written language.
What keeps you coming back?
I am the consummate teacher and the consummate student. And as I grow older and into the role of elder in my own family, I feel that one of my duties is to extend myself to the larger community and, in turn, help those who will one day step into my shoes as an elder themselves. I feel a sense of obligation to this generation of youth because they are at a turning point in world history and need our guidance so much. I enjoy imparting knowledge, helping others and learning from them, as well. I think that I learn as much from the students as they learn from me. I love to see the ideas, imagination, and creativity of the young people. It keeps me coming back with a “what next” sort of expectation!
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
I have been able to utilize my skills as a journalist/writer/copy editor from my undergraduate degree in Print Journalism; as well as my research skills acquired while working on my master’s degree in History. However, more than the academic skills, I think my ability to connect with and relate to the kids is just as important. I am a part of their community. I know their streets, the places in their city and their language. I think that connection with the students and the city is a big part of my skill set.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
The biggest challenge I have faced is the time constraints. It’s hard to get a lot done in 45 to 60 minutes. It seems like we don’t always spend enough time with the students to get their full input. I also feel that we are infringing on the teacher’s time in some instances; but in other instances, the teachers are very welcoming.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind one of them if you can.
I have worked with the students at Sylvanie Williams school, but there was a lot of rearranging of schedules, so I could not continue with that project; but I enjoyed the time that I did have working with Ashley and the students at that school. There was one project, the Super Hero project at Akili Academy, which I enjoyed very much. A call went out for additional help with this project. I was paired up with a very impressive young man (3rd or 4th grader, I think) named Preston, who had come up with a whole story about the purple hero he was writing about. He had a lot of good ideas, and we brainstormed together in the hallway to bring his hero to life. It was fun and I was so impressed by Preston’s imaginative genius!
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
I am also an Evacuteer with the city and a member of OPEN/PLTI, (Orleans Parish Education Network/Parent Leadership Training Institute). And I do some freelance writing. I am also in the process of editing a book. I assist my son, who is wheelchair bound, and my 18-year-old grandson, who keeps me on my toes! In my spare time (which is rare), I write poetry.