by Margie Peterson
To get to his AmeriCorps job in Paterson, N.J., Matthew Schleifer ’05 drives past boarded-up buildings and vacant factories, the remnants of what once was a major manufacturing hub.
On his second year-long stint with AmeriCorps, Schleifer’s mission is to help students at inner city Garrett Morgan Academy high school develop the tools and motivation to realize opportunities beyond that environment. The students’ parents are often juggling multiple jobs and have little time to monitor their children’s schoolwork.
Under the auspices of New Jersey Community Development Corporation, Schleifer works with students during the school day and then tutors them at Great Falls Teen Center.
His wages are only about $17,000 a year, but the intangible rewards are huge. When Schleifer started tutoring a 15-year-old named Devonte last fall, the teen was getting D’s and defiantly disrupting classes.
“We just got his most recent progress report,” Schleifer says. “All his teachers have written great things about how much better his class leadership is. He has one C and everything else is either an A or a B.”
The change in Devonte has altered the dynamics of the classes, Schleifer says. “He is a kid the other kids look up to. He makes the other students better because they’ve made being smart and doing well almost a competition among them.”
Schleifer, an English graduate, says his liberal arts education has been invaluable in tutoring students. He also gained volunteer experience through Alternative School Break, working with Habitat for Humanity in Alabama.
His term ended in June, and he plans to use AmeriCorps’ $5,500 education credit for graduate school in education while continuing to work in public service.
“It’s such a great feeling when the kids are getting it,” he said. “I’m actually making an impact on somebody’s life, and it’s going to be a lasting impact.”