“Some students have to handle really adult responsibilities that maybe not everyone is aware of,” NC Education Corps member Nastassja Ortiz shared. Between learning loss, social anxiety, and navigating virtual learning, it’s clear that students require additional support, a kind word, and a smiling face (through a mask).
Nastassja’s goal is to co-create a space where people feel welcome. While her job may seem routine to some, she serves as an NC Education Corps tutor to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools students four days a week. As for the work, “every moment is different,” Nastassja tells us. She and the learning center staff support ten K-6 students daily. Some come each day or join after school. The work may look different from day to day. She and her colleagues set-up Zoom calls with younger students, grab supplies, and keep students focused during their classwork time. The flexibility corps members and recreation center staff provide also allows teachers to focus solely on teaching material to their on-site and virtual students rather than running tech support.
Corps members provide specialized support to students who may be overlooked otherwise. While working with a student who occasionally attends the center, Nastassja thought she might benefit from bilingual support after noticing she completes homework worksheets in Spanish but struggled with spelling English vocabulary words. Due to her Spanish background, Nastassja was able to identify why the student was misspelling her words instead of correcting the student without explanation. She was able to meet her student where she was in that moment by “being able to be respectful of the fact that not only is this second grader learning vocabulary and how to write her sentences in English. But respecting and honoring [that] she’s learning to do those same things in another language as well.”
The day-to-day support of corps members and center staff is critical, but academics aren’t everything. Even though learning loss has occurred, members offer support using the whole child approach: “Not only are we hoping to help them gain mastery over different academic skills, but also they’re learning social skills.” According to Nastassja, her favorite moments in the corps are those spent watching students extend kindness to one another. While chatting with us, she shared a sweet moment where a kindergartener finished their classwork and went to pick out a book to read. Instead of reading alone, one of the 5th graders proceeded to read the picture book and even checked in for understanding – ultimately teaching his younger peer!
However, the whole child doesn’t stop with social and academic skills, recreation center staff members also plan fun activities for students focused on arts, movement, and more, “it really is a collaborative effort,” Nastassja shared.
So who belongs in the North Carolina Education Corps? “Anybody who has a heart for people, particularly a heart for children.”
More about Nastassja:
Nastassja has a psychology degree and minor in social and economic justice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Where Nastassja has volunteered in the past: Small Group Co-Facilitator and Workshops Committee Member, Catalyst Conference (UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Y Student Organization)
Nastassja’s favorite teacher was “my (1) kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Kopf, (2) fifth grade AIG teacher, Mrs. Lackey, and (3) AP Psychology teacher (eleventh grade), Mrs. Tripken. They created riveting environments filled with possibility! Bearing witness to their passion and commitment both captivated and excited me as a learner. I must include my first teacher, my Mami — having had the patience and foresight to teach me how to read at the age of three, and with regular visits to the public library, she inspired and nurtured my curiosity.”
Why Nastassja is passionate about the North Carolina Education Corps: “Aligned with a vision of a North Carolina where all students have the support they need to thrive; it is an honor to compassionately co-address the most pressing needs of our students and the schools that serve them — particularly, in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its role in exacerbating pre-existing educational inequities. I believe in the potential of the North Carolina public school system to serve as an accessible and effective resource for all — equipping students with the necessary skills to gain entry into their chosen field of study and/or practice. We need all kinds of thinkers and doers to have a functioning society — all community members are valuable and inextricably linked. With career aspirations in school counseling and art therapy, it is my hope to walk alongside students with intention and provide gentle encouragement as an approachable resource and supportive source. I am so grateful for the opportunity to join this community!”