Safiya Merchant joined the 826michigan volunteer team in August of 2017 and has been a non-stop force of enthusiasm, humor, and support ever since. She has helped in nearly every program in Washtenaw County (in-schools, workshops and drop-in writing, after-school tutoring, family writing laboratories), making time to work with our students outside of her full-time job at the University of Michigan. Safiya is a much-asked-for, much-appreciated regular tutor in our Washington Street Tutoring program, where she worked with students one-on-one on almost any kind of homework assignment you can imagine, subbing in multiple evenings a week when extra support was needed at the end of the school year.
A former journalist, Safiya asks students great questions to get to know them as they work together. Students open up to Safiya because she opens up to them, connecting about shared experiences and empathizing with the challenges of multi-part homework assignments and school projects and the pressures that come with them. Students also love Safiya because Safiya is dedicated — she does not give up on a student or an assignment, carrying on a conversation until all concepts are reviewed — and because Safiya knows when to ask questions, when to listen, and when to step back and encourage the student to try it themselves. In addition to her real connections with students, Safiya also easily bonds with other volunteers and engages in thoughtful debrief conversation during the post-program huddle, following up about highlights and lingering questions each day. It is through this rich back and forth that our programs improve for everyone, and we are so grateful to Safiya for her authentic engagement at all times.
Safiya’s background as a K-12 education reporter at the Battle Creek Enquirer and with the Daily Herald newspaper in the Chicago suburbs give her a unique insight into how to support students in honing their distinct voices no matter the writing assignment. Safiya brought this experience into our writing lab by designing and facilitating a program on journalism for some of our youngest (and most brilliant) writers, the Wee-bots. During this program, students had the chance to tell us what they knew about journalism (more than you think!) Students then interviewed each other and the results were magical.
We know there are many more reasons to celebrate Safiya; writing about them all would take us so many days. Suffice it so say, Safiya is AMAZING and a wonderful part of our 826michigan community. We are glad to honor her as our August 2018 Volunteer of the Month!