Achieve Miami: Giving Back Through Literacy

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Achieve Miami service learning At Gulliver, there is no shortage of student clubs or opportunities to give back to the community. Some of these offerings have garnered the commitment of many and grown exponentially, for example, Achieve Miami.

Achieve Miami provides educational and enrichment programs that demonstrate the power of students learning with and from each other, as a means to bridge disparities, provide meaningful educational experiences, and close opportunity gaps. More than 200 Gulliver students have signed up for the program and an average of 30-50 students attend each Saturday session, joining their peers from Northwestern, South Ridge, Homestead High, Lourdes, and Coral Reef. These high school students serve as “Big Buddies” with over 90 elementary school students who are their “Little Buddies.”

“It is an organic program where literacy – reading, writing, and speaking – is built from a one-on-one relationship,” said Linde Barrett, Upper School International Baccalaureate CAS & Extended Essay Coordinator. “The high schoolers learn comprehension skills in the first half hour of the session, and then the pairing and reading start. After an hour, students gather for writing comprehension based on the reading and then several buddies are picked to read their responses to the whole group.”

Under the direction of Mrs. Barrett, what began as a Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) project within the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, has prospered into a campus-wide program available to all students in grades 9-12.

Achieve Miami service learning

“I have personally been involved in empowering the students at Gulliver for 15 years,” said Mrs. Barrett. “I have seen them become aware of the world around them, and develop a sense of caring, compassion, and responsibility towards their Little Buddy. We always have a reflective debriefing at the end of the session in case there are difficult situations that come up during one-on-one time. They see first-hand some of our global issues of poverty and unequal education, and how their small contribution in the local community helps the bigger issue.”

Emma Van den Dijssel ‘23 and Joaquin Posada ‘23 have been heavily involved in Gulliver’s Achieve Miami program for several years. Read on to learn more about their experiences.

What drew you to the Achieve Miami program?

Emma: I moved to Gulliver in my junior year of high school. Everything was new to me; and there were so many opportunities available. I found out about Achieve through the school club fair. In my old community, I used to actively volunteer at a children’s clothing bank, so Achieve felt like the perfect activity for me. I attended my first Saturday and read, wrote, and played with my Little Buddy. I really valued the one-on-one mentor and leadership opportunity that Achieve provided. After this experience, Achieve became an important part of my life; and I continued to attend for the rest of the year. In May, I got accepted onto the Junior Advisory Board of the Achieve Miami organization and began helping with program planning, recruitment, and social media outreach. In August, I was honored to be chosen to be part of the Achieve Club leadership team at Gulliver.

Achieve Miami service learning

Joaquin: I was exposed to the Achieve Miami program when I was in seventh grade because of my two older siblings’ involvement in it. Before starting to volunteer with the nonprofit, I had minimal experience with service, although it intrigued me greatly. I first engaged with Achieve Miami’s summer program for elementary students, which provides them with the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities like cooking and painting. As I grew older, I began to attend Achieve Saturdays, which dealt with older students – many in Middle School – and was focused more on academic development. Through these service experiences, I discovered my passion for service and helping others, which has helped me pinpoint my ultimate aspiration to become a doctor. I have continued to be heavily involved in Achieve Miami because of its student-teaches-student model, which allows young high schoolers to become part of a larger cause through exciting interactions.

What is your favorite part of your work with Achieve Miami?

Emma: My favorite part of my work with Achieve Miami is feeling like a true role model for these students. I have been told “I want to be you when I grow up” and I have seen students grow in confidence and literacy skills because of our work together. When Big Buddies walk into the room, Little Buddies cheer and run up to hug their high school partners. Achieve Miami fosters an environment where kids are excited to learn and collaborate with other students. It is a truly gratifying experience and I leave every Saturday feeling like I have made an impact.

Joaquin: My favorite part of working with Achieve Miami is returning to see Little Buddies full of excitement at the opportunity to read, write, and continue to grow their relationship with you. Fostering strong relationships with your Little Buddy is an integral and very rewarding part of Achieve Miami.

How has Achieve Miami had an impact on your life, and what has the experience taught you?

Achieve Miami service learning

Emma: I have learned many skills from this experience. I have developed new skills and techniques to help students read and write. One of my favorite methods is a “brain break,” where I do some stretches with the Little Buddy so we can be rested and motivated to get back on task. I have learned patience as well; I had to chase a Little Buddy once who refused to read! I have grown by being on the Junior Advisory Board and the Achieve Club leadership team, too. I have improved my communication skills, posting on our Gulliver Achieve Club Google classroom and acting as a liaison between our club and the Achieve organization. I have also learned better time management and organization. My senior year has been very busy with college applications, soccer, my Extended Essay, and important IB deadlines. Nonetheless, I have attended almost every Achieve Saturday. Achieve has become a special commitment in my life. I am excited to pursue something similar and take all that I have learned from this experience with me to college.

Joaquin: Achieve Miami has opened my eyes to disparities in education across America and shown me the power of service. Through Achieve Miami, I have been part of a movement to combat educational inequity and become more involved in my community. I will carry this addition to my perspective with me for many years to come.

How would you say that being a student at Gulliver has allowed you to grow, discover new passions, and experience new ideas and opportunities such as volunteering with Achieve Miami?

Achieve Miami service learning

Emma: Gulliver has opened up so many opportunities for me. From the numerous clubs and honor societies, I have found that there is always something fun and interesting to do. From the IB Programme at Gulliver, I have been able to nurture my intellectual curiosity and have learned to look at issues from different perspectives. In my global politics class, I discovered my passion for international relations and politics, which I will pursue in university next year. With classes like [Theory of Knowledge] TOK, where we question what knowledge is and how we interact with it, and completing CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) experiences and a CAS project, IB has helped me grow into a holistic, well-rounded student. I have also played on the varsity soccer team at Gulliver these past two years, which helped me find a special community on campus.

Joaquin: Gulliver has amazing programs and opportunities to allow students to discover their passions in and out of the classroom. The most traditional way is through the plethora of clubs offered/pitched at Club Rush, where students walk around and learn about organized groups they can become a part of. For students, these clubs hold beach clean-ups, service opportunities, open discussions, and more which any student can be a part of. The process of creating a club at Gulliver is easy and allows students to find a community with others who share an affinity for something special to them. For example, most of our volunteers every year are students whose interests are sparked when they pass our board at Club Rush. If a Gulliver student is open to it, they are provided with the resources to experience a wide range of opportunities that could expose them to new ideas or passions.


Middle school student building.

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