Pam Balistreri

Normandale Alumna Pam Balistreri

Pam Balistreri was not sure what to expect when she came to Normandale. She wanted to become a teacher, but knew that with three kids and a part-time job, college was going to be a long road.

After joining the Service Learning program through an Elementary Education class, she became a mainstay in the America Reads/America Counts program—a federally funded financial-aid program for students who work as math and reading tutors with preschool and elementary school children.

What brought you to Normandale?

“I was working part-time as a preschool aide and raising three children. As a busy mom and wife, I knew that going back to school would be a huge undertaking, but I really wanted to fulfill my dream to be a teacher.

I chose Normandale because it was affordable, close to home, and the college collaborated with Mankato State University’s Elementary Education Program.”

What were some of your experiences at Normandale?

“I took a course called Introduction to Elementary Education, where I met the most amazing instructor, Candy Bell. One of her requirements for the class was that we join the Service-Learning program and volunteer in the Bloomington school district, which amounted to about two hours per week of our time. I thought ‘I can’t do this! I have kids, a part-time job, classes to attend, and now I have to give more time.’

However, Candy talked me through what was required and assured me that I could make this work. Her passion for me and the other students was contagious. She talked to me about getting on the Work-Study program and I would be able to get some of my college credits paid while fulfilling these requirements.

I applied for the Work Study program and instead of volunteering two hours per week, I wound up volunteering 15-20 hours per week. I worked very closely with the Service-Learning Center staff and quickly formed friendships and working relationships with students and staff members. I continued workingand volunteering with Service-Learning the remainder of my time at Normandale.”

How did you first become involved with the Service-Learning program?

“I joined the Service-Learning program initially because of the requirement from my Elementary Education class. The America Reads/America Counts program was tied in with the Service-Learning program at Normandale. All students were required to do volunteer tutoring in math and/or reading in the Bloomington schools.

I realized that I was getting hands-on training by working with these students and taking with me invaluable experience for my future career. I networked with teachers and principals, many of whom I still stay in contact with today. I continued to be involved in the Service-Learning program because of the people I met, the kids I was tutoring, and the sheer joy I got from doing so. I never expected this when I came to school here. Normandale turned out to be unlike anything I imagined.

The instructors, the staff, and the students were really a ‘community’. This part of college fast became so important to me that I decided to take it a step further and join AmeriCorps.”

What was your time in the America Reads/America Counts program at Normandale like?

“The America Reads/America Counts program was something I participated in during the five years I was at Normandale. I can’t say enough about how much this program helped me grow professionally and personally.

I volunteered 15 or more hours a week in the Bloomington schools. America Reads/America Counts is organized by the Director of the Bloomington District Volunteer Connection, Sue Martell. I developed a wonderful working relationship with Mrs. Martell. We worked closely with a program called International Kids Club. This program offered monthly literacy activities for culturally diverse students and their families. Sue organized the activities with those of us in the America Reads/America Counts program. Stations were set up with fun activities that incorporated literacy and math.

In the second year of the program, funding was an issue so we teamed up with the Rotary Club of Bloomington. Sue’s role changed due to the funding and I was asked to take the lead of the program and organize the activities and etutors while working closely with the Rotary Club volunteers.

Again, it was an awesome opportunity for all of us involved. We connected with Bloomington’s business leaders and the school community while helping students realize that learning can be fun and engaging.”

What is your current career, and how did you get into it?

“I was hired in June as a fifth-grade teacher at Diamond Path Elementary, School of International Studies. I student-taught there, beginning in the fall of 2011. After gaining my elementary education license in the fall of 2011, I applied for a third-grade, long-term substitute position. I was hired and worked from March 2012 through the end of the school year.

"When a fifth-grade position at Diamond Path opened up, I was elated. I knew I had just finished a year-long interview at the school and what could speak better to my skills and hard-working mentality—much of which I attribute to my experiences at Normandale!

“Employers are looking for experienced individuals—and experience is difficult to gain unless you volunteer. My volunteer hours alone allowed me to say in my interview: ‘I have worked in a culturally diverse community; I have had extensive experience working with gifted and talented students as well as special-needs students; I have collaborated with team members and successfully organized large events.’

"I would not have been able to list off those types of qualifications if it were not for the Service-Learning Program, America Reads/America Counts program, and AmeriCorps.”