Here is another illustrious write-in story penned by the incomparable Becca Rothkopf. She hails from the snowy peaks of Colorado, and is a truly lovely person! May she go on to great success and happiness.
Last year I served in AmeriCorps in the same city I went to college in. I was a full-time art instructor at an after-school program. That experience made me realize that service means being completely devoted to helping and caring for people and the world around us. Instead of focusing entirely on myself, like I had as a college student, my days were spent trying to provide a stable, safe, and educational environment for youth.
In that aspect, my experience this year was a similar one, but I also had the challenge of living in a part of the country that was completely unfamiliar to me. I literally knew nobody in the state of Washington when I packed up my car and headed northwest.
Additionally, I had no idea what to expect when I walked in for our first day of AmeriCorps training. I knew I was going to be tutoring students, but I didn’t know what school I would be at or what my other responsibilities would be. The only things I knew for sure were that the Washington scenery really did look like the Twilight films and the people in Seattle wore a lot of plaid.
more after the jump!
My family was actually very supportive when I told them I wanted to do AmeriCorps in the Pacific Northwest. I have a sister in Peace Corps, and I grew up with constant encouragement to explore new places and do whatever it took to find out what my calling is. My friends, on the other hand, were much more surprised. They graduated from college and were looking for high-paying jobs that related directly to their degrees. They wanted to stay close to home so they could continue to hang out with their college buddies. I was the odd one out. Why would anyone want to go somewhere completely random to “work” full time for below minimum wage? I made more money topping pizzas in high school than I do right now, but I wouldn’t trade this year’s experience for anything else.
Now my days consist of tutoring at an alternative high school until the early afternoon, when I go to a public teen center to run after-school programs. To be honest, it took a long time for me to adjust to my school site. It is drastically different from the high school I went to. There are about 150 students. The school consists of two small buildings that are smashed right next to each other. All the walls in the building are moveable, and class sizes are extremely small. Most of my students started at a regular high school and left because they couldn’t keep up in classes or there were disciplinary issues.
When I first learned I was going to be tutoring at the high school level, I had this vision of helping students get through calculus class so they could go to an Ivy League School for college. Instead I was asked to tutor 18-year-olds who didn’t understand how to add fractions with the same denominator. Luckily, we went through some excellent trainings before we were sent off to our service sites. I simply stuck with the methods we were taught in training every time I interacted with a student, and it definitely proved to be successful.
Yesterday a student stopped into my after-school program to inform me that she received two college scholarships. I helped her write the essays she had to submit for those scholarships. The smile on her face was HUGE. The next time someone comes up to me and asks why the heck I signed up to do something that pays hardly any money, I am going to look back on that experience. Service this year has meant financial sacrifice, but seeing a student take a significant first step in the right direction so she can afford a higher education is all the payment that I truly need.