Serving two AmeriCorps terms has, as cliché as it sounds, changed my life. Originally from a Rochester suburb with a vague degree in political science and really no direction in life, I stumbled upon the ABLE program in Buffalo. The job description was intimidating to say the least- tutoring and mentoring inner city students in the public school system. My thoughts were that there was no way I had proper experience for such work nor could I relate to this demographic. It turns out that connecting with any human being- young, old, white, black, Asian, gay, straight, etc.- comes naturally if it’s genuine. The first group of students I was assigned to at Highgate Heights will forever have a place in my heart. Although they were a tough bunch at times, they ultimately shared so much love for me and I with them. They were my guinea pig group of learning how to be a good mentor and positive adult influence in a child’s life.
Serving in the public school system enlightened me to the machine that is the education system and all of its parts. I unfortunately realized that this machine is broken. There was not enough support for teachers, even with AmeriCorps presence. Not enough support for students with special needs, lack of parent engagement, too much emphasis on math and ELA and not enough on science and the arts. The list goes on. I’d say I am grateful for this learning experience because I now know that I want nothing to do with the school system as it is now.
This year on the other hand has been absolutely wonderful. And I believe it is because FLY works outside the realm of the education system. We have the freedom to teach subjects that are either lacking at school or that we excel at. From my Highgate Heights experience I realized that science is almost forgotten about with common core math/ELA being pushed so heavily. That is why I chose to teach a science club to the FLY students. We have had so many amazing opportunities to go to the planetarium, Buffalo Science Museum, nature hikes, and more. By teaching about this club, I have learned way more about Earth/environmental science than I ever thought I would at this age. I even learned how to start a garden and plant fruit trees. FLY has also introduced me to the huge network of nonprofits and community groups in Buffalo that I would have never learned about. There is so much happening!! The supervisors, coworkers, and volunteers that I have met from serving each ABLE term constantly inspire me.
The refugee students at FLY are a different bunch compared to Highgate Heights, but I love them equally. They teach me new things about different cultures everyday and they remind me how strong a person can be at such a young age.
Both groups of students I have gotten to teach, befriend, and grow with each year have given me so much joy. I am grateful everyday for having the unique opportunity to work with such great groups of today’s youth. I am inspired to keep working with such demographics with some type of organization that embodies similar values to those of TSC and AmeriCorps. My eyes have been opened to so much more than the life I knew growing up in white suburbia. The gratitude and memories from my years of service will last a lifetime.