There were many times during my service year when I felt as though I was swimming against the current. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like my work was in vain. Despite coming to school every day, my students would continue to get poor grades or get into fights. In City Year's founding story "Up the River," there are two villages built on the sides of a river. One is called Upriver, another is called Downriver. When people from Upriver begin falling into the water, citizens of Downriver make it their duty to save them. Downriver begins a rescue service and ignores the comments of people trying to help the situation. Onlookers suggest building fences and other short term problem solving. Eventually, Upriverites begin helping their village by offering swimming lessons. Finally, they survive falling into the river without the aid of Downrivers.
During my year of service, I realized many issues with my students stemmed from the fact that I was not fixing the actual problem. Fighting, getting poor grades: these are just symptoms of the problem. The thing about most AmeriCorps Members is that we're idealists; we think big and have big ideas about what we want to do during our service year. Many of us begin our service years expecting to be like the girl who began the swimming lessons. When we see a need, we fill it. As AmeriCorps Members, we fill in many of the gaps in schools. As idealists, we want to do this for all of our students.
I experienced this myself. After the first semester, my students, as a class, were "unsatisfactory" in math. When I saw this, I began doing math lessons for the entire class. My partner teacher and I worked hard together to get our students to where they needed to be. By the end of the year, as a class they had a "basic" in math. Much like some of the villagers, when we saw a need or a gap, we chose to get to work. Instead of trying to cover up the problem, City Year works hard to effectively build bridges, prevent future obstacles, and solve problems as they arise. As I end my year of service, I know that many of my students will not continue to fall into the river. But if they do, they'll know how to swim and pull themselves out.
Katie Charbonneau served at Celerity Lanier School during the 2016-2017 school year. Next year, she will begin graduate classes at the University of Pittsburgh.