By Dahlin Jackson
City Year Miami, '17
Growing up, one of the leading supporters in my life has been my mother. From a young age, I’ve been perceptive to the amount of work and sacrifices my mom had to go through being a single parent. Despite working late night shifts and taking care of me, she still managed to obtain her master’s degree even if it meant many stressful days and sleepless nights. She always made it known to me how important getting an education was and how despite any circumstances, a person can still do amazing things with perseverance, hard work and dedication. In the words of Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I internalized these ideas so that I could attend a good college and follow the path to pursuing a career I loved, which turned out to be medicine. I managed to achieve that by graduating high school with summa cum laude and a diploma from the International Baccalaureate program and attending the University of Miami with a major in Psychology on the pre-medical track. Looking back now, I am grateful for the roadblocks along the way as it helped shaped me to be the person I wished to become by allowing me to push myself to achieve goals I didn’t think were possible. I thank not only my mother, but also the many role models and supporters that believed in me along the way. This support network is why I decided to do City Year for my gap year before medical school—to have the ability to be that same positive influence in another’s life.
I am now finishing my last few weeks of my year in service with City Year with a medical school acceptance in hand. I currently serve with 9th graders at Miami Central Senior High School where I mentor students in Algebra I. This experience has challenged me in ways that I never imagined. Having several responsibilities such as lesson planning, the behaviors of rambunctious teenagers, two coordinator roles, and a long-term capstone project really tested my resolve and time management skills. I knew coming into this job that it would be hard, yet rewarding. But, I was still astounded by the impact that it had on me and the students that I serve. I made my fair share of starfish*, but one of my most memorable is Kyle**.
In the beginning, I knew Kyle had potential to be one of the top-scoring students in the class. However, I found that despite his intelligence, his ego and problematic behavior would be what held him back from achieving his dreams of being valedictorian and going to college with a full scholarship. For instance, Kyle and my partner teacher had a rocky relationship; Kyle believed that because he was smart and received good grades, he didn’t have to listen, which led to frequent arguments. One day, an intense altercation led to his removal from class for the day. He stopped by the City Year room and while I was prepared to have a coaching conversation on his behavior, he said after the incident, he realized he was in the wrong and wanted to use me as mediator to rebuild their relationship. During our talk, he showed maturity and introspection that surprised me for someone his age, and we made plans to improve his relationship with his teacher and his behavior in the classroom. As the year progressed, he engaged in fewer arguments with my partner teacher which improved their relationship. He also performed well in Alegebra I and I encouraged him to take that work ethic and apply it across the board if he wanted to reach his goal of being valedictorian when he graduates.
This experience has strengthened the determination that I have to continue with service and my desire to pursue medicine. Every day, I reminded the students about the importance of education and how with it, you can achieve amazing things. I realized that if I am giving this advice to my students, I needed to show them that I embraced it as well. I made an effort to do my best to get into medical school not just for me, but for them as well. And now that I am accepted, I let my students know that they, too, can be where I am today. Now with a year of facing difficult challenges and triumph behind me, I feel as though I am ready to face the next step in my life.
*A starfish is a City Year term used to describe a student who makes significant progress while working with a City Year AmeriCorps member over the course of the school year. To learn more about how this term came to be, read here.
**Name has been changed to protect student privacy