Finding Your Calling in a Time of National Uncertainty
With just a few months to go before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, many things still remain uncertain. For AmeriCorps members like Jordan Kettle, one of the biggest questions is: “What will this new year of service look like?” Though the landscape of the upcoming service will be unlike any before it, when considering returning for a second year of service with City Year Boston, Jordan didn’t hesitate to return to her students. This upcoming school year, she hopes to continue to grow her award-winning student support groups while forging powerful relationships at Up Academy Boston as part of the Summit Partners team.
Like many of the young people joining our corps this fall, Jordan understands the challenges that lie ahead. Still, she is optimistic of the possibilities and unwaveringly believes in the students she will be working alongside. Meet one of our dedicated AmeriCorps members, Jordan.
CYB: What initially motivated you to apply to serve a year with City Year?
JK: My family moved a lot as I was growing up, and so the disparity between different regions of the country were very evident to me from a young age. Having had the unique experience of attending a very wide range of public schools, along with my mother being an educator, the lens through which I viewed and understood this imbalance was primarily through the US school system. I noticed patterns in which types of communities were home to which types of schools and was always perplexed as to how this disproportion could possibly exist. This question nagged at me through high school and college, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to working for equitable education for all our students. I chose to serve with City Year because I believe deeply in the power of young people and the importance of nondiscriminatory access to resources and opportunity. I wanted to play a direct role in making a school community a safe, empowering space for students. City Year gave me that along with so much more that I will carry with me long into my career.
“I wanted to play a direct role in making a school community a safe, empowering space for students.”
CYB: What were your biggest lessons learned in your first year of service?
JK: My greatest takeaway from the year revolves around the capacity of our youth, and the boundless potential they have to change the world. I learned this year that kids do well when they can, and sometimes the “can” part just comes from an adult believing in them. The impact of strong community was incredibly moving to witness this year, both in my school community and CYB as a whole. I realized the significance of partnerships like City Year, along with other supporting roles (therapists and social workers) and witnessed firsthand how success comes from all of us working together as a team toward our shared goal: the success of our students. I noticed that when we feel comfortable, we feel safe enough to become uncomfortable, and that is often when true growth begins. Building safe, inclusive school communities with our service teams and outreach initiatives created a space where students felt confident, empowered, and ready for a challenge.
CYB: How did the transition to virtual learning affect the students you worked with in the spring of 2020?
JK: I think there is a lot of negativity surrounding the virtual learning space, and while that is understandable, I want to make note of the growth in digital literacy I witnessed in my students during the transition. There were plenty of challenges we faced and one of the most significant was engagement…with our students all coming from such varied circumstances, it’s difficult to create an online forum that will occupy every students’ attention. They also were experiencing stress none of us have ever encountered before, which I think sometimes made school seem almost obsolete. Before any of this, we discussed in depth the importance of consistency and being someone our students could count on, so it was City Year’s priority to involve us in online learning as soon as possible, which I believe played a substantial role in offering some level of comfort/familiarity to our students. The fact that we were able to still be a part of their learning, rooting for them and showing our support no matter the circumstances is a really beautiful thing and I know it meant so much to corps members and students alike.
CYB: How did you decide to return for a second year of service?
JK: It was not long into my service year before I realized my work with City Year would not be finished by my end date in June. I feel so inspired by the work City Year does, and incredibly excited to have the opportunities to bring my own insight and creativity towards work I believe in so wholly. During my time with City Year, I have learned so much about myself and who I want to be, about my community, and about the work that needs to be done to progress towards an equitable future. The opportunities City Year offers for personal and professional growth are invaluable to me, and the privilege of working in a schoolhouse, learning directly the way school systems operate, has only intensified my passion for education policy. I know that another year serving in a different role will fortify my skills in a new way and continue to prepare me for my career.
CYB: What do you expect to gain from your second year of service?
JK: In my second year of service I hope to gain further insight into the way school systems are managed at an administrative level, as well as gain experience in leading a team and helping my peers set/reach their goals. I also look forward to continuing my social justice and anti-racist work through the various seminars and affinity groups we have access to, and I hope to assist the organization in striving for positive change that will last long after my time there is up.
CYB: What is the unique role that AmeriCorps members play in students’ lives – both in the classroom and virtually?
JK: Something I think that is really beautiful about a service year is everyone’s is uniquely their own. In general, however, I think the AmeriCorps member plays the role of a trusted, neutral adult who believes in their students unwaveringly. AmeriCorps members present a listening ear, laughter, accountability, and humanity to our students. Having been in schools as students more recently ourselves, AmeriCorps members are able to relate to and connect with students in a special way, which allows for distinctive bond. While we serve as trusted adults in the building, we are removed from most disciplinary processes. This serves as another factor unique to the AmeriCorps member role, and allows for positive, trustful relationships to be maintained between AmeriCorps members and their students. Even after we were no longer able to connect with our students in person, the ability to spend time together on video or phone calls gave us the chance to continue supporting them and reminding them how important they are to us. I realized what positive impact a twenty-minute phone conversation can have, and so I think at the end of the day the AmeriCorps member role is about showing up and being an unwavering pillar of support and love.
Read more about the role of City Year AmeriCorps members and how the expansion of the CORPS Act can support communities in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic: “Let’s ‘Deploy This Army Of Goodwill’: Congress Must Expand National Service In Response To The Pandemic,” WBUR Commentary.
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