Today's blog was written last year by Connor McCullough who served as an AmeriCorps Member at the Friends of Andrew Jackson High School Team in the 2015-2016 school year. Connor is currently serving for a second term, this time as a Team Leader at the Rice Family Foundation Team at Susie E. Tolbert Elementary School.
Over the last few weeks, I have been asked what is a familiar question to most twenty-something young adults:
“Where did you go to school?”
Now, depending on the context of the conversation my automatic and proper response should be to proudly say something like along the lines of:
“I majored in biology at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota,” or maybe even “I graduated from Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wisconsin.”
However, more than once I have caught myself beginning to say “I go to Andrew Jackson High School.” This is a strange mix-up, mainly because I was never a student at Jackson and I only learned of its existance six months ago when I started serving as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Jacksonville. That being said, because of the students and community at Jackson I feel just as much love toward it as I do the two schools that I attended for the previous eight years of my life.
The second time I caught myself saying I went to Jackson I started to think there might be meaning behind the slip-up. Only six months in, I can confidently say that I have learned a lot from the Jackson community. What I have learned is not at all like what I learned at Central as a high school student, such as how to write a five paragraph essay or take an exam, or at St. Thomas for undergrad, where I memorized biochemical pathways, examined immune cells under a microscope, and presented case studies on rare viruses. But the lessons I have learned at Jackson do not feel entirely separate either, in fact the lessons I have learned during my City Year are obvious and necessary next steps in my formal education and development. In high school I learned how to do things: write well, study, speak in front of a group. In college I learned how to learn, how to gain knowledge and understanding on a variety of topics. Through my service with City Year I have learned to "do", I learned how to take those lessons and apply them to a cause I believe in.
It wasn’t easy to get to this point. Like any young person moving to a new school, there was an adjustment period to work through. There were new teachers, new principals, and new teammates to meet. There was a new bell schedule, new rules to learn, and most importantly a new student community to get to know. I had new assignments, new responsibilities, and new challenges to rise to. That aspect of being in a school hasn't really changed from being a student. However, what has changed is that teachers are now partners, principals emerged as advocates, and teammates have become friends. The sound of the class-change bells at Jackson, once strange and alien, have now turned into the normal heartbeat of my service year. The tasks and assignments have become second nature, and the students are now mentees, pupils, and inspirations.
Everything about City Year's model is based on the idea that every young person has the potential to succeed. Before I began serving at Andrew Jackson, I understood the meaning of those words, but now, after working with my students for the last six months these words have new meaning. My students give me a new reason to serve every day, and I am excited to be working toward a future where they can proudly respond to the question: “Where did you go to school?”