Prepare for the career you want through service
Everything has changed in the wake of COVID-19, including our work here at City Year.
In March, we paused in-person service and programming for all AmeriCorps members as long as our schools are closed and shifted to virtual service and programming. We are committed to the safety and well-being of our AmeriCorps members as they continue their service virtually, through online training and connection points.
Across the country AmeriCorps members continue to serve, making sure students have access to computers and internet connection; assisting with distance learning; and sending students uplifting messages of support on social media. Service may look different, but it’s still happening.
Each spring, thousands of young adults serving with AmeriCorps, begin planning for their next step, post-service. Here is the story of Pascal, the third in an ongoing series about what it’s like to serve with City Year. Here are Part One, Reflections on the start of service, Part Two, In the middle: Reflecting at the halfway point, and Part Four, Looking back on an unusual year of service.
Service learning for career success
Pascal Rathle, an AmeriCorps member serving with City Year Jacksonville, has some pretty impressive experiences under his belt. A 2018 graduate of Jacksonville University with a degree in communications, Pascal has worked hard and taken advantage of the professional development opportunities that have come his way.
Pascal interned for the Embassy of the Gabonese Republic in the United States; served as the Director of Public Affairs for his university’s student government; worked as a policy assistant for the City of Jacksonville; and facilitated at global youth leaderships forums in places like Kiev, Ukraine and Baku, Azerbaijan.
“You can learn from any experience . That’s my philosophy,” Pascal says. “During and after college I really tried my best to build my resume in any way possible. And to me, I never saw the downside to simply applying to something—getting a “no” is the worst that could happen.”
After college, Pascal continued to move forward with his professional and educational plans by enrolling in a new dual master’s degree program at University of North Florida. While pursuing his degree, Pascal was also working full time in a grant-funded position with an education-focused think tank.
When one door closes, another opens
All was going to plan until last fall when Pascal had the proverbial rug ripped from underneath his feet. Within the span of two months, the funding for his master’s program as well as the funding for his full-time position were pulled due to circumstances out of his control. Even though it was a challenging time for Pascal, he took understood it to be another learning and growth opportunity.
“Everything was just so unexpected, and definitely very difficult for me to process. But as with everything else I looked at it as time to grow and reevaluate my priorities,” Pascal says. “Up until that point, I had only ever worked in education on a macro level. When I had to redirect my energy, I realized that I could benefit from a more direct service experience.”
Pascal didn’t know much about City Year, he did recall a literacy event he attended in undergrad that boasted a large City Year presence. With that memory in mind and after learning a bit more, Pascal decided to apply for a position as a mid-year AmeriCorps member. Mid-years are corps members who start their service anywhere between November and January, instead of in August or September. They receive condensed training, are then placed on teams to support students just like any other corps member.
Serving with City Year during COVID-19
In training, he learned about the history of City Year and National Service, the research that supports social-emotional learning techniques that help students to thrive, and how to track and measure data related to a student’s academic progress.
Once training was finished, Pascal was placed on a team at Ribault High School in North Jacksonville. Working with ninth graders in an intensive reading class, Pascal hit the ground running with a full schedule.
Before COVID-19 forced schools to close in mid-March, Pascal would arrive at school by 6:45 AM, to greet and usher the students into the building. He spent his mornings assisting his partner teacher class, then attended a debrief and a co-planning session. From there, he used lunch periods for one-on-ones with students, where he engaged them through creative writing prompts—something he found that his students love. In the afternoon, he supported students in intensive reading before finally ending the day with afterschool programming at 4:45 PM.
Once in-person service stopped because of the pandemic, Pascal and his team switched to virtual service.
“It’s been seamless,” Pascal says. “Our students are adjusting to new norms just like we are. City Year staff has displayed high-levels of organizational leadership, creating new work schedules that include virtual student tutoring and professional development for the corps.”
His team has remained close during these transitions, Pascal says. They check in with one another regularly with texts and phone calls and share resources for self-care and professional development—preparing for life after City Year.
“Our technical skills have been honed as video conference calls replace in person meetings, like first and last circle, team building activities and performance evaluation with our impact manager,” Pascal said. “Every day, unity is experienced on a nationwide call with all AmeriCorps members. During these sessions, I’ve learned more about City year’s culture and mission. I’m grateful for the opportunity to both learn and facilitate during these virtual meetings.
“Most importantly, we are kind and patient with each other as we are experiencing different situations during COVID-19.”
In just five months, he has certainly learned a lot.
“There is definitely much to be said about learning via trial-by-fire,” Pascal jokes. “Coming in as a mid-year corps member has its unique challenges, but I think having had diverse professional experiences made it easier for me to adapt to this new environment. Flexibility and adaptability have been key, for sure.”
Preparing for life and career after City Year
Pascal is also thinking about his professional life after City Year. He has no concrete plans yet, but this is pretty typical. Many AmeriCorps members are still waiting to hear back from graduate schools, applying for a second year AmeriCorps member position or preparing resumes for the job hunt. It can be a stressful time—figuring out next steps while still being focused and present for their students.
But Pascal knows that long term, he wants to build a career in education policy. His experience serving students with City Year has given him a better understanding of systemic issues that can be addressed on the policy-making level. And while he takes the time to figure out more specific next steps for his life after City Year, he’s taking full advantage the networking opportunities around him.
“There’s such a wealth of knowledge within City Year Jacksonville,” Pascal says, “and over the past few months, I’ve really started taking the time to get to know staff members and pick their brains.”
“Whenever I connect with someone, I really just like to learn broadly about their own professional journey—what leadership opportunities did they have? What lessons did they learn along the way?” says Pascal, “At the end of the day, I see it as an opportunity for mentorship and from my experience, City Year staff have been more than willing to help me out.”
Apply to serve
Pascal graduates from City Year in June—plenty of time to figure out the direction he’s headed in. But for now, his main priorities are his students, his team and his school community. He knows the importance of staying present and not getting too ahead himself. One thing, however, is sure. Pascal will keep on learning and grown from this experience and that wherever he lands professionally, he’ll take the lessons learned from service with him.
“I hadn’t originally planned on City Year but the plan I had didn’t work out,” says Pascal. “But I’m happy now, knowing that I’m in the right place, growing personally and professionally and learning new things every day. I can not only make a difference in the lives of students but I can also make a difference in my own life.”
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