By Tyler Judge, AmeriCorps member serving on the Henry Wilson Elementary School Team.
The Red Jacket Ceremony is a time for each AmeriCorps and staff member to dedicate their jacket to someone, somewhere, or even something; each dedication holds unique value and allows us a chance to hold ourselves accountable to the unique person or idea for which we don our famous bomber jackets.
I struggled with my dedication. For one, I wanted to keep it brief to make sure our work day ended on time. My manager was specific about a time limit and I knew myself to be a rambler when unprepared. Secondly, I had trouble specifying exactly why I was willing to dedicate a year to service. Every answer I came up with seemed too general and I couldn’t think of a way to narrow it down.
On the day of the ceremony, I dedicated my jacket to the students, faculty, and AmeriCorps members of Henry Wilson Elementary School. It made sense at the time, but looking back I can’t help but feel that my purpose is bigger than any single school. In the end, I was told I gave a good answer, but it wasn’t one with which I was satisfied.
A few weeks had passed, and I found myself chatting with my partner teacher before Open House Night. We talked about our usual topics: my performance, the plan for the week to come, and our students. There was one specific student’s story that stuck with me. Let’s call her “Josi.”
Josi loves to draw, make origami, and produce stop motion videos. Her desk is usually littered with sketches, all of them impressive in their detail and meticulousness. Unfortunately, Josi also read and did math three grades below her peers. My partner teacher had just finished telling me of her afternoon spent with Josi, patiently constructing basic words out of magnetized letters. What struck me most about this conversation was how my partner teacher never once expressed her frustration with the student, but rather with the system that had allowed her the absences and lack of attention that had led to her current situation.
It was after this moment that I could finally synthesize my purpose at Henry Wilson and with City Year New Hampshire. For Josi and other students like her, I serve because educational equity and opportunity belong to the many and not the few. My work is for much more than the students, staff, and AmeriCorps members of Wilson Elementary. I’m doing my part to aid an institution that is asked to do more than it can. My efforts are dedicated to an idea of equity that will outlive me and many with whom I am serving. When I put on my jacket, I want to remind myself of a value that myself and the City Year organization hold dear: Service to a Cause Greater Than Self.
I serve, bearing the red jacket and logo of City Year proudly, for the simple idea that help should always be given to those who need it.
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