By Andrew Bickert, first year AmeriCorps member on the Beech Street Elementary School Team supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock (pictured above with his team, Andrew is the tall guy in the back)
"Why did you choose City Year?"
That's a great question. I could spin some fantastical story of how I grew up in a picturesque suburb straight from the set of a 50's black-and-white sitcom. I could tell you about how I went to private schools where I loved my sweet, caring teachers who always taught me everything just the right way. I could tell you about how I was a straight-A student in a dominantly white community, constantly dreaming of the day when I would be able to experience what it was like on the other side of the tracks where the "less fortunate" lived and went to public school. I could tell you about my dreams of wanting to help them "live the American Dream" we read about in our textbooks.
Unfortunately, most of that's not true. Yes, I grew up in the suburbs. No, I didn't go to private school. No, not all my teachers were sweet and caring (though some were, the best weren't), and no, they didn't always teach me in just the right way. Instead, I listened, read, and learned most of it at my own pace. Coincidentally, this was somewhat faster than the pace of my classes, and I grew bored. I stopped paying attention sometimes, and my grades suffered from apathy. The only subjects that kept my alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic were Band and Math. Despite my "best efforts," I managed to pull a 3.65 GPA when I graduated from Reynoldsburg High School: Encore Academy, and plunged headfirst into a Biomedical Engineering pre-major program at The Ohio State University.
When I started college, I was quickly overwhelmed by everything that wasn't strictly math. I wasn't able to get a band course due to the required classes I needed to take. I quickly dropped Chemistry, and the coding knowledge taught in Engineering 1100.02 went way over my head. I saw Sociology as way too easy to even bother doing any studying. Calculus 1101 was the only class I enjoyed, but I shirked my assignments there, too, because I had already learned the material my senior year of High School. It was just review material; why should I keep paying attention in class?
I ended up failing my classes. Each and every one. I dropped out of university after my first semester, and got a job at a hardware store near my house. I worked there for three weeks before I tried my hand at higher education again, this time at Columbus State Community College. I worked full-time the day shift, and took full-time classes with the hopes of getting back to Ohio State my junior year. Needless to say, that didn't happen. I dropped out of Columbus State before I had the chance to fail any classes. I came home one evening and broke the news to my parents, and they gave me an ultimatum. If I wasn't in school, I was living on my own.
I was fairly distraught. I had no degree, no plan, and a dead-end job. My dad suggested I go back to Columbus State for the fall semester. My mom seemed to want me out of the house. Things were tense in the Bickert household. Eventually, my mom suggested that I look for volunteer opportunities, especially the Peace Corps. When I began searching, I discovered that the Peace Corps only accepted applicants with bachelor's degrees or higher. I kept looking, and my mom's friend told her about something their daughter had done called City Year. Once I found out all graduates from this branch of AmeriCorps receive a scholarship, I quickly applied. I selected "serve where most needed" as a way of getting out of Ohio, and off I went to Manchester, New Hampshire, to get in to something I vaguely knew had something to do with education.
Several months later, I'm neck-deep in the City Year culture that I've come to love, with a new passion for teaching that has been ignited within me and a plan to move forward. Power tools, focus lists, LACY (Leadership After City Year) planning, and pride; I never thought such a busy job would be so much fun, and so rewarding, to boot! I will be reapplying to universities within the next few weeks, and I've never been so confident in saying I will succeed in my endeavors. What I'm experiencing here at City Year is going to shape the way I will eventually teach, and I will always recommend any wayward soul towards the red, yellow, and black sunburst, because everyone should partake in the bountiful gains of community service.
"Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve."
--- Martin Luther King Jr.