Since my last blog post, I have finished three weeks of Pre-Service Training at City Year. The way Pre-Service Training worked was that we were assigned to Learning Teams, which are groups of about ten people who would be working in the same school area. The area I was assigned to was East Brooklyn. The point of the Learning Teams was to meet people who are also serving and to have someone to ask questions throughout Pre-Service Training, known as the Team Leader. Learning Teams would be mixed up weekly to give an opportunity to meet more people.
During Pre-Service Training, the day consisted of first circle, a time I bond with our Learning Team, and then either time on Zoom calls or Microsoft Teams calls. On these calls, service members learned things about what makes a student considered at risk, what makes a good and supportive teacher, how having a mentor affects students, etc. To close off the day, we would have final circle, a place to reflect on the things we had learned today, and to get information about what to expect the following day.
At the end of the third week of Pre-Service Training, we got our school assignments and were given permanent Learning Teams. I was assigned to PS 108 in Brooklyn. Soon after I was assigned to PS 108, I learned that the school is not far from where my father grew up. So far, as a Learning Team, we completed a number of online courses, such as harassment reporting, partaken in bonding activities, such as playing scribble.io, learned about the nature of PS 108, and picked up our uniforms. While the form in which service will look like given the pandemic is still unknown and can be subject to change at many times this year, I am optimistic that I can make an impact in the lives of students at PS 108.
Despite the initial challenges posed by the pandemic, my gap year planning is looking very hopeful. I will split my gap year into two main sections: City Year and backpacking.
The main focus of the beginning of my gap year is a program called City Year, which is part of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a program that supports national communities through service. AmeriCorps’ mission statement explains that its goal is to “strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.” The program I am doing in AmeriCorps, called City Year, has the goal of helping at-risk elementary to high school age students. The term “at-risk” refers to students who are in circumstances that would indicate a lower likelihood of continuing school or graduating. There are many factors that can lead a child to be designated as at-risk, such as poor attendance, major shortcomings in a particular subject, not having a place to go home to after school, etc. City Year’s objective is to help these students through individualized and long-term attention from those participating in the program.
I will be serving in New York City, specifically in the “East New York Brooklyn Zone.” I will not know my assigned school or age group until the end of my three week Pre-Service Training, which I am completing right now, but I am very excited to learn where I will be placed. I joined City Year because I hope to make a difference with students at a time when they need it the most. I am lucky enough to have a way to participate in online classes, as well as parents with stable jobs . There are many students who do not have these luxuries, and they are at the most significant risk in terms of their educational development and longevity.
The second half of my gap year is currently still up in the air. I would really like to go backpacking, but, because of the pandemic, a trip outside the country is not likely. Under the circumstances, I am thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I still have a lot of research to do, so there is still a chance I will not be able to hike the trail. My main concern is being able to finish before school kicks off at Duke in August. To do so, I would need to start on the trail earlier than when most people begin in April, since the trail takes 5-7 months to complete. I would like to avoid a winter start because it requires specialized equipment and the possibility of harsh and snowy conditions. However, if it is the only timing that would work, I might have to consider another trail to hike. The one other trail that I am researching is the Long Trail in Vermont, which is significantly shorter than the Appalachian Trail. If anybody has any suggestions for trails to look into, I would love to chat!