It’s crazy how much can actually happen in 12 months. As I look back on the past year, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I graduated from college last May, and now a little over one year later, I have another accomplishment to thank God for: the completion of an AmeriCorps service year. So I thought I’d take some time to reflect on everything that I’ve learned during my gap year.
In case you have no idea what I spent my time doing these last 11 months, you can read about it here. Education has always been something I held near and dear to my heart so I saw no better use of my gap year than to tutor 6th and 7th graders in an urban education setting. Despite the anxious “what-if” that lingered in the back of my mind, I moved to Wilmington, Delaware and made a life dedicated to serving an underserved population. Many of the students I served came from socioeconomic backgrounds that society deems to put them at a disadvantage. But being immersed in the school environment and the greater Wilmington community revealed to me that not everything is as it seems. While I could go on for hours about the details of my service year, I’m instead going to focus on the three areas I learned and grew the most in: the education field, myself, and my walk with God.
The very first thing I learned is that the education field is in shambles. I’m pretty sure I knew this before becoming an educator, but there’s just something about seeing the disparities with your own two eyes that makes it much more real. Never in my 12 years of formal education did I encounter such significant achievement gaps that caused a student to enter the 6th grade not knowing how to read. It was unheard of in my experience and I simply could not fathom that being a child’s reality. On my very first day of tutorial however, a couple of my students presented me with this reality and I had no choice but to adjust my schema. It wasn’t just literacy that many students were lacking in – several of them came in grade levels behind in their math skills as well. One might ask how it’s possible that such a gap exists and for the first few weeks, I was asking that same question. After a while though, I began to see how a child’s success hinges on much more than their academic performance. The crisis in our education system is a complex issue with many unique facets. If we want to help children succeed, we need to support not only their academic growth, but also their social, emotional, and mental growth through external resources such as caring mentors, enriching after school activities, and devoted professionals.
Working with children has a way of stretching you past your limits. I thought I had the whole patience thing on lock but as God would have it, He had a lot more to teach me about myself. By the end of the first week, I had discovered the disciplinarian in me. 😂 It wasn’t that I didn’t have the ability to be firm, it was just that I had usually given in when faced with an opportunity to exhibit that firmness. But give a kid an inch, and they really will take a mile. So I had to become more comfortable with putting my foot down. I also realized that my quiet strength is more of an asset than I have been giving it credit for. I’ve never been the extroverted person that always brought the bubbly energy. And I couldn’t bring myself to become that. In everything I do, it’s important to me that I stay genuine. Truthfully, I was surprised to hear students tell me that they like me because I’m “chill”. I guess the cliché “be yourself” trope actually has some validity to it. I’m so grateful to this year for teaching me essential lessons in flexibility, self-care, assuming the best, the value of a positive outlook, and a whole lot more. I feel like this was the transition into adulting that I needed.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss all the ways God showed me more of Himself and who I am in Him. It was one heck of a journey. I went from being plugged into fellowship and always having an event to attend, to finding myself in a new city with several but few suitable options for a church community. I would be lying if I said it was a smooth transition. Can I be real? It wasn’t. Not in the slightest. It was very much a bumpy ride filled with its fair share of ups as well as downs. But God is good. He kept me through it all. Even in my lowest moments, God kept me. If there’s one thing I learned, it was that bible studies and big events do not under any circumstances take the place of an authentic relationship with God. He was trying to show me how to stand on my own two feet (while leaning on Him for everything). It’s a process. One that I’m still in, to be honest. It’s about being humble enough to admit when you need help, to concede that you don’t know everything, to turn back to God, and to say yes to Him every single day, over and over again. One of my prayers before I moved to Delaware was that at the end of it all, my faith would still be in tact. And it is by the grace of God alone that my prayer was answered and I’m still standing. My identity is anchored in Christ and without Him, I’m a wanderer, searching for something to be grounded in. I may have had to learn this the hard way but you know what, I’m glad I learned it.
I wish I could condense the last 11 months into one blog post. But the relationships I formed, the lessons I learned, and the growth that I experienced can’t adequately be put into words. I found this picture I took of a letter I wrote to myself at the very beginning of the school year and every word rings true now that I’ve come out on the other side. Please excuse the chicken scratch lol. More than my rough handwriting, I hope you see a message to yourself – a message of optimism, strength, confidence, and faith.
If you read this far, thank you. May this encourage you where you need it the most.