How a gap year can help you find your calling
Dear past, present, and future Wisconsin Badgers, and anyone considering taking a gap year after college,
My name is Samantha. When I went to college as a first generation Latina student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, navigating this educational step in my life alone was difficult and a bit intimidating. I declared my psychology major because I began to appreciate the importance of socio-emotional adjustment from watching members of my family struggle with their mental health. I then wanted to use this degree to become a physical therapist because I wanted to do something in the healthcare field to make enough money to be financially stable in my future for a home and a possible family. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I realized that I was going to be much happier pursuing my passions rather than a practical career I didn’t actually love.
Discovering my passion for service
When I was searching for what my strengths and interests were, it always came back to both my major and the classes I took in my Chican@/Latin@ studies certificate. What my Chican@/Latin@ classes taught me is that my own culture’s people, including many other people of color, are still suffering at a disproportional rate due to many systematic factors outside of their control. I was always fascinated with the history and injustices taught to me about mental health and the Latin@ culture I grew up with. I started to look for careers that worked with psychology and children of different cultures, and became less focused on physical therapy.
Once I committed myself to pursuing a career that allowed me to integrate my passions about social justice, different cultures, and interest in socioemotional and mental health, I found the passion and love in my education that was missing when I was pursuing a safe and practical career of a physical therapist.
Entering college, I had little idea who I was but through exploring my passions and career options, I graduated feeling more confident in my identity than ever before.
With this newfound confidence, I could face the hard truths about the history of my hometown and the educational disparities affecting my community, including my family. Rather than escaping from the ‘broken’ educational system as I did as a child, I now dedicate my career to addressing the injustices present in the education system.
Finding City Year
I decided that the best way to gain firsthand experience working in the education field was to apply to an AmeriCorps program called City Year, a non-profit organization that partners with schools in communities challenged by persistent inequities in our education system to help students with improving their attendance, cultivate social and emotional skills and increase course proficiency in English and math. City Year AmeriCorps members work closely with students who exhibit one or more of these “early warning indicators” to ensure students reach 10th grade on time and on track- which research shows makes students three times more likely to graduate from high school.
I knew I needed to integrate myself into the Milwaukee Public Schools culture to get a true experience of what students face every day. I was placed at Bay View High School were I worked with 9th graders. I also served as my team’s Social-Emotional Learning coordinator in order to learn how to direct and lead my school team with resources and techniques to best support our students. Through these experiences I discovered that I had more patience, faith, and motivation than I had realized. I’ve tutored students who would fight in the halls because they say that was the only way they knew how to solve conflicts, then see these same students earn a proficient score on their math test and be the happiest I have ever seen. I despaired, but was also inspired, by a student who told me how she was abused by her mother’s friend, but excels in school and continues prioritizing her studies. Some of the students I had the chance to work with have more resilience in the face of adversities—such as poverty, neglect, and racism and classism—than I ever had to experience growing up.
Finding my calling
My experience serving at Bay View High School as a City Year AmeriCorps member had a large impact on my future career plans. I recently applied, and have been accepted into the UW-Milwaukee School Psychology program. When thinking about how I’ll be an effective school psychologist, it involves me going where I am needed most. Due to adversities – racism, poverty, violence – cities’ school systems like MPS have more than just test scores to worry about in their children, and at a higher rate than suburban schools. It only seems logical, in my opinion, to go where psychological resources are needed most. There are more minorities in city schools, where mental health is viewed as a problem rather than a barrier to adjust around or not understood at all due to lack of resources. As a Latina, I would be able to use my prior knowledge growing up and learning about Latin@ culture and, with time and continued education, other communities of color, as well.
My experience with the students I’ve grown to care deeply for at Bay View High School while serving with City Year inspire me to assist in developing plans that correlate with students’ needs in the classroom and with some mental health skills they can possibly carry throughout life once they graduate and enter the workforce, such as coping mechanisms and self-caring practices.
So, if you are uncertain about what your next steps after graduation will be, I recommend considering to do a year of service with City Year. It just might help you find your calling.
A City Year will help prepare you for the future. The relationships you create along the way will change it. Come CY. Learn more: http://pages.cityyear.org/Laura-Perez.html
Sam DeLeon proudly serves as a City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps and is a proud alum of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When asked when she serves, Sam said, “I serve because I believe my communities’ future generations of students are needed and are essential. They were given this world, they didn’t make it and with a little nurturing I believe they can change it.”
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