I work with students who give me hope for a greater tomorrow. I work with students who inspire me to live a better life. I work with students whose faith inspires mine. I work with students who are at promise and not at risk.
I work at De Marillac Academy, a school that builds futures, helps break cycles of poverty, and shows me what community is every single day. If you had told me a year ago, that I was going to be working as a teacher at a Catholic school in San Francisco's Tenderloin district I would have called you a liar and laughed. What did I know about education?
What could I do and be to kids who are living in a neighborhood that, according to the SF Gate, has the highest concentration of drug crimes and prostitution. Last spring a myriad of questions flew through my mind at the thought of being in San Francisco. What would I, a girl from a rural small town in Nevada, have to say to kids from the inner city? I am not ashamed to admit that I was scared.
I was worried that VSC West had made a mistake with my assignment. I had worked with kids in the past but never in a true academic setting. After my first day of work I came home and cried. I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was so far out of my comfort zone professionally and physically. Overwhelmed at the despair that I saw in the Tenderloin. Thrown by the ostentatious drug use happening mere steps from the school. Scared that I would end up being more of a hindrance than a help.
Now 6 months have passed and while there are days that I am worried about the work I am doing I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I know these kids as more than statistics and facts. I know about their dreams, hopes, and fears. We talk about their favorite books and what movies they’ve seen. We talk about missing assignments and getting our work in on time. We talk about where they want to go to high school and college. We talk about education. We sometimes just chat and I learn a little more about their home lives. I see these kids every single day. I go to their athletic games and soon will spend a week camping with the 6th graders.
I have helped Clean the Bay with them and visited museums. I have gotten the experience of being a teacher, but truly these kids have educated me. They have shown me what it means to look beneath the surface to the families and the community that exists in the Tenderloin. They have shown me the park where they play and the restaurants that I should eat at one day. I have gone to Mass with them and heard them speak and pray in their native languages. A beautiful melody of Filipino, Vietnamese, different dialects of Spanish, with a dash of English.
I have figured out what a teacher should be. Teachers that are passionate and invested in the art that is teaching. I have learned what administration can do when it is not a job but rather a vocation. How amazing it is when a faculty and staff believes in the kids we educate. My year of service is getting a chance to support students to live lives of choice, meaning, and purpose.