By Rachel, IvyWise Principal College Admissions Counselor
Positively impacting communities, both local and global, is important to IvyWise. Through IvyWise Gives Back we aim to improve educational opportunities for children across the world. Our counselors are also heavily involved in various non-profit, service, and community organizations and projects, and we want to highlight the great work our counselors do outside of admissions consulting.
Can one person change the world? Picture this: Fish are flopping all over the beach, gasping for air. There are thousands of them and more keep washing ashore. As I reach down to quickly scoop them up and fling them back into the ocean, a passerby says, “You’ll never be able to save them all!” I smile and say, “I made a difference to that one!” It’s a lesson that has been imparted a million times over, but it’s no less true. You can’t save everyone but you can positively impact some. The importance of a small-scale solution to a big problem was a large part of what I learned during service with AmeriCorps in a program called City Year.
City Year teams up young people from different backgrounds for a year of working in under-resourced schools. I moved from a wooded college campus in North Carolina to Philadelphia and joined one of the biggest Corps in the country. An eternal optimist, I was ready to contribute everything I had to making a difference on my team and at our school. Our training began in August and my team was working every day in our assigned high school a few short weeks later. I quickly realized that working with a small team of people to address a systemic problem was going to be very hard.
The school we were assigned had a freshman class of around 400 kids and a senior class of closer to 150. The drop out crisis in city high schools was just beginning to get attention. The vastness of issues contributing to why students dropped out was staggering. We planned all kinds of activities to engage them. We hoped that additional support and opportunities like report card counseling, homework help, and regular after school clubs would connect kids to their education and us. I found a home in the Student Success Center with a group of senior girls who were looking at colleges (foreshadowing!). I planned essay-writing workshops and worked with them to find scholarships. I was happy to work with such determined, smart kids who were essentially beating the odds every day. But what about the rest of the students?
In the face of a daunting task, it is incredibly important to zoom out and ask yourself what can you actually accomplish and how will that contribute to the overall goal. The drop out crisis is just that – a crisis. As an individual or a team member, there was no way for me to solve a national problem. But something as simple as joining AmeriCorps sends a message that service is important. Showing up to school every day, even though it could be hard, assured my students I was committed to supporting them. From our basement office in a 100-year-old school, my team tried to make a difference in the lives of students. Did we succeed? I think the answer is yes. We supported a number of students, though not everyone, in reaching goals they may not have achieved otherwise. And if every City Year team in every school in every city is doing the same thing than we’re truly solving a national problem.
After my first year of service, I signed on to work another year doing recruitment. I was able share my own experiences and encourage other young people to consider joining City Year to make a difference in the lives of others. In this work I realized how much I enjoyed presenting to groups and talking about things I was passionate about, like national service. This, coupled with my work with high schoolers, became the foundation for my work in college admissions. City Year provided me with a chance to change the world one person at a time and, in the process, my life was changed too.