Written by Caroline Watkins, proud AmeriCorps member serving the Capital Area United Way team at Capitol Middle School.

I have never known Louisiana, not really.  It’s always been my parents’ place, the humid hometown we visit over Thanksgiving break to drive past their childhood homes and hear the story of how they found love.  Or, where my sixth grade class went on a day trip from Houston to catch stingrays and scream at how gross they were.  I’ve known Louisiana as the state we stop in for hot fries, my understanding of it limited to a gas station and a Gatti’s Pizzeria. It didn’t feel like mine to remember.  But now that I am a college graduate and in a position to reflect on my experience as a student, I have recognized how much privilege has shaped that understanding of this place, and how complacent I’ve become if I’m unwilling to know more than where Louisiana’s rest stops are.

Too much of my past few school years were defined by competition, besting my peers in exams and debates and resume-building. Somewhere along the way, self-improvement became self-advancement. I learned how to get the grade- but lost the simple pleasure of learning anything else.  Service with City Year has pushed me out of complacency and awakened me to how lucky I’ve been in getting to go to school every day, being respected there, and having mentors that were willing to drive a state over just to hear me scream at sea creatures.  This year, I want to be that kind of teacher and mentor; I want to be that committed to my students and their confidence and their futures.  Students in Louisiana deserve teachers and corps members and policy-makers who know their worth and potential, and who will make education vibrant and exciting.  

In the few weeks that I’ve been serving at Capitol Middle School, I’ve been challenged in ways that I was completely unprepared for; every day, I am afraid of failing, I am afraid of disappointing my students, and I am afraid they won’t like my Grinch impression.  I am tasked with helping them raise their GPAs when they would, sometimes, much rather raise the roof.  And I’m singlehandedly enabling preteen sugar addictions because, while one starburst will keep a student seated, it’ll cost me a gazillion to ever see that homework assignment returned.  But gosh they are worth it, these students of mine, who never forget my name, or my gluten allergy, or that embarrassing thing I did on Monday. 

And now, because of them, I have something in Louisiana to never forget. My parents grew up here, but maybe I can, too, because I’ve learned more standing at the front of an eighth grade classroom than I ever did sitting in a lecture hall.  So Louisiana, you’ve done good.  Here’s a starburst for working so hard.

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