Sarah Lukins has learned that her service truly requires “out of the box thinking.” As a City Year AmeriCorps member serving in a seventh grade English Language Arts classroom at Aki Kurose Middle School in South Seattle, Sarah constantly balances supporting her students academically and socially while using creativity to address challenges every day. Read how Sarah’s experiences have taught her to think entrepreneurially and learn how this thinking is essential to apply to any career.
What is your favorite part about serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member?
Sarah Lukins (SL): My favorite part of City Year is how it challenges me to think about relationships and what it means to be a member of an inclusive community. My school is located in one of the most diverse zip codes in the US. I have many first- and second-generation students in my class from all corners of the world, and I devote a lot of time to building strong relationships with them. I get to hear my students’ stories about their grandparent’s donkey in Somalia, the new Nike’s they’re coveting, their epic attempt to make pho broth, and how they went too hard on a trampoline during midwinter break, in which case I commiserate when they show up on crutches. They have helped me understand to a greater degree what it means to straddle multiple cultures at once, and they’ve challenged my worldview. It’s really a huge gift.
What coordinator role do you hold on your team? In your role, what unique skills and experiences are you gaining that are strengthening your ability to solve problems and think creatively?
SL: I serve as an afterschool coordinator at my school. We partner with Seattle’s parks district to run a number of enrichment programs, like gamer’s club and creative writing club. When we first implemented our program, there were some challenges. Facilitating snack time for fifty students can be a surprisingly onerous task; I’ve never seen so much line-cutting in my life.
I went back to my team and we brainstormed workable solutions. Now, many iterations later, we’re a well-oiled machine. I learned a lot from that process. In the beginning, I felt like it was my fault that our program was failing. I thought that I had to be the one to come up with all of the solutions. It turns out that I just needed to learn to facilitate discussions with my team. I learned how to gather buy-in from my team; when your ideas are incorporated into a program, you’re more invested in the outcome. Building consensus on a team and investing them in a common goal is such an essential leadership skill.
How does the City Year AmeriCorps member role embody the entrepreneurial spirit? Can you give some examples and describe the entrepreneurial skills you use on a daily basis?
SL: I think a big part of being entrepreneurial is figuring out how to prioritize your time to have the greatest impact. At City Year, there are always a ton of demands on your time, whether it’s getting time with focus list students, lesson planning, providing full classroom support, checking in about attendance and behavior or doing your coordinator role. It’s easy to get caught spinning your wheels or vacillating on what to do first.
At the beginning of the year I was really struggling to work with students. Students were having a hard time getting into our book. I worked with my program manager to think about good priming questions – questions to ask at the beginning of the day that would not only situate my students in the text, but would allow them to share about themselves with their classmates.
I’ve had to be entrepreneurial in the sense that when I come up with a really elegant solution it should always be solving more than one problem, and it should always move our group forward. I made the cognitive shift of not thinking about my work as damage control, but as proactive – what solutions would ensure that those problems didn’t manifest in the first place, and what actions and planning on my part would help my students reach their potential.
How often are you required to take a creative approach to solving problems? Can you share a few examples?
SL: An easy answer would be every day. A few months ago, I worked on rebuilding our community garden and setting up a system to maintain it. One challenge of City Year is implied in the name – we’re only here for a year. We often run up against the problem of how to create institutional memory and systems that can be perpetuated after we leave. I’ve had to grapple with the question of how to build the garden into a role that a future AmeriCorps member can take on, and how to build a garden that is sustainable and low enough maintenance for our community.