This year, AmeriCorps reaches the incredible milestone of one million members since its inception in 1993. To celebrate and commemorate this achievement, we'll be featuring stories from AmeriCorps Alums: the impact they made, the challenges they overcame and where they are today. Today's spotlight is on AmeriCorps Alum Sean Miller who served with City Year Jacksonville for two years, from August 2013- June 2015 and is currently a special education teacher in Roanoke County Public Schools.
What are you most proud of from your time serving as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Jacksonville?
My two years at Northwestern Middle School made a significant impact on my life. To this day, I still talk to my coworkers about my experience in Jacksonville, Florida and how it prepared me to handle anything in education. I remember my first year with City Year my team successfully created events that catered to the individual needs of the children. We all had the same common thread that we cared about our students and so that was evident in our work. What made me come back for a second year as an AmeiCorps Member at Northwestern Middle School were the relationships that I built with the school community. Each day I took the bus every morning at 5:50am and not getting home till about 9:00pm. I remember the Assistant Principal once found me at the corner of Golfair Blvd. and Moncrief Rd and told me that people like me are not seen around these parts of the neighborhood. However, waiting for the bus each day gave me the opportunity to get to know my students even better by interacting with them and the community outside of the school day.
I am especially proud of the relationships that I built at my school. I remember my last day at Northwestern was my hardest day. It finally hit me that I would never see these kids again. When you serve in a school every day you become invested very quickly in the success and livelihood the students. They almost become your kids, you start saying "my kiddos" and "my students".
Who did you make the biggest impact on while serving as an AmeriCorps Member?
I would say I impacted my overall school and the community I served in. When I began at Northwestern, I spent most of my time building relationships with my students by finding out their interests. I remember doing a math lesson on Circumference of a Circle in my 7th grade math classroom. To peak my students' interests, I went to Publix (a grocery store in Florida) and bought a package of Oreo cookies and a box of chocolate chip cookies and I used the cookies to teach them geometry concepts. My students had such a blast that day and many of them remember how to calculate the circumference of a circle due to that exercise.
What was the biggest challenge you faced and overcame as a City Year AmeriCorps Member?
My biggest challenge was when I served as a Team Leader. Anyone who has served as a Team Leader can understand how challenging it can be. You serve as almost as a middleman, you are in a leadership role but you are still an AmeriCorps Member, not a manager. You serve in this gray area as you lead a team of peers, which at times was hard. When looking back, I could have been a better Team Leader. I would advocate on behalf of our students, but I didn't advocate enough for my team. My biggest challenges as a Team Leader was trying to stay positive when facing opposition from those around me.
However, it was the school community and my students that kept me going during my second year as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year. Sure there was a moment when I wanted to throw in the towel and leave but then, I had to remember about every student, faculty member, and parent that I made an impact on in some way and that kept me going.
What skills did you learn and gain as an AmeriCorps Member that have impacted your career today?
I would say I have changed professionally since my time with City Year. As a teacher, I work with many different types of people throughout my day. I work with administrators, students, paraprofessionals, secretaries etc. I use data all the time. When I was in City Year, data drove my instruction. Now as a Special Education Teacher, I use that same method when it comes to creating Individualized Education Plans.
City Year changed my life and my career. Before joining City Year, I was undecided about my career path and next steps whether it was social work or graduate school. My two years with City Year affirmed that I had a passion for students and education. I currently now teach as a Special Education Teacher with Roanoke County Public Schools in Roanoke, Virginia. I co-teach (with another General Education Teacher) in 7th and 8th grade Mathematics. As a Special Education Teacher, I am also in the case manager for 10 students so I prepare their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and I constantly stay in contact and build rapport with teachers, administration, and parents.
I also attend graduate school at Liberty University Online studying a Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education. I am currently in my second year of the program where I have been able to apply my City Year experience to my graduate schoolwork.
Why should others serve with AmeriCorps?
I think serving with an AmeriCorps program such as City Year, Teach for America, VISTA all teach you the same professional skill of empathy. Sure the money is not exactly that great compared to your other friends who are either going to graduate school, law school, or getting corporate jobs in the "real" world. However, the experiences that I had through City Year made me a better professional. I am able to conduct meetings, respect deadlines given to me by my principal, and I have become more culturally aware of the issues that affect my new community. Joining an AmeriCorps program also enhances your resume and it is more than just a ‘gap’ year. I have seen first hand what participating in an AmeriCorps program can do to many.
To read more stories about the impact of AmeriCorps Alums or share some of your own use the hashtag #1of1million and follow @AmeriCorps and @AmeriCorpsAlums to participate in the conversation.
Sean Miller was previously spotlighted on the City Year Jacksonville blog 15 months ago while he was in service. Read his previous blog post here.