Written by Samantha Cramer, a Program Manager on the SanDisk team at Horace Cureton Elementary

I currently serve as a Program Manager at Horace Cureton Elementary School. I chose to work at City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley because I believe with all my heart that students with unlimited potential should never be defined by the limited resources of their communities.  I chose City Year because I wanted a career where I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was making a difference every day I went to work.

I began working in the nonprofit field straight out of college, and I fell in love with it.  The work is hard and the pay certainly isn’t what some of my friends make at tech companies, but I loved that I could see changes in the community as a result of my efforts.  I knew that was what I was really looking for in a career, and through my work at other nonprofits in San Jose, I became aware of City Year and the vital services they provide in East Side schools.  I was impressed by stories I heard from staff and AmeriCorps members at various networking functions, and when I discovered that City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley was hiring, I jumped at the opportunity.  I remember my first interview was unlike any I had ever participated in, a lively discussion about education reform and why I wanted so badly to be a part of it.  I hung up the phone after that first contact with City Year San Jose staff, and thought to myself, “I have to get this job.”

For me, education reform isn’t just something that I want to discuss.  It’s something that I need to participate in, something that I am driven to throw myself into.  My mother is a fourth grade teacher, and I have seen her stretch her limited resources to the breaking point because she knows that her students deserve it.  I have seen her work late nights, weekends, and throughout school holidays because she believes that all students have the capacity to learn and thrive if given the right environment.  She also showed me, through her students, how lucky I am.  I was born into a family that had the time and resources to ensure that I had everything I needed to succeed and to be “college ready.”  Many of my mom’s students, like our kids on the East Side, aren’t so lucky.  As I began to think about education as a career, I realized that I wanted to do something to level that playing field.  To ensure that it wasn’t just the lucky ones like me that got a fair shot at college and a stable career, and that over worked teachers like my mom didn’t have to do it alone.

Now, four months into my new role with City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, I understand more than ever how much this work is needed.  I have worked with fifth grade students reading at a first grade level, female students who believe that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math, and students whose biggest struggle is simply not believing that they can get better.  There are rough days, and small victories, and there’s always more to do.  But I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.  The moment you see an AmeriCorps member provoke an ‘a-ha’ moment from a student is worth it.  The moment when a student who is two grade levels behind in reading picks up a book for fun is worth it.  The moment when I finish the day with my team, and we’re tired but smiling because the kids were over the moon about our engineering curriculum- it’s worth it.  

I can come home at the end of the day and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my team and I got a little farther into leveling the education playing field for our kids.  And that’s a great feeling.

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