Andrew Harriman had just graduated from high school himself last year (2017) when he decided to serve with City Year, becoming one of our youngest AmeriCorps members this school year. He also proudly states that while he may be the youngest he has travelled the farthest, from Maine, to serve here in Tulsa.
Andrew can still vividly recall his own school experiences, and like many of the students he served this year, he remembers struggling both inside and outside the classroom and not knowing if he was going to be able to graduate.
He has plenty of good memories, like playing football and winters snowboarding with friends, but he also remembers classes that just kept getting harder and more difficult to keep up with. While he said he’s always dealt with a learning disability, school was nearly impossible his senior year of high school when he became homeless after escalating unrest with his family.
There was a period a time when Andrew didn’t make it to class that year because he was fighting depression or needing to figure out where he could sleep that night. It was a truly a dark time he says he now looks back and realizes how far he’s come in such a short period of time.
Despite the immense challenges Andrew faced that year, he said he was able to graduate because of the extra academic and emotional support he received from two educators, his English teacher and a guidance counselor at this school in Maine.
“They were the only two people in my life at the time who never gave up on me. I spent at least two hours every single day in my guidance counselor’s office catching up on the schoolwork I missed and making plans for how I could graduate and succeed after high school,” said Andrew.
In fact, it was Andrew’s guidance counselor who found City Year and suggested he apply. Andrew said he knew he wasn’t ready to go to college, but set a goal to leave Maine and eventually serve with the Peace Corps. So, when he learned more about the program he immediately realized this was the best next step for him.
Reflecting on his last year of high school followed by his year of service, Andrew said he can’t express how grateful he is for the opportunity City Year has given him to focus on learning and growing through serving students that are in similar situations as what he faced.
Those in City Year community knows are all too familiar with the national drop-out statistics stating that students who drop out of school are four times more likely to be unemployed, typically earn $10,000 less than their peers who graduated, and are more than 50% more likely to end up in jail. But, Andrew knows the feeling behind the numbers, as well as the hope he now has as a high school graduate.
“I remember being afraid that if I couldn’t graduate I’d end up working at a local gas station pumping gas for the rest of my life, but when I walked across that stage to receive my diploma I felt like I could do anything and be anything I wanted. My confidence in myself and my ability to do something positive with my life soared,” recounts Andrew.
Andrew says it’s his personal story that created a deep connection to the City Year mission, and that’s what has motivated his work with the students he served this year.
“There were so many times where I saw how the academic and emotional support I gave my students with City Year was the same as what I needed and was lucky to receive from my teacher and guidance counselor. But, I know not all students can get what they need from their teachers or school, and I’m grateful I can be that support to other students.”
Andrew’s school works to help students feel confident and equipped to focus on their schoolwork by teaching them “tools,” like “empathy, deep breathing, and garbage can” to use inside and outside the classroom. Andrew remembers helping one of his students to use these social-emotional tools to calm down instead of argue, take a break instead of acting out in class, a to “throw negative thoughts and feelings in the garbage can” and instead focus on the positive.
“I know that learning in school is hard to begin without all the extra challenges that so many students face outside the classroom or at home. City Year helps provide the extra academic and emotional support to help student feel confident in their ability to learn and focus on their education,” said Andrew.
Now with a year of service under his belt, Andrew said he also feels confident that he now has the professional and personal skills he needs to pursue his own dreams. He will be returning to Maine this summer to plan for further education and path to the Peace Corps.
If you are, or know someone who is, 17-25 years old and is ready to answer the call of service to students and community while developing your own professional and leadership skills, apply today to serve with City Year Tulsa at www.cityyear.org/servetulsa.