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Great Story: “The Seasons” by Rachael Conway

Over the course of their term of service, College Possible’s AmeriCorps members write two Great Stories. Rachel Conway, senior coach at David Douglas High School 2019-20, shares her journey as an AmeriCorps member and the memories she had supporting students.

Fall

… is a mix of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. It is my second year at David Douglas High School, so I am no longer lost as I wind my way through the gargantuan campus to our little College Possible office/storage closet in a portable on the North side of campus. There, I mingle with the new Junior Coaches and crush the familiar spiders that’ve been waiting for us in the corner of the office all summer long.

Hallways are packed and it’s a joy to see my students’ faces again, bright with the excitement of a new school year and rejuvenated from the summer break. Though I know the faces, the humans behind them have grown in the months between 17 and 18 years old. Juliya, who spent her junior year convinced she would attend OSU, tells me that a summer camp she attended over the summer transformed her, and now she is more excited than ever to attend PSU. Aminah already applied to four scholarships before our first College Possible session of the year. Johnny still isn’t sure which college is right for him. Fall is a season of getting ready.

Winter

… is when the school days begin and end in darkness. Literally. It gets dark at 4pm. Though we’ve cozied up our College Possible office with charming string lights and fake flickering candles in the window, the air in session is heavy with the burden of hard work. Some students adapt quickly; there is a quiet solidarity among the students who stay after school for hours to work on their fourth, fifth and sixth college applications. Dennis, despite his grouchy demeanor, chooses to attend College Possible four days a week after school and applies to countless schools. Chris works on what seems like their seventeenth essay with only the occasional eye roll (“Can you believe I have to write another essay? Why does every college ask such specific questions?”) Other students find it difficult to motivate themselves.

“Why do I need to apply for more than one school?”

“How do they expect us to write all these essays when we still have a ton of schoolwork to do?”

Still others make rare appearances in session once every month or two, bursting into the computer lab with enough urgent energy to stir the room:

“This Stanford application is due in a week; can you help me describe the most pressing issue of our time in 50 words?”

Winter is tough. This is a season of working tirelessly with no payoff in sight.

Spring

…is when reality begins to hit: graduation is coming up! College acceptances are coming in! The tenor of the room shifts from lethargy to anxiousness, excitement and burnout. The questions I start receiving take on a new, urgent tone:

“How do I check my financial aid package?”

“Do colleges look at your second semester grades?”

“Do you think U of O’s website is saying that their dorms have communal showers? Ew!”

Meanwhile, more students start coming to session with glazed-over eyes and slumped shoulders.

“AP Physics sucks!”

“I went to bed at 2 a.m. last night.”

“Can I go home? I just… can’t make myself apply to a single more scholarship.”

Then, of course, the virus hit. In the span of a week, students were storming into our computer lab with tears in their eyes.

“My final choir concert was canceled.”

“What about prom?”

“What about graduation?!”

And almost as quickly as these concerns arose, schools were closed. Suddenly, students were grappling with the urgency of springtime in the vacuum of their own homes. How was it fair that all the work they did in the wintertime was finally paying off in college and scholarship decisions, but we were all forced to cope with the ups & downs of this season alone? Students had so much to mourn: most of all, the loss of the most important, celebratory chapter of their lives thus far. And I mourned the chance for communal celebration and goodbyes with the students I had coached for two years.

But… springtime is for blossoming, and neither a virus nor social distancing requirements could dampen the beautiful moments my students worked so hard to create. Johnny won a scholarship for future bilingual educators. Jared continues to host school-wide assemblies via Instagram live. Neila put on her prom dress and held a socially-distanced prom. Each week, a small gaggle of students attended our virtual College Possible sessions to continue preparing for their future, while an important fraction of our students could never attend, as they immediately took on 40+ hour work weeks to help support their families who were impacted by the virus. Spring was a season of adaptation.

Summer

…is more make-it-or-break-it now, in the year 2020, than perhaps ever before. As my term of service comes to a close, I live with questions that keep me awake at night: How will my students who struggle with self-motivation handle the shift to online college classes? How will my students with mental health issues find support and connectivity if social-distancing measures keep up for much longer? What kind of economy and society will exist on the other side of my students’ college graduation ceremonies? Though many of those questions won’t be answered for months or years to come, I have some requests I’d like to make in the meantime:

  • To all of my students’ future coaches: Please take care of my students! They need you now more than ever.
  • To all of my students: Please take care of yourselves. You need it now more than ever.
  • To all of my students’ colleges: Please understand that these students come to you in extraordinary circumstances. They need your understanding and patience now more than ever.
  • To all future employers: Please hire my amazing students. Learn about their perspectives and life experiences. See their potential, promote them to leadership positions and value them as human beings. You need them now more than ever.

I know that these wishes may or may not be granted, and that’s life. But I want to put them into the universe anyway, because summer is a season of hope.

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