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Why I serve with AmeriCorps and City Year: Marissa Jackson

By Liz Warden

During the fall semester of her senior year, Marissa Jackson started thinking about what she wanted to do after graduating from Hope College. She knew she wasn’t ready to go to graduate school. Nor was she ready to sit in a cubicle and stare at a computer screen all day. She knew she wanted to do something hands-on. She wanted to serve.

After some research, she found the AmeriCorps website, which led her to City Year. The program immediately sparked her interest because it gave her the opportunity to act as a tutor, mentor, and role model and keep working with elementary school to middle school-aged children. It also gave her security that she would have a job after college, while many of her friends were unsure of their plans.

“The stipend and benefits I get through AmeriCorps and City Year are greatly appreciated in this time,” Jackson noted, speaking of the current economic downturn. “I know a lot of my peers were struggling to find employment after graduation, so I am really grateful that this opportunity was available.”
Jackson was one of the many corps members who applied at the first deadline and told City Year she’d serve at any location in the country.

“Wherever the need is, I’ll go,” she said, thinking back on her application process.

“I’ll be there.”

And one year later, she leaves her house every morning as the sun rises over the silver-lined skyscraper backdrop of Downtown L.A. and turns from sky from night blue to periwinkle, to catch the Metro Light Rail to get to Markham Middle School in Watts by 7 a.m.

Most people would refer to this as waking up at the crack of dawn. But to Jackson it means always getting to school on time to lead morning greetings and games. Every day, she walks through the campus in her yellow bomber, pressed khakis and Timberland boots chanting at the top of her lungs.

“Hey, you’re here, that’s great!” she yells, stomps her feet, claps her hands and moves around campus. At one point, a student comes up to her, gives her a double high five, starts to dance with her and chimes in on the cheer. Jackson beams.

Jackson comes from a strong background in social work and education. She plans to stay on that track after her year of service. Jackson reasoned a year with City Year could develop her behavioral management and tutoring skills with children and help her grow professionally.

“I just feel like it’s a job…as well as it being service,” she said.

“We have to show up every day, we get things done, we have goals and things we need to do and we are serving the needs of students and communities and schools.”

With her first month serving in 7th grade English and Math at Markham almost under her belt, Jackson has already started developing relationships with her students that can only grow stronger. Some have already cried and opened up to her about why they’re not motivated to do well in school and why they skip class.

“City Year allows them to know each day that they have someone there to support and care for them, not just academically, but life in general,” she said.

Using stories from her past experience that have made her a stronger person, she can sometimes bridge the age-gap and relate to her students. As a first generation college graduate who was constantly stressed by her parents to always pursue education, she wants to show her students that anything is possible.

“If you put your mind to it, if you have your goals set out, you can get to that point and you can say, ‘Hey, I graduated from high school and college,” she said.

Jackson believes that if students find a passion – possibly through City Year’s after school programs and clubs – it can help them become more involved in school because they have something to look forward to.

Dance, for Jackson, is her passion. She’s been dancing – ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop and tap – since she was 2-years-old.

“When I’m dancing, that’s all I’m worried about. It’s 110 percent of me just dancing,” she said.

“I can’t put the feeling into words.”

She plans on starting a dance club at Markham that explores and practices different dance styles, the history of dance and even tour a studio or performance in Los Angeles.

Outside of the classroom, Jackson hopes City Year can find student’s interests – whether it be dance or not – to make them feel the same way she feels when she’s up on stage, twirling, spinning and jumping to a beat.

“It’s just smaller steps cede to that bigger goal they want to get to.”

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