Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

My Heart Lies in North Carolina

By Abby Bowman

          I went in to this trip a little skeptical of the KIPP education system but very excited to work in a school for a week. My expectations were completely blown away by the amazingly hard-working teachers and learning-conducive, inspiring atmosphere of the school that led to one of the best weeks I have experienced. Being someone who wants to dedicate their life to education by becoming a teacher, this week was a huge learning experience that provided me with hope and passion to keep pursuing that.

        Rural North Carolina is an area where many residents are unemployed do not have many options for jobs. In the district we visited, there are about three secondary schools, aside from the KIPP school. Therefore, in an area like this, a school that focuses heavily on academics and dedicates itself to its students is an incredible godsend. The KIPP school we visited sends almost all of its graduates to 4-year-colleges, many of which are first generation students. More importantly, however, they care for the kids, help them prepare for the future, and help break the opportunity and achievement gaps prevalent in the American school system. With a longer school year, longer school days, more rigorous coursework, methods that promote community and learning, and discipline that is more strict than the standard, the school operates very differently than most. Sometimes this is exactly what an area like this needs. It provides individualized help and dedicated people to those who need it most.

        Working in the school, the first thing I noticed was just how energetic the teachers were and how much they work. Working from at least 7:30am to 5pm every day can take a toll on most people. However, these teachers showed continuous passion for the job and care for the children, and never stopped being great teachers. On top of that, the students seem to have picked up on the community aspect promoted by the school, where they care about one another and participate in the little things like wiggling their fingers at someone to “send them love” when they are struggling with a question. I was also very impressed by the fact that some of the students in middle school were taking high school level classes, and the kindergarteners could not only speak some Spanish but could read and write very well. While there were some things that seemed abrasive, like the “bench” system of discipline (which seemed to isolated students who misbehaved for minor things), the school overall seemed like a place that was doing very well for the community and resources it had.

        It is very rare that one finds a school, especially in a low-income area, where every teacher and administrator is extremely dedicated to their students, or where almost all of the students go off to 4-year colleges and seem to be on the same level academic playing field. In rural NC, I believe they have that. For me, that was one of the most amazing things to see, because with all the things I hear about the horrible state of the U.S. education system and how many suffer because of it, this was a reminder that I should not give up and that it is possible to make a huge difference and help fix these problems. I was so glad and grateful to be a part of this in all the small ways I could. The teachers definitely needed our help and to be able to help such a fantastic program, even for a short time, is wonderful.

Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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