Chris Ryczek’s AmeriCorps and Teach Kentucky Journey
2011 cohort member and Fern Creek science teacher Chris Ryczek shares his life-changing experience with AmeriCorps, a program Teach Kentucky is proud to partner with for the first time this year. Chris served as an AmeriCorps member before beginning his teaching career.
I had the privilege of serving in three different AmeriCorps programs after obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in New York. I knew that down the line, I wanted to teach high school science but first I wanted to gain some experience and get my hands dirty. I could talk for days about how valuable theese experiences were, and what a great step towards ‘real life’ the programs provided. As independent as you feel leaving college, it is another thing to have the true independence of a first, full time job.
For the first few months after graduation I lived in Southern Arizona working for a branch of AmeriCorps called The Student Conservation Association (SCA). My position was combating invasive species and providing tree removal. I learned teamwork, safety, efficiency and, best of all, chainsaw use and maintenance.
After that, I moved to New Hampshire for one year in yet another SCA position. This time I worked a bit closer to teaching. I taught high school students about environmental science during the school year and then in the summer we went out into the White Mountains and built hiking trails while developing leadership skills. When that position completed I moved to Louisville, KY and applyied for a third AmeriCorps position. This one was working as a Kentucky College Coach for Carroll County ATC. I created a cohort of students from 9th-12th grade and helped promote a college going culture. Each of these three positions helped define me in my adult life as well as reinforcing and preparing me for my future career in education.
The value of AmeriCorps programs can be summarized by this brief anecdote. After my wife and I got married, (we met in the NH AmeriCorps position) we moved to South Korea to teach English for two years. In South Korea, all men must perform two years of mandatory military service to the country. They are paid a stipend for their time and are generally miserable doing it. Although this sounds a little harsh, I would love for the USA to follow a similar path, only it should be mandatory two-year AmeriCorps volunteer positions. Getting students out of their bubbles and forcing them to see the country and giving them the requisite skills to do so is a service that is often overlooked when listing the benefits AmeriCorps provides.
I will leave you with the ubiquitous quote that, I feel, captures the spirit of my experience with AmeriCorps:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain