Reflections… by Parastoo Nina Massoumi
My VISTA experience has been a journey of living in New York City, navigating the K-12 system, learning more about non-profits, and understanding the importance of service-learning.
Coming from California, where everything was spread out and you needed a car to get anywhere, it was quite an experience to navigate the City using public transportation. When I first moved here, I had to conduct mental trainings every day about my route to and from work. Downtown is Brooklyn, my home. Uptown is Manhattan, where I work. Now I serve as a tour guide when my friends travel to NYC to visit, but I have to give credit where it’s due: HOP STOP (it saves lives!).
In addition to learning about the importance of looking both ways when crossing the street especially in NYC, I also learned a lot about the K-12 system through my VISTA assignment. Being a VISTA has allowed me to experience working in a public school in East Harlem on a level I wasn’t sure I could have exposure to unless I was an educator, a part of the school staff, or an after school program director (both categories of jobs I applied for prior coming to NYC and did not receive). I did not have NYC public school experience and therefore I did not have a foundation or a framework to guide my practice as an educator in a NYC public school. I had some experience working in higher education, working with diverse populations, as well as guiding student development, but now, I see the importance of being deeply connected within a community when doing work that empowers that community. Under that premise, I’m more conscious of the sustainability of my initiatives even beyond my year of service.
As a Youth Service/Service Learning VISTA, hosted by generationON, I share my service hours between my non-profit’s office and the school. Within the school, I work with teachers to incorporate service within their curriculum. I also work with students on their leadership development and understanding the importance of service. Since our non-profit promotes service and service-learning in schools and communities, I feel privileged in that my VISTA assignment connects with the mission and values of my host site, generationON. I receive a lot of support from my supervisors in the work I am doing at the school. I also support signature events such as the MLK day of service and other campaigns that are still connected to capacity building and service-learning which indirectly correlated to my VISTA assignment.
What’s been enjoyable about working with generationON is that our directors are very transparent about the organization’s history, current climate, and vision for the future. They are also open to feedback from us as VISTAs patient and willing to educate us more about the structures and functions of non-profits as institutions.
The reality check about our responsibilities is that sometimes, it can be a lot of projects to juggle at one time, and a lot of expectations to meet from generationON, the school, and AmeriCorps. I will say though that supervisors have been great in understanding work –life boundaries and balance which has been helpful in trying to maintain self-care.
Lastly, reflecting on service-learning has been very eye opening for me. I come from a background of working in social justice/multicultural programming as well as student affairs and higher education. Service-learning has been great in connecting these two passions. I can promote social justice in service while also connecting the service to learning going on the classroom so that student academic achievement is enhanced and learning is more meaningful. Being a part of creating service-learning opportunities and witnessing the growth in student learning has been where I receive most of my meaning in my work. I can truly see how my role as a VISTA is creating an impact on the folks we serve within the school and in the community. Empowering teachers to promote service-learning and seeing them transformed by the change they see in their students behavior, attitude, and academics has also been an invaluable experience for me.
Even though it has been difficult living on a stipend that barely gets you by each month and relying on food stamps to provide most of your monthly meals, my VISTA experience has been meaningful. It has been meaningful not solely because of the change I am seeing in our school but also because of the change I am seeing in myself. I am learning to be more resourceful, creative, and to ask for help when I need it. I am learning to be more intentional in the initiatives I create and to ensure that those initiatives are sustainable. I am also learning to be more conscious of making sure that initiatives I create are also community driven and have community “buy in”. My VISTA experience has been a lot of me learning to adapt to new surroundings and enjoying the process and adventures along the way. =)