Hello! My name is Ashley Seals and I am 2014 graduate of Central Michigan University. I graduated with my bachelors of science in Exercise Physiology and Psychology. My plan is to return to school to become a physician assistant. I decided last summer that while I wait to hear back on my graduate school applications, I should do something meaningful. When I heard from a friend about the opportunity to become a VISTA, I decided this could be something that was right up my alley.
Six months later and here I am! This is my first year as a VISTA and I am serving with Carson City-Crystal Area Schools in Carson City, MI. Carson City is a small town in the middle of the mitten, and it holds a special place in my heart because this is where I grew up! I went to school here my entire life and graduated in 2008. My parents still live in the community, so this year was an opportunity for me to move back home and give back to the school and community that shaped me into the person I am today.
It has been interesting being back in the community and having a completely different perspective. I am now working together with teachers and community members to try to make the city I am from a better place. A lot of what I have been focusing on throughout this year has been to gather a group of students, called the Leadership Team, to help me complete any tasks that I have planned and hope that they can help create sustainability in the school by running projects on their own and encouraging teachers to incorporate service learning into the curriculum. Being half way through the school year, I have approximately 25 high school students that are really dedicated to this team. This is a huge accomplishment in my eyes because it has nearly doubled in participation since last year and in a small school system, numbers matter! The Leadership team heads the school recycling program. They have currently been working on expanding the program so it is in every building in the district and increasing training and information on the importance of recycling.
A lot of other things I do revolve around getting involved in different classrooms to get the teachers and staff to use lessons that center around service learning. One of the most recent projects I completed was with a middle school class that spent approximately two weeks learning about clean water, water conservation, and how not all parts of the world have access to clean water like we do. These middle school students decided they wanted to learn more about how people in Africa have to travel miles every day to access clean water and have to carry it with them in order to have it in their homes. This inspired them to test out different methods of carrying water and they attempted to raise money to send to students in Africa to provide them with Hippo Water Rollers, which allows them carry more water at once with much ease. These students were even awarded a $250 grant to help with fundraising, materials to spread awareness, and the supplies to make their own Hippo Roller.
My goals as a VISTA are to promote a lot a focus on student engagement, partnering with members of the community, and creating sustainability in the school systems. I believe that over the first half of the year I was able to create and build relationships with students. I believe my ability to relate to them, being a former student of Carson City-Crystal Area Schools, has allowed them to trust me and to buy into ideas about creating a better community environment and giving back for the greater good. I believe these students will carry on what I have taught them for years to come and encourage their peers and teachers to model their behaviors. I also believe my past history of the area has allowed me easily reach out to community members and businesses to partner with the school systems and build on already strong relationships.
Being a VISTA has not always been easy. Being in such a rural area where there is a lot of poverty, it can be hard to get people to buy into what message and lessons I am trying to send. The biggest issue I would say I have faced is getting staff and students on the same page. In such a rural area, there is a constant change in staffing as teachers come and go, and students are forced to adjust to new rules and teaching styles each year. I believe one must support the other if real change is to occur. I have done a lot of assessments to analyze where the underlying issues are and how to stop them from becoming bigger issues in the future.
While being a VISTA has its challenges, and at times I have gotten frustrated, I would not change a thing about this year. Looking back at the first half of my year and all of my success and progress, I know that things in my city and former school are moving in the right direction. Being a VISTA has allowed me to give back to a place that I cherish very much and I only want the best for. I believe that if I can make even the smallest bit of change, I will have done my part as a VISTA. This is a year that I will look back on and smile because I was able to give back to a community that gave so much to me.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!