Three years ago, I decided to become a teacher, despite my original aspirations to head to medical school. I soon realized that working with students and making positive changes in their lives was the correct path for me, and I haven’t looked back. The experiences I’ve had with my students and their families have made me fall in love with education. Today, as Dean of Culture and Science Department Chair at Brownsville Middle School in Miami-Dade County Public Schools under the leadership of Ebony Dunn, I’m just as inspired to serve our community as I was when I first began.
My life has changed completely because of service, and I had the chance to choose this career thanks to Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program. I’m one of many — this year, 80,000 AmeriCorps members are mobilizing more than four million volunteers to help the most vulnerable people in our country. Their contributions are inestimable, yet Congress is considering significant cuts in funding to AmeriCorps and its parent agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). These cuts would strip communities of the diverse talent and supports that they’ve benefited from and relied on for key services, and if the current House bill passes, then as many as half of all AmeriCorps positions could be eliminated.
When I first considered a career in education, I wasn’t sure I could afford it. Growing up in a low-income community myself, I knew the odds were against me, but my father taught me that resilience was critical, and I was the first in my family to earn a college degree. Reaching that goal filled me with pride, but it came with financial obstacles, and I knew that it would be a struggle to make that next step and pay for a master’s program in education. However, the financial support I received from AmeriCorps as a Teach For America corps member made it possible. As an AmeriCorps participant, I received a stipend toward my master’s degree, and I was also able to defer my student loans for two years as an AmeriCorps participant, while CNCS paid the interest accrued. This support was essential to me, and it’s the same for many others who want to choose service. AmeriCorps makes it possible for everyone to serve, despite financial barriers. The results have enduring impacts on our communities.
During my time as a corps member, AmeriCorps funding made it possible for me to work in a community similar to the one I grew up in. My students don’t have access to many of the same resources that wealthier communities do, but just like I did growing up, they have a great deal of resilience. One of my students, who had a history of failing classes, had a deep love for music. We bonded over that and through that bond built a real enthusiasm for learning; enthusiasm that led to him growing 37 points in science. That would not have been possible without AmeriCorps’ support.
I plan to devote my life to helping students achieve, to give them not only instructional support, but holistic support, and I cannot emphasize enough the impact that AmeriCorps had on my decision. All over the country, AmeriCorps programs are making it possible for people to make similar commitments to service. Call on members of Congress to protect funding for AmeriCorps and CNCS so we can build a stronger America through service.
Angel Arroyo is the science department chair and dean of culture at Brownsville Middle School in Miami, and a 2013 Teach For America Miami-Dade alumnus.