by Sarah Dowd, Americorps Member
When I was eight years old, I wanted to be a singer. When I was twelve years old, I wanted to be a writer. When I was seventeen years old, I wanted to be a high school English teacher and Drama Director. Mrs. Proctor, one of my favorite teachers to this day, was my AP Lit teacher and the Drama Director, and I wanted to be just like her. She was wacky and didn’t particularly enjoy following the rules, and I admired that. Her classes and rehearsals were engaging, and she pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves. I applied to colleges with this idea in mind, seeing how good their English programs were and what theater I could do as a non-drama major. After college applications were sent in and acceptance letters were arriving, I decided I wanted to be a Public Relations major. Big jump, I know, don’t ask me what my seventeen year old brain was thinking. So for the schools I got into, I looked to see which had a good Communications program. I lucked out, it seemed, because one of the schools I got into was ranked the second best Communications programs in the country. So off to New York I went. I lasted as a Public Relations major for two semesters. I thought the classes were boring, the field too competitive. So I became a Sociology major. Then a Sociology minor. Then an Anthropology major. Then a Global Studies major. Then a Geography major. I promise this isn’t just bragging about my scholastic escapades, I’m getting to a bigger point.
In January of 2019, I applied to work at a summer camp. I’d never been to one before, but it had to be better than working at Dairy Queen, I told myself. On the first day, I was ridiculously nervous to do something I had never done before. What if I didn’t make any friends? What if the campers didn’t like me? What if I was the worst drama director they’d ever seen? It turned out to be the best summer of my life. I applied to work summer 2020 the first day applications came out. When I tell students I’m a camp counselor when I’m not their favorite teacher, they usually just nod and say “Makes sense.” Before I started working at camp, I would never have imagined myself giving off “camp counselor vibes,” as the students here like to tell me. I could never imagine owning more camp clothes than regular clothes, feeling comfortable teaching team building to random groups of people, spending more hours outdoors than indoors, or being confident in my ability to make a fire even after it’s rained. When I made the decision to work there, I could never have imagined the impact it would have on my life.
This spring, I was stuck at my parent’s house, feeling depressed and untethered after the shock of my entire life getting uprooted. I came home for spring break and never left. I would not see my closest friends in person for months. My entire life felt out of my control. To try and remedy this feeling, I started looking for a post-graduation, post-camp job. Silly as it sounds, I wasn’t willing to give up working at camp for a job I might not even like, so I searched for jobs starting on September 1. My brother started working at a high school in Boston through Americorps after he graduated college, so that’s where I started looking. Working at a summer camp helped me realize that I love working with kids and love working outside, so either or both of those things in a job sounded great to me. Originally, I applied to work on a farm in New Hampshire five hours from home. Frankly, the woman giving my interview said, you should hear the other options we have, this position is really competitive and you have little to no experience. Knowing that leaps of faith can pay off, I told her, “Sure, let’s hear it.”
Eight months later, I arrive at Next around 8 AM five days a week. I’ve just wrapped up teaching an English class centered around sociology and current events. Talk about full circle!
Since I started working here, I’ve gotten to know a lot of students. One theme I’ve noticed in a lot of lives here is uncertainty. Uncertain if they want to go to college after they graduate, uncertain if they want breakfast and lunch today, uncertain if their opinion is good enough to share in class. I get to hear a lot of these daily struggles, because I think they often forget I’m the adult in the room and not just another student. Some days, this is a wonderful problem to have. Others, not so much. The wisdom I always try to instill in my students, mentees, and the general student population is the idea of action. Being uncertain, unsure, totally clueless, is amazing, I tell them, because you’re a freshman-sophomore-junior-senior in high school and that feeling might never go away, but inaction will only make your life harder.
If you’ve ever met me, or even looked at my picture on the faculty page of this website, you might notice I look young enough to be a high schooler. I “graduated” this May on my parents’ couch in Connecticut, after my university shut down on March 8 due to the pandemic. Actually, I slept through the virtual graduation they hosted on YouTube.
At 22, I know I don’t know much compared to the other adults in the room. I’m making things up as I go along, as I’d like to think a lot of people are. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. While not all of my major life decisions have made me happy, they have taught me new things about myself, fostered astronomical amounts of personal growth, and taught me that I definitely will never live in the New York Metro Area again. It’s okay to make mistakes, you’ll make a million and then a million more, and that’s okay! In the grand scheme of things, you don’t have to know what your next move is going to be, you just have to move.
Sarah Dowd is an Americorps member at Next Charter School in Derry, NH. When she isn’t teaching English, meeting with students, telling everyone she works at a summer camp, or leading team building activities, you can find her cooking vegan meals, hiking, writing letters, and reading. You can reach Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.