Friday, June 28, 2019


I like to compare my year of service to a Grateful Dead tune. Just when you think it’s over, they keep on jammin’ on into the next verse. 

Although there has been much less of a psychoactive influence on my year of service than there might have been on a Grateful Dead song, just when I thought I was done growing and learning, I kept jammin’ on into the next verse. 

Throughout my time with the Montana Career Lab I have developed a greater understanding of career development, career theory, and why it is important to explore career development as early as pre-school. I have had hands on experience with age appropriate career activities for students at every level while developing leadership ability and self-confidence. I have had the opportunity to travel across the state and network with many wonderful organizations and agencies all promoting the success of students. 

There are so many ways in which this year of service has benefited me, I only hope that my time with the Montana Career Lab has had an impact on the students I was able to work with. 
My first partnership was with the local Student Aged Child Care (SACC), that ran afterschool programs out of all but one of Helena’s elementary schools. 

I started in two schools and was able to build strong relationships with the SACC coordinators and students. Every student in the program picked a career from our Careers Build a Community curriculum and I assisted them in exploring why they chose that career. We completed hands on activities and hosted community speakers to help them gain a better understanding of what that career entailed. 

Many of the students picked the same careers as their parents but at the end of the unit they all had an opportunity to share what they learned about their chosen career to teach their peers about other careers in their community. 

When I got the “okay” from Helena School District, I started advertising myself to the teachers by putting little handouts in their mailboxes. They must have been rather unappealing fliers or just busy teachers because I only got a response from one school- you live, and you learn. 

Within weeks I was teaching our curriculum in two first grade classrooms at Broadwater Elementary. I would say this was a breakthrough moment for my service and I was really able to get hands on with the curriculum to determine what worked and what needed improvement (of course the activities with candy were always a hit). 

If I am being completely honest, this year I discovered that I S-U-C-K, big time, at teaching. Despite my playful fantasies about having my own classroom that fosters free love and produces miniature hippies, I am much better on a 1:1 basis with students. It’s possible that I am just inexperienced or too anxious, but I can’t think of a better environment in which to learn this about myself. 

Even with my ignorance in effective teaching methods, the students were AMAZING and kind to me. They all came with different levels of knowledge, interests, thoughts, and feelings, each one as unique as a snowflake. I wanted to very carefully cultivate autonomy in every one of these students and help them explore careers that could be personally fulfilling and as unique as they are.

After each career lesson, the curriculum had the students reflect on what they learned about that career: what they liked or didn’t like, who they knew who does that career, or where in the community they might find that career. The very last day the students were able to pick the career they liked best and make a career puppet and a booklet out of their reflection pages. 

The curriculum includes a final community day where students can choose their careers and host a reverse career fair. They can decorate a business front and invite their family and community members to stop by their “business” to learn about their career. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I couldn’t host a community day with any of my groups. I am holding our future AmeriCorps Leader accountable to invite me to any community days he achieves! 

I can’t say that the students I’ve worked with will remember our 45 minutes a week when they are heading off to college, but at least I can leave my service knowing that I gave them an opportunity to explore careers they might not have thought of before, and that I’ve planted the seed for their “Sugar Magnolia” trees to blossom.  

 “Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” -Grateful Dead

Monday, June 24, 2019


The first week of our Upward Bound Summer Academy 2019 went off without too many issues. Starting over with a new team has been quite interesting, but rewarding and exciting. There are seven of us providing supervision and guidance for the 51 high school students in our care. Part of this commitment is planning activities to keep them occupied and out of trouble in the evenings. This week we carried out an Upward Bound tradition of playing “Bigger and Better” on the streets of Butte.

The rules are simple, I give out a paperclip and tell the students that they need to talk to people and trade this paperclip for something “Bigger and Better.” The team must stay together, and they may only offer the item that they have at the time. The winner is then judged on size, value, and creativity of their final item.

As we embarked on our journey, my team immediately ran into someone walking down the street with a backpack (in a weird coincidence it was an EnergyCorps volunteer) who traded us a female hygiene product for our green paperclip. We kept walking and met a lady on her porch and traded our pad for a light up stick. We continued on down the street and met a man on his porch who traded us a lead pipe for our light up stick. After carrying the pipe around town for a while, a lady raking her yard traded us a metal rod for our lead pipe. We then met some men working on a vehicle who traded our metal rod for a larger metal fence post. Eventually we ended up trading the fence post for what I can only describe as a large metal “chimney?” which we then had to carry up Tech hill to the dorm, because we were running out of time.

After listening to the other teams’ stories and seeing what other items showed up, including a dog, a bucket of tacos, a box of chips, a restaurant t-shirt, and hair straightener we were ultimately disqualified because one of my group members was related to the last person we traded with (I warned them we would get disqualified).  

It wasn’t so much the items that each group returned with, but the experience of reaching out to others in the community and learning how to communicate with complete strangers. Upon reflection, which I have had a lot of time for, lately being put in a deja vu situation of sorts, I realized how many small but essential lessons I learned while participating in these same activities with the same program. Building self-confidence, learning how to approach what could be uncomfortable situations, and quite possibly being disappointed by your trade are all “hidden lessons” in what we consider a tradition and fun game.

In essence, we weren’t just looking for the biggest and best item, but working with our students to make them the biggest and best they can be by teaching our hidden lessons of communication, confidence, and self-advocacy. 

Monday, June 3, 2019


Valedictorian and Salutatorian walking to their seats
 at the start of the ceremony
Spring has sprung, as they say, with summer clinging tight to the tail end of this season, ready to move in at a thunderstorm’s notice. All of the seniors at Troy High School have completed their last day of school, checked out of their classes, cleaned their lockers, returned their books to the library and submitted their final papers and projects. With them gone, my office feels empty, though my door remains open. Perfect time to reflect on all that has occurred this year, and the impact the seniors have had on the student body and myself.

In the beginning of September, the GEAR UP team and I divided all 29 seniors into small “focus groups” as we called them, so we could have meaningful, one-on-one conversations about their goals and plans in order to create specific and targeted plans for their senior year. Over the next few months, our groups became share spaces for important information and deadlines, upcoming scholarships, events, college application materials, and other how-to -adult items as they came up. We hosted a FAFSA night, where parents brought in their taxes and received guidance from the GU team, myself and a representative of Reach Higher Montana to fill out the FAFSA with confidence. We had a Do’s and Donuts of Scholarships evening where we shared information (and donuts) about different financial aid options, tips for writing good essays and how to find appropriate scholarships per circumstances. We hosted the largest Career Fair THS has seen yet, and later had a Reality Fair focused on learning how to budget. We funded nearly 20 field trip visits to various colleges, and had additional funding set aside for students who wanted to check out other schools with their folks that reimbursed travel costs and paid for hotel stays and meals. By spring break, all 29 seniors had been admitted to a community college or university, and have applied for thousands of dollars worth of local scholarships. Not all of them plan to attend school right away, but the fact remains that their admittance into schools shows how capable they each are, and how many options they have ahead of them.

Senior Paige giving the introduction for Ms. Maust, the
class’s elected speaker. This class is Ms. Maust’s first
 group of freshmen-senior cohort, making these introductions
and speeches real tear-jerkers. 

As the school year has gone on, our specific focus groups have organically disbanded, and in its place has arisen a broadly welcoming center for all who have questions about life and college, as well as a place to gather to share stories and apprehension at leaving the bubble they’ve known all their lives. My office may feel empty, but my heart has never been so full. I am proud to call many of these students friends, and on their last day I handed out cards full of congratulations and encouragement. I shared a poem that was given to me when I graduated college, and many of them now have it posted up where they will see it every day to pull further encouragement from.

I’ve read countless entrance and scholarship essays, shared life advice, and called numerous college offices with my students to help them get questions answered about dorm life, financial aid, class registration, and how to make friends at school. I’ve come in after hours and on days off to meet with students to answer questions, responded to middle-of-the-night-panic emails, and written several letters of recommendation. On June 1st, 2019 I had the privilege of attending their graduation, and watched all of them walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. One of my students wore a pair of heels I gave her that I wore at my own high school graduation, and another wore a dress I gave her. These students have worked their way through tremendous odds to make it to the point they are at today, and have the resilience to continue facing anything that tries to stand in their way. With the support of programs like GEAR UP and MTCC cheering for continued education, countless students across Montana will be encouraged to make their dreams into realities year after year.
Seniors tossing their caps at the end of the ceremony.

Congratulations, Troy High Class of 2019. You are officially 2019% done with high school! :’)