My name is Ciara Parks and I proudly serve as the Team Leader for Central High School.
I am originally from Sidney, Montana, a town of about 6,500 people in eastern Montana. I am the daughter of a single mother, Carmen, and have one older brother, Dakota. In high school I liked to stay busy and involved, volunteering for various clubs, competing in Speech and Drama, working afterschool at a local insurance agency, as well as maintaining good grades. After high school, I attended the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, MN. I studied Justice and Peace studies with a concentration in Conflict Transformation. I continued to engage in service throughout college—traveling to India, California, West Virginia, and Missouri for various service immersion trips. I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland. I loved my time in Ireland, spent studying, interning at a cross community non-profit, and travelling. After returning from studying abroad I began to work for the St. Paul Public Libraries as a tutor. I worked with a wide variety of people, 4-year olds to 65-year olds, tutoring on any topic including English, reading, math, and even the citizenship test.
As graduation approached, a year of service stood out to me as the obvious choice. My prior experiences with service had allowed me fall in love with the way service can bring people together and build community while also working to do good. I was unsure what program to do, but City Year's model and work stood to me. I had spent the last year tutoring and loved the way it allowed me to work with so many individuals; seeing their growth and moments of understanding brought me such joy. The idea of working with the same group of students for an entire year, as well as City Year's values and mission really appealed to me. I applied to the Northeast Region, which includes New York, Providence, Boston, and New Hampshire, and was placed in Providence. I moved here a few short months later, sight unseen, a nerve-wracking but exciting experience.
Last year I served as a first year AmeriCorps Member at Central High School in a ninth-grade Algebra 1 classroom. I was part of the founding City Year team at Central High School, and got to be involved in establishing the tone of the City Year team at Central High School. We serve the ninth-grade students in Algebra 1 and English Language Arts as well as putting on events and initiatives for the entire school. Though it was City Year's first year at Central, many of the freshman students I worked with had City Year in their middle schools, which made introducing City Year to the Central community easier. I loved getting to know students over the course of the year while working to become better students. As the year progressed, I knew that I wanted to return to City Year for another year. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to my students and felt like my work wasn’t done. I applied to be a Team Leader to help a new team navigate their service year with City Year at Central High School.
We are now a few months into school and every day is a new adventure as I adjust to my new role. As a Team Leader, I no longer serve in a classroom, rather I am responsible for supporting the 8 AmeriCorps members serving at Central. This includes planning our afternoons, having weekly individual meetings with ACMs, reviewing trainings and data, and more. Since returning to school I have also been able to reconnect with my students from last year, now Sophomores. Though I don't get to spend as much time with them or see them every day, they still bring such joy to my life.
One of my students, Infinity, has grown so much since I met her last year. She was a student in my second period Algebra 1 classroom. It was obvious how smart and talented Infinity was from the start. However, she struggled to work independently and lacked self-confidence in her abilities. While she was always willing to do her work and wanted to learn, she would struggle to finish assignments without knowing that she was getting each problem correct. As one of my academic students, I worked with Infinity in small groups and one on one over the course of the year. The work included learning and mastering the academic material, as well as growing as a student and individual. Towards the beginning of the year I would start an assignment with her, asking her what the goal of each problem was, she would work through problems, and check her answers before progressing.
As time went on, Infinity was able to get started on her own but would seek assurance often. By the end of the year Infinity dove into her work with confidence, asking questions when needed, and even helping other students. She completed Algebra 1 with one of the highest grades in the class. As the current school year started I have seen Infinity transition into the 10th grade. She is taking more difficult classes and also no longer has City Year in her classes. The rigor of her new schedule is causing Infinity to learn better time management and other skills. I have loved reconnecting with her and hearing about how her classes are going. We talk about her struggles and triumphs, plan ways she can tackle her work, and, if she needs it, I am always willing to do an on-the-fly tutoring session, whether it's for geometry or French or any other subject she is taking. I am grateful that even though as a Team Leader I no longer serve in a classroom, I still am able to connect with students and support them as they navigate their education.
Towards the beginning of each service year, City Year has a ceremony where AmeriCorps members dedicate their Red Jackets. Jackets can be dedicated to anything or anyone and is a way for AmeriCorps members to articulate what this year of service is about to them as an individual. To me, dedicating my Red Jacket is a way of acknowledging all that brought me to this moment and to this year of service. This year I dedicated my jacket to my students from last year, and in particular the young ladies I had the pleasure of spending my days with. All of my students, including Infinity, taught me so much more than I could have taught them. My students are brilliant, joyful, resilient, hilarious, and much more. They remind me every day why I should be working to make this society, community, and country a better place for them.
I hope that as a Team Leader at Central, I am able to lead my team in building a stronger support system for our students, not only preparing them for 10th grade, but also helping them grow into the young adults they are meant to be.