By Claudia Hewston
I have never felt more panicked, passionate, or empowered than I have in the past six months since answering the call to service.
I had made it to the third phone interview for the position of Montana SMART Schools Coordinator, and by the end of the phone call I had been offered and had accepted the position. Not sure what exactly I had signed up for, but I was confident that it was going to be wonderful. I finished up my seasonal position with the Forest service that Thursday, drove across the state of Montana Friday to gather everything I had “put into storage” aka piled into my parent’s front hallway, drove back to the middle of the state Saturday and started my next chapter bright and early Monday morning at 8:00 am.
Starting off I was determined to be the very best I could be. And this lasted for a surprising amount of time… However, about three months into my service term I started to question every, little, thing. Anything from what butter I should buy to is my email signature esthetically pleasing or is it just overkill. Shannon Stober, a speaker at mid service training, pointed out that during that time I was in what is known as a disillusioned learner phase… It would have been nice to know there was a name for it, but none the less a series of events kick started me out of this phase and into a more confident and secure mindset.
I had battled with moving to a new town, struggled with making new friends, lost people who had once been huge pieces of my identity, and been consumed with self-doubt. However, through all of this I finally broke through the 6 month barrier of my insecurities and found peace and excitement in where I was currently at in my life and the impact I was making as an AmeriCorps member.
The 5th annual SMART School Symposium truly ignited this change. The day had finally come. I had been terribly stressed leading up to this event and when I arrived at the capitol I was greeted by a hall full of Irish dancers and music. Typically this would have been an exciting sight but it was already 9:12. Schools were expected to arrive between 9:30-10:00. The time line I had laid out for this event immediately felt threatened and I became slightly (majorly) panicked. The dancers cleared and we began setting up. The morning started off smoothly… for the most part. At the time I felt as though the computer issues I was attempting to deal with, with the aid of IT, were so blatantly obvious and horrible that they were ruining the symposium. Come to find out what I had thought a huge life changing disaster had gone unnoticed. And that’s when it all changed, here I was with nearly 80 likeminded students who had all gathered to present on projects they had been working on to initiate changes toward sustainability and resilience within their schools and communities.
I found myself bragging weeks after the symposium about the incredible impacts these students were making. The hours of planning and work they devoted to these projects and the dedication to making and effectively being the difference within their school and in some cases their communities and beyond. This event and experiences like it, to me, promote more than just healthy and sustainable life practices. My hope is that through SMART Schools and other related experiences that these students experience panic, maintain their initial passion, and in the end feel empowered to be leaders on the things that matter most to them.