Hi, my name’s Melissa Santiago and I’m a Corps Member of City Year Columbus! I’ll be working in Weinland Park Elementary, as a tutor and mentor to students in grades 3-5. I recently graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillwith a degree in International Relations and Spanish (GO HEELS!). Aside fromCarolinabasketball, high on my list of passions is international affairs, immigration reform, and education. The latter is clearly my driving force for joining City Year. I consider the quality and extension of my education to be a privilege and I’m frustrated by the fact that not everyone has access to equal educational opportunities without some assistance. While in college, I volunteered in an afterschool program for elementary school students surrounded by poverty and for the first time was exposed to the adversity to education some children face every day. Not having basic needs met such as three meals a day, clean clothes, or a safe home environment are obstacles I had never been required to think about personally throughout my education. Observing and confronting these obstacles for the children I worked with changed my perspective and made me appreciate the opportunities I was given as a child. This realization created a burning desire in me to step more deeply into education.
My plan for years had been to traverse the world as soon as I was handed my undergraduate diploma. I was determined to do things like teach English to businessmen in China, restore stability to villages in Rwanda after years of genocide, get the next president of the United States to befriend Fidel Castro AND Hugo Chavez, and empower the political voices of women in the Middle East all before or shortly after graduate school. So how in the world did I end up in Columbus, Ohio playing with kids at recess and doing public jumping jacks? Not because I lost interest in my international ambitions- I didn’t. Not because I can’t make those things happen- I can. I’m here because I realized that 1) I wouldn’t have the motivation, ability or knowledge to work towards my passions without education and 2) every 26 seconds a student in the United States gives up on his or her education and therefore probably gives up the chance to fulfill their own goals. As an international affairs buff, I can’t help but worry how this will affect the present and future global position of the United States. I want to not feel embarrassed anymore when I discuss the educational system of the US with my Australian, German, British friends and strangers I meet during travel, but even more importantly I want the best opportunities for myself and future generations. So before I go on to conquer the rest of the world, there are a few things I need to do here at home. City Year is making a tremendous impact on our country’s schools and youth. City Year is reaching goals, breaking records and turning things around for the education system. City Year is improving literacy, attendance, and overall attitudes about school and I am therefore excited and honored to be a part of their impact.
I know the following ten months of my commitment to City Year won’t be easy in any way (as the corps keeps gently reminding me). I know I’ll struggle…frequently and substantially…but I also know that this will be one of the most impactful and rewarding experiences of my life. I expect disappointments, discouragement and even failure at times, but I simply can’t wait to learn everything those experiences have in store for me.