Reflection on My Journey by Anna Waller

December 12, 2022
Anna Waller
Anna is an AmeriCorps College Coach serving at Salish Kootenai College.

It has been more than six weeks now since I started my service term as a Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps College Coach, and I have learned a lot, although I have only just begun. It is my pleasure to be serving the community through Salish Kootenai College’s Upward Bound program, a nationwide initiative with the purpose of providing higher education opportunities to high school students from low-income families and/or parents without bachelor’s degrees. Through this experience, I am learning that community service can take on many forms. I never thought of community service as something like sitting down with 9th-12th grade students and discussing areas of academic improvement and post-high school opportunities, but I am very grateful that this is an available resource for the community, and that I am able to partake in its success.

Through Upward Bound, I have learned that many students do not have a strong support system in their home life, and many of them either do not know about the endless possibilities available after high school, or simply have never stopped to consider such possibilities. I think that this is especially prevalent on a Native American reservation, where historically, income levels are lower, which is directly proportional to lack of college degrees in the adults in the community. Here on the Flathead Reservation, it is important that community members such as myself do what we can to help bridge the gap between low-income/first generation students and the possibility of greater knowledge and success. My perspective on access to resources and education has shifted, which comes from my own place of privilege, considering that I never worried about whether or not I would be able to attend college and have as much of a chance in the professional realm as any of my peers. I realize now that many students in the community have a vastly different experience from my own. Lack of financial and emotional security has greater impacts, causing several of the students in the high school I serve to fall behind on their grades, perform poorly on exams, and hold a general attitude of disdain toward the future and life in general. While all of this is perfectly valid, I believe that it is possible to improve the reality for the students on the reservation.

During my time serving with Upward Bound, I have made every effort to ensure that the students know that I am with them, supporting them, and doing my best to see to it that they have the tools they need to succeed after high school. It was quite challenging at first, because the students and I were strangers to one another, so some of them were reluctant to open up to me, and I was unsure of what it was exactly that they needed from the program. However, as days and weeks have passed and I have spent quality time with each student one-on-one, I have learned interesting things about every one of them, and I have begun to learn what it is that I can do to help. Whether it is by exploring scholarship opportunities, filling in the FAFSA application, taking practice ACT tests, completing homework, or allowing them to talk about what is troubling them at home, I have seen hope for the future and academic progress in every student.

For the remainder of the academic year, I plan to continue walking with the students on their journeys to the next step in life. By planning field trips to colleges, outdoor expeditions to learn valuable team-building and adaptability skills, and workshops to help with college and scholarship applications, I believe that there is lots of great progress to be made, and brighter days ahead for the Upward Bound high school students on the Flathead Reservation.

Libby Middle School students learning indigenous field games at SKC Upward Bound’s Native Games event on October 18th.