Last Christmas break, I flew home to my small town in Upstate New York from Chicago. I officially was halfway through the year. I had somehow survived one semester at the Rodney D. Joslin campus of Perspective Charter Schools with some intense, crazy, and hilarious teenagers. My first ever semester of teaching—Honors Statistics, Middle School Health and Fitness, advising a grades 6-12 classroom designed for growth as a person, and individualized middle school math interventions—finally completed. At home, I had a few things to look forward to, like getting back to Chicago to be with my new Amate family, a new semester of classes to teach, and some new responsibilities of ACT prep and Algebra I tutoring and targeted instruction. I was fully utilizing my degree in Math Education from Canisius College less than a year after graduation by volunteering at Amate House and I knew that I still had so much more to learn about myself and teaching, all of which Amate brought to me.
I also had some time to start thinking about life after Amate. Being from New York, I needed to complete my certification in teaching by earning a Master’s degree. After cruising and googling a little bit to do some researching, I came across the PLACE Corps program through one of the nation’s top Jesuit universities, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. PLACE Corps, similar to Notre Dame’s ACE program, is a program where someone with teaching credentials or with little to no teaching background commits to two years teaching in a underfunded Catholic school in Los Angeles County, receiving a master’s degree at LMU, and living in community with other teachers. Three people in my community, Matt, Erika, and Lauren all came from LMU and sometimes just couldn't keep quiet about how awesome it was in beautiful southern California. How could I not be interested? Another couple of years living in community developing close relationships and growing professionally and spiritually? It was nearly impossible to ignore this offer. It seemed too blatantly obvious God’s plan for me was to continue my teaching and growth in southern California.
I applied and got an interview in mid-February. Conveniently, some PLACE representatives flew out to Chicago from Los Angeles and ultimately were frozen due to the polar vortex making its way down from the arctic, but luckily they were able to thaw out in time for my interview. I knew I’d be talking a great deal about my experiences and role in community at Amate and my background in first year teaching in an urban charter school. I didn't rehearse many (if any) questions—my experiences at Amate and Joslin were so authentic and I was proud that I was associated with Amate and volunteering at Joslin. It definitely showed. I left the interview confident that I had earned a spot, and sure enough, I got the acceptance from PLACE Corps about a month later.
I've been living in Los Angeles for exactly three months now and Amate has certainly prepared me for PLACE. It’s been four weeks since beginning at St. Pius X - St. Matthias Academy and I couldn't be happier with where I am professionally. I am integrating my Jesuit education ideas of cura personalis of development of the whole person to my teaching practice and doing my absolute best to be a man for and with others. I feel confident in doing this after getting those first year teaching jitters out of the way. I owe a lot of my confidence and success a few weeks into teaching from what I learned about instruction and teaching practices because of volunteering at Joslin. My coworkers at Joslin were always encouraging and wanted to see me grow professionally and, though my job was certainly challenging, I thank God everyday for Joslin, the staff I worked with, and the students I taught and impacted.
My year at Amate House was more than just living with roommates and volunteering for a non-profit organization. Amate brought me things that I could never have imagined and is still teaching me things three months out. I find myself often referring back to and reflecting on the five tenets of stewardship, social justice, faith, community, and service on a daily basis and I anticipate continuing to learn these tenets for the rest of my life. The relationships that I developed with community and staff during my time with Amate House are held so closely to my heart and there isn't a day that passes where I am not thankful for their presence in my life. With that being said, SoHo 13-14, FOREVAH!!!
Post Script - The Ode to Chris Wagar:
My routine was pretty simple—I was always the first one out of the house for tutoring Algebra students at the Rodney D. Joslin Perspectives Charter School campus at 7 am every morning. Every morning before I would leave, Chris Wagar, one of the fearless leaders of Amate House, would check in with me. Our conversations ranged from the cheesy smile on my face after talking about my girlfriend who lived in Little Village, the excitement of a upcoming road trip with a close housemate, and everything else in between regarding Amate events, community, and work. These morning talks would rarely be short. In fact, I would wake up an extra few minutes early just to enjoy a good conversation with her (that’s if I willingly didn't wake up even earlier to shovel the walk to prevent the neighbors, my community members, and Amate staff from trekking through the snow). I tended to have to run to the bus stop to prevent me missing the 62 Archer bus or break a sweat biking hard to work because I was talking to Chris for too long, but it was worth it. Chris Wagar is one of the many faces of Amate House and one of the biggest go-doers for the program. She’s a big reason why it has been so successful for so many years and was a huge part of my life at Amate. Thank you Chris for all that you give to everyone that passes through the Amate House doors and all the great conversation and banter back and forth you’d give me so early every morning!