Alumna Alysa Buchanan, who served at the Condon K-8 School from 1996-1997 on the Gillette Team, returned to the Condon this fall with her son for Red Jacket Weekend, City Year Boston’s largest service event of the year. We had the opportunity to reconnect with Alysa and learn about her journey to service and life after City Year.

CYB: What specific things did you do when you were a City Year AmeriCorps member? 

Alysa Buchanan (AB): The main focus of our work was to serve the Condon community as tutors. I worked in a 2nd grade class room, and I also ran a science fair program for 4th and 5th graders. My team also served at the Bayview Assisted Living Center in the afternoons.

I was elected to serve on City Year’s Leadership Academy and was given a grant to coordinate April vacation programming for the Condon community. Working alongside my teammates, we built relationships with local companies to secure in-kind donations, such as lunch, t-shirts, and free public transportation for the students.

Through creative collaborations with the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, and the Trailside Museum, we selected a theme for each day. One day, the New England Aquarium brought an inflatable whale and had small exhibits. Another day the Museum of Science set up a portable star lab, and the Trailside Museum brought their animals to show the students. More than 150 students participated, and we were able to provide them with a week of free programming and activities to learn about the environment.

CYB: What were the most rewarding aspects of your experience and how do you benefit from them now?

AB: The leadership opportunities that were afforded to me, especially being chosen for Leadership Academy. When you’re 20 years old, you’re not usually given the opportunity to dream up a big idea and receive funding to support it. This allowed me to see an opportunity, make a plan, and put it into action.

Another was that our team was very diverse. It exposed me to a little bit of the world: folks who didn’t speak the same language and had different religions. I learned tools to work in a diverse group and with people who didn’t have the same views as I did.

CYB: What has been the trajectory of your career path and how did you get to where you are now?

AB: I was always interested in other cultures. When I went to college at UMass Lowell, I was a music major and had to learn different languages to sing certain songs. I did that for a few years and then wanted to take a year off. The concept of a “gap year” did not exist at that time. It was a hard thing to take a year off. My mom was a teacher in Boston Public Schools, so I’d been in the schools and felt comfortable there. All of the pieces fell into place when I was there, and I thought “This might be something I want to do,” which brought me to City Year Boston.

After City Year, I moved to New York City and did some music work, then went back to school at Jersey City State College to become a teacher. I became a graduate assistant there and studied to get my English as a Second Language (ESL) License and Masters in ESL. I used my AmeriCorps Education Award to help pay off student loans.

I started working at a charter school in Jersey City. During this time, I traveled back and forth to El Salvador. One of my students was from El Salvador and invited me to go back to her country and learn about the education system there. One of her family members was a principal and showed me the school where they worked. I learned the Spanish language and provided training assistance to the ESL teachers in the school. It was a very rewarding part of my twenties.

When I had my oldest son, we moved back to Massachusetts, where I worked part-time as an ESL teacher. My second son was born seven years ago, and we moved to Milton, MA, where I grew up. 

CYB: Which school and grade are you teaching ESL at now?

AB: Now, I’m back where I started: I teach at the Collicot and Cunningham Elementary Schools, where I went to school and where my two sons now attend. I’m in charge of our ESL Department and coordinate the English Language Education Program. I also teach kindergarten, first, second, and fifth grades, working mostly with immigrant families. I have a personal connection to this work – my husband is an immigrant from Colombia.

CYB: Why have you stayed involved in City Year over the years?

AB: A few years ago, I went to Red Jacket Weekend with my family. I want to instill a value of helping others in my children, and show them that they’ve been given lots of opportunities that other kids don’t have. It was special to come back to the Condon this year, because that was my service site, and for my youngest son to see the ways we could have a positive impact on a community and the lives of other students.

Alysa and her family

Alysa and her family in 2016.

If you’re a City Year Boston Alumnus and want to become more involved in CYB, please contact Erina Colombo at ecolombo1@cityyear.org

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Contributed by Becca Canavan

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