The Test for Charter Schools

In my years of community service experience, I have never experienced
anything quite like Branch-Out.  It was the most powerful reminder to
the student in me, to practice what I preach.  It was my first
opportunity to be the compassionate, not the cynic, to be the active and
not the passionate.  There is only one true thing that you can do to
make a difference.  I know if it comes from me, it’s just going to be a
recycled cliché, so let me borrow from the words of Yoda, which I feel
represents what every community service worker strives for, “Do or do
not, there is no try.”  I feel that the Gaston pride of 2016 can attest
to Yoda’s words (Robbie May would be proud).

But, when you are left with a box of brand new, unsharpened
Ticonderoga pencils like I was, these words are just as trite as your
professor’s assurance that your next big test is going to be easy (you
scoff, but the box was kinda big, you know, the exact kind that can fill
25 other boxes of brand new, unsharpened Ticonderoga pencils).  I have
to admit that the first day, I was getting a little bit lackadaisical
and soon enough, found myself dozing on the nearest couch I could find.
Nonetheless, I found some sort of respite in my darkest hour from this
simple Star Wars adage. For future reference, if you are in for a task
that looks relatively simple, brace yourself for the closest thing to a
Sisyphean punishment.  “How could anyone possibly sharpen this many
pencils,” so I asked my self.  It takes someone who actually cares not
only to teach, but also to do the small things that allow for a safe
learning environment.  The teachers at Gaston College Prep emblematize
what it means to be caring: to put in more hours, more work and more
commitment to uphold a mission of excellence.  Being a teacher means
being on the forefront of educating the future.  I think we forget how
easy it is for teachers to just and not genuinely care.  That’s why
being in Gaston College Prep was so encouraging.  But actually, I was
walking down the detention room that day and saw a group of kids in the
corner with twice the number of boxes I was sharpening.  Those poor
kids.

So many times we take our education for what we feel to be an
inalienable right.  At least where I come from, we are expected to
graduate from college, and eventually get some job that reflects our
area of interest.  It doesn’t make me proud to say that I had to throw
away these expectations that one-week for the sake of sanity.  If I
didn’t, I would literally have been so angry with myself for complaining
about the quality of our faculty, when, a child in Gaston isn’t even
expected to reach college.  The educational attainment percentage for a
bachelor’s degree is 4.5%.  It’s true, brutal, and it was about time
that I was aware. As much as I’d like to think that there is an American
dream, I simply can’t ignore this huge disparity in education.

Moreover, I am so glad that I was able to bond with 11 other students
coming from all backgrounds, but united by the goal of making a
tangible difference in the community around us. It wasn’t easy at
first.  For a first timer like me, this trip was a convenient way to
avoid going a long way back home.  At that time, I was feeling uneasy
because it was my first experience living with strangers.  I was coming
in shy, unconfident, and indifferent.  Above all, I was uncertain of how
comfortable I would be in a drastically different environment.  I come
from Taipei, Taiwan from a relatively well off neighborhood, meaning
that rural North Carolina could not be more different.  What I
discovered was the most amazing and supportive group of friends that
I’ve ever had.  They hold a special place in my heart (love you guys).  I
could remember my last night there in our last discussion when I was so
touched by Janice’s story that I had to restrain myself from tearing.  I
think, it required some degree of selflessness to put myself into other
people’s shoes.  For that, I thank you Branch Out National Gaston 2012.

by Jeffrey Liu