Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Our visit to the Phoenix Academy
Yesterday, Feb. 2, we did a presentation at the Phoenix Academy in South Austin, where we'd been invited by school staff. I introduced Bobby and Sara, who spoke respectively about military realities not usually mentioned by recruiters, and Americorps as a nonmilitary option.
The Phoenix Academy is a residential school within AISD that assists students who have had issues with substance abuse. We were told that some students come to the school voluntarily and some are referred. We were given a tour of the academy by two students and learned that residents' schedules are regulated carefully. They attend classes from 8 - 2 and follow AISD curriculum. They start their days very early (5 am for the girls!), participate in a variety of group therapy meetings, and have work assignments on the campus.
For Bobby and Sara's talk, the students gathered in their study hall room, boys on one side and girls on the other. They listened and asked very good questions. Bobby mentioned that often soldiers wind up trading meds, sometimes selling them to one another on a kind of black market, which leads to some taking dangerous amounts or combinations of meds just to ease pain. Self-medication with everything from alcohol to prohibited drugs is common in the military -- a real risk for young people who already have had trouble with substance abuse.
One student asked Bobby, who was injured in Iraq as a Marine, if he had gotten anything good from his military experience. Bobby thought a minute and said that he'd learned through it that war is not an acceptable way to resolve conflict. He also said he learned that people around the world want the same things: they want to be loved, to have jobs, to take care of their families, to hang out with their friends. He said that anything good he learned from the military was not taught to him on purpose.
One student asked Bobby about his tattoos. Bobby explained that he'd gotten the HUMAN tattoo on his right forearm because that's what the military tried to take away from him, and now he was reclaiming it.
Sara engaged the students in her talk about her two experiences in Americorps programs: a summer program in Arkansas on a Heifer Project demonstration farm, and her current position working at the local immigrant shelter, Casa Marianella. Sara speaks Spanish and is able to use that skill, as well as to earn a living stipend (about $400 every two weeks) and an educational award of about $4,700 for a year of service (about $1,700 for the summer).
None of the students had heard of Americorps, so it was a good eye-opener for them. Sara's enthusiasm for the program was evident, and students had quite a few questions about it. In addition to the educational award, Sara stressed that employers and college admissions folks tend to look positively on Americorps experience, so it's good for the resume as well as being good for the community.
Thanks to Bobby and Sara, and to the friendly staff and students at the Phoenix Academy for inviting us!
photo of Bobby at the MLK Day March, January 18, 2010
photo courtesy of Alice Embree's flickr site