My AmeriCorps story

FSC-Liza Teaching
Me teaching a Sound Underwater class at Port Townsend Marine Science Center. I’m holding a hydrophone and telling the kids how it works.

About 9 years ago I was working my first post-college job as an educator at a science museum when I heard that layoffs might be coming. One of my coworkers was applying for AmeriCorps and encouraged me to look for a position as well. While browsing the AmeriCorps website one day, I found an open position at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) in Port Townsend, Washington. I knew I had to apply because the role involved working with a whale skeleton and I had loved visiting Port Townsend in the past.

I applied, interviewed (nervously), got the job, left Portland, and started working as an Environmental Educator at PTMSC in the fall of 2008.

One of my projects was to write curriculum for science classes that would be offered (for free) to 3rd grade students on the Olympic Peninsula. A local bank provided us with a grant to award bus stipends so schools could afford to send kids to PTMSC. I developed curriculum for two classes — Sound Underwater and Orca Communities — that would align with state teaching standards, which was something I’d never done before. I was also creating the curriculum during a difficult personal time. Within a month I lost both my grandpa and a good friend; both of them gone too soon. Work was challenging for me and I didn’t feel like I had a handle on things. Luckily I had support from my supervisor Chrissy and my roommate Allie, who was also an AmeriCorps member at PTMSC.

One of the first times I taught the Sound Underwater class, my supervisor Chrissy observed the class so she could give me feedback. The kids in this class were from a local tribe and were an engaged, inquisitive group. I got to the part of the class where I turned on the hydrophone (underwater microphone) to listen to the sounds below the pier we were on, and all of the kids were listening intently. We heard the usual sounds of Admiralty Inlet: cargo ships, the ferry, the squeaky movement of the pier, but we also heard something else. My heart started racing and I looked to the back of the room at Chrissy who heard the same thing. We were hearing orcas! Chrissy ran out of the room to verify and when she came back, she simply nodded. I told the kids we were hearing orcas on the hydrophone and we should go outside to see if we could see them. Sure enough, we could! They were a bit far out, but we could see them, and binoculars helped. I was having a total whale nerd moment and it was incredible to share it with others who were also excited.

After the class ended, a chaperone came up to me and told me something I’ll never forget. He said that in their tribe, they believed that chiefs who pass on become orcas. The kids getting to see orcas — many for the first time — was powerful because of the stories and traditions that the tribal elders had been telling these kids since they were born. These kids were seeing their tribe’s stories come alive.

This experience made me realize that understanding science isn’t just about the importance of learning facts or making informed decisions about issues like climate change; it’s about humans connecting to the world in ways that speak to us on a deeper level. I would never have had this experience if it weren’t for AmeriCorps.

I gained so much from my year at PTMSC. I learned leadership, collaboration, and conflict resolution skills. I found my calling in the field of Volunteer Engagement, which led to a challenging career that I love. I was also able to pay off my college loans. I had a lot of help doing that, including parental support, being able to work through high school and college, and getting scholarships; but the education award from AmeriCorps was a huge help, too. I also made lifelong friends and deepened my connection to the Salish Sea.

You may have heard that AmeriCorps is on the President’s list of budget cuts. If the budget moves ahead as-is, the entire Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) would be gone. That means no more AmeriCorps or Senior Corps. That’s 80,000 jobs (per year) gone, including 23,000 members who are veterans. Learn more about the impact of CNCS.

Please help me save national service by contacting your representatives and telling them to protect AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. Here’s an easy way to do that.

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