Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their Alternative Stories, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. Sophomore site leader Emily Yerington shares her story this week.
I learned about Alternative Spring Break by walking through the Diag and seeing the letters “ASB” written in chalk. Curious as to what these letters stood for, I went home and looked them up.
Having enjoyed volunteering in high school, I decided on a lark to apply. I got accepted to a trip to Neil Elementary School, a low-income school in Chicago, Ill., for students with physical and mental disabilities. I had never worked with special-needs students before and, to be honest, I was a bit nervous.
Once I got there, the students at Neil were nothing but friendly. Visiting Neil allowed me to understand the complexities of education inequalities. I met an 8th-grader who struggled with basic math, but offered incredible insight into the problems of racism and classism. And no matter what physical (several of the students were in wheelchairs) or academic setbacks they faced, all of the children could out-dance my ASB group and me! I realized that traditional means of testing could never adequately measure the success of this school or others like it. I came back from Neil inspired to pursue a career in education policy so that I can effect change on a large scale for students like those at Neil Elementary.
Having had such an eye opening experience with ASB as a freshman, I decided to become a site leader. Like my first ASB trip, my experience as a site leader has already exceeded expectations. Going in, I expected to enjoy this role, but I had no idea how much. I stay up late thinking of activities to do with my team and researching aspects of our social justice issue. I enjoy standing out in the cold going bucketing because I relish the opportunity to spend time with my team and to tell passers-by about the ASB program and our trip. Fundraising is not a chore, but a challenge. I look forward to the weekly Education & Training sessions from Lead Team, where they explain leadership strategies such as conflict resolution, team-building, fundraising techniques and how to spread the word about ASB. This year, ASB not only taught me more about the complexities of social justice issues, but also taught me about myself. I learned that I love being a leader and hope to incorporate the skills and knowledge I learned in ASB into my career.
ASB has been a highlight of my college experience so far and I’m sure it will continue to be in the future. Not only have I developed a passion and skillset from ASB, but I have met a network of like-minded individuals working to combat social justice issues. Social justice is not about “saving” others; it is about learning from new cultures and working to improve society as a whole, and so I hope to take the knowledge gained from my experience with ASB and become a catalyst for positive change in education.
To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at ASBSurPRise@umich.edu.