I got a backpack yesterday. That’s not a particularly remarkable event, unless you know the context.
Six months ago I mentioned I’d been accepted to Job Corps, and promised to share my observations about the experience via my blog. And then… well, I went to Job Corps, and I got very, very busy.
It started with Career Prep, a period of three weeks during which new students are bombarded with information about Job Corps policies, available resources, health and safety information, and exploration of the various trades available for study. There were fourteen of us in my input group (what up #395! ). We were teenagers, twenty-somethings, and by the end of the three weeks, I’d turned 30. We came from the city, from small towns, and from tiny villages in rural Alaska. Some of us were shy, some were naturally outgoing, and our reasons for being there were many. But all of us had chosen this, and we were all in it together.
Part of Career Prep was devoted to exploring the trades. At Job Corps, a trade is something like your major. It determines what classes you’ll be in, what you study, and what type of work you’ll be equipped to do when you finish. New students have the opportunity to talk with instructors, try out assignments, and research career outlook information and learning styles to help them determine which trade to go into. I chose Human Services.
After three weeks, we each began our own, individualized schedules. Mine had me in Academics for a week, then Human Services, then back again and so on. Because I already had my high school diploma and had tested out of some of the academic requirements, I didn’t have quite as much academic work to do. Mostly I brushed up on math required for being a grown-up (budgets, bank accounts, and the expenses involved with owning a car), some basic health, and some new career-oriented vocabulary. I also put together the most neatly-labeled smiling skeleton you’ll ever see. (His name is Fred.)
In Human Services, I made good friends with the computer, a variety of college-level textbooks, and Spell Check. Our trade involves plenty of reading and writing, partly due to the fact that many careers in the field require a lot of documentation. I’ve learned about confidentiality, group facilitation, a wide variety of mental and health disorders, and tons of variables which might influence a person’s behavior. I’ve also learned my instructor hates the word “that” but loves commas.
I finished my academic and trade work in about six months, just before Christmas. Around the same time, I applied to and was accepted to the ACT, or Advanced Career Training, program. This part of Job Corps allows the motivated student to continue his or her studies. For me, this means college classes, about which I’m VERY excited. Another student I know is taking plumbing classes through a local technical school, and culinary students may be eligible to go to San Francisco for advanced training. When I first arrived I was told of a student who’d just returned from lineman school in New York. It’s a pretty cool program.
I start classes at the college on Monday, and yesterday I received my textbooks. Because I’m a part of the ACT program, Job Corps will cover my first two semesters of books and tuition, and they’ll help me find financial aid or other funding for the semesters after that. They’ll also help me by providing transportation to and from the college, and continuing to provide meals, basic medical, and support.
So now you’re caught up. Remember the backpack? Well, yesterday I had a meeting with ACT program supervisors to schedule my weekly check-in meeting and get my textbooks. There were about ten of us there, mostly continuing ACT students, and one other new ACT-er. When the staff arrived, I was surprised by one of them handing me a backpack. I was about to protest that it wasn’t mine when I noticed it had a tag on it, and they were handing one to the other new ACT student as well.
I opened the backpack to find a binder, paper, pens, pencils, and other school supplies. It was nothing fancy, but the staff member who had put it together had taken care to match the colors of things where she could, a touch that made me smile. Actually, beam. That backpack thrilled me.
My backpack is purple and pink, and it’s sitting on my table, waiting to go to class on Monday. It’s got my textbooks inside it, and my binder with all the dividers neatly labeled. It’s also crammed full of things you can’t see, like the support of friends who are cheering me on, and the faith of staff who keep telling me they’re sure I’ll accomplish great things. And stuffed into the bottom is my self confidence, which defies the laws of nature by making my backpack feel lighter the more it grows.
I’ve worked really hard this year, trying to move ahead with my life. I knew I wanted take advantage of all the support and opportunity Job Corps offered me, and I feel like I have so far. That backpack was unexpected, though, and serves as a good symbol for exactly what Job Corps has offered me. Inside it is everything I need to tackle the challenge ahead. Nothing fancy, but it gives me what I need to accomplish big things if I just put forth the effort.
I’m a happy girl. I think it’s my favorite backpack ever.