By Julexus Cappell
The road to a bachelor’s degree is, typically, four years and a stepping stone for millions nationwide to enter the workforce and attain careers in the fields of their choice. More often than not, there is a sensation and tunnel vision on just finishing undergraduate study and receiving the degree, leaving the plan for life after in limbo. The options for life after undergrad include a growing trend influenced by the steadily rising cost of higher education. Public figures like Malia Obama set a new tone of what ‘next step’ routes should or should not be used by taking a gap year. For some, the financial and time resources used to receive a bachelor’s requires a break before returning to courses, while others are in between school and career, needing employment in the meantime. Regardless of the reason, the result is leading some students to consider participating in alternative programs to fill the time of this gap that can offer not only compensation, but experience as well. It also allows students to explore new paths they were not considering before.
For Laquanna Sledge, a Political Science major at Virginia State University, these reasons, along with others, attracted her to the Literacy Lab program of Americorps.
The program started in 2009 and focuses on literacy outreach and specifically to “provide low-income children with individualized reading instruction to improve their literacy skills, leading to great success in school and increased opportunities in life” according to the program’s mission. After a series of training over the summer between the Richmond area and the Literacy Lab’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., tutors are then placed in various school districts from Baltimore to Kansas City. In 2016, the program came to Richmond City Public Schools after the school district was the last in the state for reading, and expanded to Hopewell and Petersburg.
“I’m attracted to the program’s overall approach of how they tackle the literacy issue amongst the youth,” Sledge said, explaining how she came to find interest in the program. Although she will not be receiving a degree in education this coming May, Literacy Lab allows for tutors to spend 11 months trying a hand at a different field and give back in new ways. Originally, her idea was to attend law school immediately after finishing Virginia State, but once introduced to the program she considered other options.
“By working with the program, I believe I’ll be developing the skills necessary to be an effective educator within the classroom and beyond. I also want to ensure I’m leaving an impact on the students,” Sledge stated.
If accepted as a tutor and meeting all service requirements, some benefits include a full-time work schedule of Monday through Friday, a stipend of $1,400 monthly, health insurance, food and childcare assistance, if needed. These advantages of participating in the service program would appeal to many, but a major perk that entices prospective tutors is the Americorps education award. Upon completing the service and program requirements, Literacy Lab tutors are eligible for up to $5,920.00 to be used towards educational purposes.
“It’s (the program’s benefits) a little plus for the already great opportunity,” Sledge said.
The education award offered by the program pairs perfectly with the concept of the ‘gap year,’ and allows for students and young adults who are unsure of, or not ready for, the next steps in education to step back from it, all while still making an income and gaining experience. When Sledge is ready to return to courses after her year of service, she is now committed to a career path in education and plans to use her award towards a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Supervision with a concentration in Community Leadership.
“I want to give back in the classroom to those students that need it the most,” Sledge stated.
Although she intends to use her ‘gap year’ in a program that will offer her a leg-up on her next steps towards a Master’s degree, Sledge believes that the term is not complicated, and does not have to entail enrolling in service programs– it can simply be used as a time to gather yourself from the past four years of schooling and preparing for your next moves.
“If someone is feeling burned out from their time in undergrad, I would encourage a gap year to gain experience and see what’s available to them before going straight back to it,” Sledge said.