Stories of Service: Shweta Tembe

As Virginia’s AmeriCorps Ambassador for March 2018, Shweta is excited to share her story of service and offer a peek inside what it is like to be an AmeriCorps member. An AmeriCorps member serving with the Virginia College Advising Corps at Louisa County High School, she says, “I serve because every student and young person deserves a chance at their dreams, no matter if they come from a broken home, a low-income family, or a family who hasn’t yet gone to college. As someone who has faced adversity herself, I am dedicated to working with young people who face challenges to their everyday success. So far, I love working with tenacious students – ones who have faced so much adversity or experienced so much difficulty, but are always ready to recuperate and go at it again. Service with AmeriCorps will catapult me into a career of advocating on the behalf of those whose voices could use some amplification.”
On Being a Grown-Up

“When I was little, I could have used someone to help explore my future options and to believe in me on applications and scholarships.  My family supported me and my college plans, but my own college advisor was less than useful in finding a way to pay for school.  Because there are so many students and so few counselors and adults, we rarely get the opportunity to make real connections with our students.”

“I recently attended an annual conference at Virginia Tech called Uplifting Black Men, and esteemed professor Dr. Brandy Faulkner offered advice on building relationships with students. She said that to really get to know your students, you must sit down with them and ask, ‘What do you need from me?’  Not necessarily as a college advisor, as a teacher, or as a school counselor, but as an ally and advocate for them and with them.  This can help students feel that they are valued and heard by the adults in their life.”

“At the beginning of my service term, I decided to be the stable adult for my students.  For some students, I stand with a veritable army of other adults.  For others, I stand alone.  This is powerful.  It’s all too easy to get lost in the day-to-day chatter of SAT sign-ups, scholarships, and planning events.  Ultimately, though, we are here for our students.”

“Little Shweta, as I affectionately call her, is all grown up and is there for her students every day!”

On Who Inspires Her
“One of my students, Elizabeth, inspires me to serve. I met her my first week at Louisa County High School. I had spent the prior week buzzing around my new office, making senior checklists and planning presentations. Elizabeth came into my office on the second day of school to talk about applying for an extremely competitive full-ride scholarship. From that very first meeting, I knew that I had met someone special.”

“Elizabeth is sensitive, empathetic, and mature past her years.  When other students are busy talking about homework or prom-posals, she has created an app that allows users to check in virtually with friends or family members when they experience a mental health crisis.  Her father was abusive, and in result, she struggles with depression, anxiety, and trusting new people.  After our many conversations about their dream to attend Virginia Tech, scholarships, and the challenges of community to which we both belong, Elizabeth has become one of my favorite students at Louisa.  Her feelings of isolation, alongside her existential ponderings and sense of humor, reminds me of myself when I was an adolescent.”

“In a position that is frequently thankless, I so appreciate Elizabeth asking me how I am feeling and treating me as another human individual, rather than a member of a crowd of adults herding her towards graduation and out of our hair.  I look forward to her having a bright future, despite her difficult upbringing, their low-income status, and her mental health difficulties.” (Photo: Shweta and Elizabeth call Virginia Tech to ask for more financial aid.)

Reflecting on her Victories 
“In order to get federal financial aid for college, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA asks for family and personal income, number of children attending college, and other financial information.  FAFSA completion constitutes a huge part of my job, and it largely correlates with postsecondary enrollment and success.  I use the number of completed senior FAFSAs to predict how many students will be attending an institution of higher education next fall.  In 2016, about 48% of Louisa seniors enrolled in institutions of higher education, and their final FAFSA count by the end of the school year was 170.  This year, SO FAR, we already have 53% of senior FAFSAs completed! That is 198 FAFSAs!  I am so proud of this victory for Louisa students, Virginia College Advising Corps, and for myself.  Such a high FAFSA number means that this year’s seniors will be able to attend college next year with financial aid, which correlates with higher persistence through college.”

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