The Same, But Different

The Same, But Different
Ashley Terry, The Bay School of San Francisco
July 20, 2023

Working at my alma mater, the question I get asked the most is: “What’s it like working at your old school?” 

To that, my response is always the same: “It’s the same, but different.” It’s the best way I can explain what it’s like to work where I essentially grew up. 

Back in 2007 when I first stepped foot on Bay’s campus as a first-year student, I felt like a fish out of water. Nothing could prepare me for what my high school experience would be as a Black, first-generation to college student. Prior to Bay, I attended a predominantly Black and brown middle school in the heart of San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point. Bay was the complete opposite of everything I’d known – located in a beautiful and scenic national park, amazing gourmet lunches provided everyday, laptops for each student, and more. What more could a student ask for?

So when I asked to transfer after my first day, I’m sure the look on my dad’s face on the other side of the phone was complete disbelief. My parents had worked almost their entire lives to provide a better life for my brother and me and education was the pinnacle of their hard work. In theory, I wanted to hold true to that goal, but in practice, I didn’t feel I belonged for many reasons. The one that stood out was that I was the only Black student in my class, and one of few in the entire school. For the first time, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. 

Imposter syndrome set in immediately, and I wanted to crawl under a rock. But I knew I couldn’t. My parents wouldn’t let me. Once I found friends and trusted adults on campus, the burden became easier to carry. I found my village and stuck by them every step of the way. 

When it came time to apply for a college counseling position at Bay in 2019, some of those same feelings creeped back in. I knew that I was applying to my alma mater, but I still wanted to make sure that I was competitive amongst an already very accomplished group of applicants. I didn’t have a graduate degree, I didn’t have admissions experience, and I hadn’t worked with this demographic even though I had spent 8 years at PWIs. I questioned what I had to offer beyond my own high school experience and reflections, and prior experience working at an educational non-profit. 

After a conversation with my mentor, friends, and family, I realized that I had been selling myself short. I applied, interviewed, and landed the position! But that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was re-adjusting to Bay. I would be working alongside teachers who taught me, re-establishing who I was – not as a student but a colleague – and supporting a different demographic of students with a different set of values and ideals. I was now in the position of “seeing how the sausage is made,” and it gave me a new and eye-opening perspective of how Bay works internally. 

I am one of few Black employees at Bay and though it doesn’t define my experience, it is something that I’m constantly thinking about everyday. It brings me back to the student I was walking through the halls, unsure if I had a place here. I often question my purpose and if I’m living up to who the 2007-version of me would be proud of. 

With this unique position at Bay as a college counselor and alum, I’m given the opportunity to choose how I show up for my students, especially those who are first-generation and/or a part of marginalized communities. Those students are constantly expanding what it means to belong, not just at Bay. Unlike when I was a student, our current students push back with confidence. They are invested in broadening who Bay is serving and what that looks like in practice, not just in theory. So when they come to me with suggestions about how Bay could be doing better, I listen and bring forth their ideas in spaces with my colleagues to ensure that our students’ needs are being met. I joined and participated in DEI committees, facilitated student affinity spaces, and am currently supporting the build-out of tailored support for first-generation students and families in our college counseling department. As our students are challenging Bay, I make it a point to hear them and hold myself and my colleagues accountable. As an extended representation of Bay, it is important that my students see me as someone at school they can trust. My goal is to be a safe space where students can share their entire selves, where they can lighten their load and be reassured. 

I am honored to be among such an empathetic, courageous, and brilliant group of students. Seeing how they light up in the classroom, lead clubs, and support one another is a testament to Bay’s growth, but also students’ willingness to speak up and out and hold our entire school community accountable.

The 2007 version of me would be amazed by who I am now and how I show up. I’m actively working toward being the person I needed when I was attending Bay. My hope is that other students who graduate from Bay can look back on their time and be happy with their personal growth journeys wherever they are in their paths. 

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