CUMBERLAND — While many of his Greely High School classmates will head to college in a few months, Ben Ray’s next year will be spent working with at-risk children in New Hampshire.
Following the gap year, the Cumberland resident will attend Bowdoin College.
Ray, who will work with City Year New Hampshire, said there were several reasons for his decision, including a desire to take a break from what he’s been doing the past 12 years.
“My school schedule has been, to say the least, quite rigorous,” Ray said. “I have appreciated this and wouldn’t change it, but a break from intense information learning is highly anticipated.
“This upcoming year will be challenging, perhaps even more so than this past year, but in a different, possibly more rewarding way. I am excited to meet this new challenge and environment and break away from a high-school setting.”
Since he doesn’t yet know what he will study at Bowdoin, he said it seemed like “a waste to plunge in with absolutely no direction,” and he hopes inspiration will come in the near future.
A close friend worked at CYNH and recommended it to Ray. City Year, according to cityyear.org, is a branch of Americorps that tries to increase graduation rates and mitigate obstacles students in high-poverty communities can face in getting to school and being able and ready to learn.
The program operates in 27 areas across the country, Ray said.
“City Year sticks to very strong principals of inspiring idealism, raising attendance and raising performance in behavior, math, reading and writing,” he explained.
“On a simple note, as a graduated senior with lots of math and reading and writing experience, I’ll be able to provide the educational foundation these kids need to progress in these subject areas. I’ve actually always enjoyed teaching concepts to my classmates and my younger brother, and I feel that I’ll (hopefully) be able to effectively provide this informational support.”
Still, it’s not just about what’s being learned, but also about how it’s learned, Ray noted.
“I’ll be teaching these kids to enjoy and develop a passion for school, and to appreciate the educational opportunities they have,” he said. “City Years are really important role models for these kids, and I hope to inspire hope and knowledge in every one I work with.”
Ray said he has learned much about himself as a student, learner and person, including the value of non-classroom activities.
He has been secretary of the National Honor Society, a full International Baccalaureate program diploma candidate, and part of the technology crew for the Greely Drama Club. He participated in varsity cross country, indoor and outdoor track, is a senior class officer, a member of the Student Council, editor of Inkwell (Greely High’s literary magazine), and has worked at Gritty’s in Freeport.
“(I)f I have to chose one thing that’s allowed me to appreciate high school the most, it’s to love what you do, and give everything you do your all,” he said. “I push myself with all these things (I do) because I love them all and need them all, and I sincerely believe that a little less sleep is worth enriching myself like I do. Everything I do is part of me and my personality, because I really pour myself into them.”
Were he able to talk with his younger self, at the age of the students with whom he will work at City Year, that’s the lesson Ray said he would impart.
“I was a shy kid, there’s no denying that,” he explained. “I was scared to raise my hand in class and my favorite activities involved reading and re-reading every Harry Potter book, as many times as possible. If I could talk to myself back then, and tell (him) advice that (he) would truly listen to, I would tell (him) to just get involved.”
“My closest friends and fondest memories come from various clubs and teams I’ve joined, and there’s a special bond you feel with these people that you don’t really get anywhere else,” Ray said. “… I honestly feel like I could talk to and have a pleasant conversation with anyone in our school right now, because I got involved, both by joining various activities, and just by meeting people.”
Ben Ray, who will graduate from Greely High School in Cumberland on Sunday, is postponing enrollment at Bowdoin College for a year while he works with at-risk students in New Hampshire.
Commencement ceremonies for Greely High School’s Class of 2015 will be from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, June 7, at the school gym in Cumberland.