You’ll have to forgive Jaskiret Rai if he seems a bit tired. Such is life for the full-time student, full-time worker, and full-time volunteer.
“He called me last night at 9:30,” Kerman Unified School District superintendent Robert Frausto said. “I was already in bed. He was on break. I said, ‘What time do you get off?’ 1:00. He has, like, three different jobs. And then obviously he’s going to school. I don’t see how he finds time in the week to do everything, really.”
It’s a work ethic that can be traced back to when Jaskiret was 6 years old. The son of Punjabi immigrants, Jaskiret grew up in a house with limited English. His parents worked in the fields while his grandmother took care of the children. After failing first grade, Jaskiret’s teacher predicted his future in blunt terms.
“She did tell me I would never amount to much success because I didn’t understand English,” Jaskiret said. “She called both of my parents and she said, ‘He can’t even write properly. He’s not going to learn this language. He’ll probably end up like you guys with a lack of education.’”
Jaskiret now says he would thank that teacher for motivating him to succeed in the world of education. But he did not do it alone. In fact, he credits much of his success to Pam Sellick.
“I used to be the librarian for the district and then I went into the classrooms,” Sellick said. “And we did research reports. And I clearly remember him because he was so excited about it. And he loved learning. He stood out amongst his peers even in fourth grade.”
Sellick took a special interest in Jaskiret and gave him his first set of books from her personal collection at home.
“I owe Mrs. Sellick everything,” Jaskiret said. “I can never repay her because she basically taught me how to read. She cared about children’s education. No doubt about that.”
As fate would have it, the two reconnected at Kerman High. Jaskiret was now a standout student. And Sellick was his principal.
“To see a student go from fourth grade, limited English, barely reading to in high school now he’s taking advanced courses,” Sellick said. “That makes me really proud.”
Jaskiret felt indebted to educators like Sellick who made such a monumental impact on his life. He turned that gratitude into goodwill by giving back to his community. You’ll often find him reading to students at Goldenrod Elementary. He also sits on the board as a student representative for Kerman Unified School District. And he did not rule out the possibility of running for a school board seat in the near future.
“It just never stops,” Jaskiret said. “But if you have so much passion and you like what you do, it doesn’t feel like anything. If we can make a difference in someone’s life, that’s all that’s going to matter at the end of the day.”
In a world where teenagers are often self-consumed, Jaskiret is determined to pay it forward. And he would not have it any other way.
“You don’t typically find kids like that who want to volunteer anymore and make the community a better place just because,” Frausto said. “And that’s what he’s all about. He wants to make Kerman a better place to live.”