by Jake Roth, AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal team with Jeremiah E. Burke High School
It’s difficult to measure the impact I have as a City Year AmeriCorps member on a daily basis. It can be hard to know if every extra hour spent preparing for the week, every lunch break cut short by a student who needs extra help studying for physics, or every third cup of coffee to push through those last few hours of a long day is making a difference. But I have come to learn that every small victory—any instance in which a student, teacher, or community member acknowledges that you have made even the smallest difference—is worth every effort. These efforts help us to gain perspective.
I can say with pride that I am currently contributing to, and learning from, a student relationship that gives me a small victory every day and reminds me why I chose to serve with City Year.
My initial impression of Michael was of a very bright student who is eager to learn, but who struggled with being easily distracted by other students in class.
Michael became part of my group of students who I work with to set goals that will help improve their behavior and social-emotional skills, ranging from turning off cell phones during class to increasing the amount a student participates in one period. We began to have regular check-ins after physics class in which he would tell me exactly what he could improve upon, and I would coach him to make progress towards achieving those goals. It was easy to build a relationship with Michael; he was interested in learning about my life and the lives of my City Year teammates. We shared many of the same interests: hip-hop, sports (he loved to hate on my Pittsburgh Steelers), and sneakers.
As our relationship grew stronger, so did his behavior in the classes in which I supported him. By December, I noticed that he was making serious strides in behavior and academics. And when he returned from winter break, I was floored with the strides he had made on his own. One of the first things he told me when he returned was, “Mr. Roth, I set a goal for myself to come every day after school to get work done. I know it’s tiring, but it’s for my benefit.”
In the following weeks, it was Michael who was starting conversations about goal-setting instead of me. He was hyper-aware of what he needed to do to improve his grades. Following through with his promise, he started regularly attending our homework help sessions after school. Now he has become more vocal to me and my fellow AmeriCorps members regarding what bothers him in the classroom so that we can work through it together, and also asks for feedback at the end of each day about his behavior and class work.
Recently, he addressed the entire City Year team one morning before our first circle (which he regularly attends now).
“Excuse me,” said Michael to silence the room as we gathered to go over the day’s announcements. “Do you guys think I’ve improved this year?” he asked us.
“Of course!” we all replied in unison, overjoyed that his progress in school was on his mind so early in the morning.
“Well, I just wanted to let y’all know that I think I want to go to college,” he told us proudly.
*Name changed to protect student privacy