2018-06-21

I proudly served this year as a Senior AmeriCorps Member on the Boston Civic Engagement Team. It is an honor and a pleasure to stand up here before you today, as I reflect on my two-year City Year journey. We can all think about our own City Year (or years) in a variety of ways, and one is by the numbers:

  • 1,700+ hours of service (for me times 2)
  • 6,300 minutes of dosage or more
  • 450ish Readiness checks (that’s definitely an estimate)
  • 44 physical service events
  • 18 fifth graders
  • 10 snow days
  • 5 MBTA lines traveled on
  • 2 teams
  • 1 very worn-out pair of paint-covered Timberland boots
  • And somehow zero pairs of ripped khakis - not sure how I pulled that one off!

But when I look back on my years of service, it will not be defined by the number of reading levels a student moved up, or how many volunteers we engaged with, but by the relationships I formed.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a Tuesday afternoon at the Hennigan K-8 School. Eighteen 10-year-olds file back in from recess and return to their desks. After they have settled in, the teacher returns to the math lesson she had started on before lunch: multiplication tables. She starts to write down problems on the board. Students are rapidly waving hands and shouting out answers. But one student doesn't. He sits at his desk with his arms crossed, staring at a blank sheet of paper. I call him over to my desk, and see tears rolling down his cheeks. I ask him what's wrong.

“No entiendo. Está en inglés.” I don’t understand. It’s in English. He says.

“Y estoy triste porque es mi cumpleaños y no entiendo.”

And I'm sad because it's my birthday and I don't understand.

His words tug at my heartstrings. For many students in my 5th grade classroom, English is a second language, so this language barrier was a constant, particularly with math. For the rest of class that day, I had him sit at my desk and we went over multiplication tables with Spanish, some visuals, and a little English thrown in. While he seemed in slightly better spirits at the end of the day, I went home feeling discouraged that a 5th grader cried about multiplication on his birthday.

The next day, I'm standing outside greeting students, and here comes that very same student sprinting up to me. "Ms. H. Ms. H!" he calls. He hands me something wrapped in tin foil.

“Esto es para ti. Siempre me ayudas cuando no entiendo.” This is for you. You always help me when I don’t understand.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Es el último pedazo de mi pastel de cumpleaños. Lo guardé para ti.”

It is the last piece of my birthday cake. I saved it for you, he says with a smile as he hugs me. I smile and hug him back, lost for words.

That story is my Starfish story. And I know each of you have one of your own. A story that illustrates impact, where a gesture, no matter how big or small, effects someone else in a significant way.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I actually had the opportunity to see this very student about a month ago for report card conferencing. Almost a year since we last saw each other. And while I am beyond proud that he has all A’s & B’s, and that we had a 20-minute conversation -- in English. But the thing that fills me with the most pride is that he told me that when he is old enough, he too wants to be a City Year because he wants to help people.

To me, moments like this -- whether they be conversations with students, laughs shared with teammates, looks exchanged with partner teachers, are the most powerful thing we will take away from our time with City Year. Think about the relationships you’ve built this year or over the past two years. While you may not even fully understand the impact you have had on others, think about who has made an impact on you.

Over the past 10 months, or 21 for my fellow Senior Corps members, our experience with City Year has helped us grow in different ways. For some this might be through time management, budgeting, public speaking or leadership skills.

But for me, more than anything else, City Year taught me the true value of collaboration.

This year, I had the unique opportunity of serving on our site’s Civic Engagement team. While you each served on a team in schools and supported students directly in the classroom, we, the Boston Civic Engagement team, also served your students, but in a different way. Think of a moment where one of your students was not paying attention in class because they did not have a pencil to take notes with, or when a quote on the hallway wall inspired a conversation with a student about what they want to be when they grow up -- that’s where we come in. Through collaborating with schools and community partners, we supported students by deepening City Year’s partnerships with other organizations, and by engaging City Year champions and investors in our work through physical service projects.

In the spirit of “Students First, Collaboration Always,” while you all focused on the ABCs -- Attendance, Behavior and Coursework -- we focused on transforming the physical spaces where students spend their time, and providing them with the resources to support their studies and overall well-being. In this way we are all connected to the students and communities we served.

As we close this chapter on our City Year journeys, I would like to leave you with this:

  1. Take your Starfish stories with you and think of them often -- they will bring you joy and fuel your own passions.
  2. Appreciate people -- especially those who may not realize the impact they have had on you.
  3. And use those lessons learned to continue making better happen wherever your LACY plans take you.

Thank you and congratulations, City Year Boston!

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