By Mila Nazarali, AmeriCorps member serving on the Parker-Varney Elementary School Team.
As the holidays approach, I’m starting to anticipate the usual plethora of questions from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else I might encounter when I return home for break; this year, I’m sure to face questions almost exclusively about my service over the past four months at City Year New Hampshire. While City Year prepares us quite well to deliver concise, informative responses to “What is City Year, anyways?”, it takes a bit more thought on my part to explain what the organization has come to mean to me, and just how much I’ve grown since becoming an Americorps member. So, to save myself a bit of stuttering and long pauses while I think, I’ve decided to prepare my answers this year in advance. I’ve already received, and anticipated, a few!
Grandpa: What’s it like working at an elementary school?
Serving in an elementary school is both incredibly rewarding and incredibly challenging. It’s fair to say I’m exhausted at the end of most days, but in the pleasant way one is exhausted after accomplishing a big task. Each day with the students is a new challenge, and it can either be a challenge you celebrate overcoming, or a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, depending on your mindset. Of course, it can be easier said than done to maintain a growth mindset, but one of the reasons I love serving in an elementary school so much is that this positive attitude is built into the curriculum. Our students are not allowed to say “I can’t;” instead, they always say “I can’t YET!” I try to echo this powerful way of thinking both in my rhetoric to the students and my own thoughts, and it’s just one small example of how my students inspire me every day.
Grandpa: Hmm. But don’t you get tired of being around kids all day?
I’ve gotten this question quite a lot since I began my year of service, and I can honestly say that it’s truly a privilege to spend all of my days learning and growing with my 3rd and 4th graders. Their interests are diverse and exciting, from basketball to the Dog-Man series, and I find it nearly impossible to get tired of listening to people talk about things they love, including children. I love to ask them questions that excite them; all too often, students can suffer from a sense of apathy and hopelessness when it comes to their schoolwork, feeling they are too far behind to catch up. But when they talk about their passions, you can see their eyes light up, and it’s this spark that reminds me, at the end of the day, that they’re kids! They are capable of so much hope and love, and it’s my job as their City Year to figure out how to translate all that energy into excitement about school and schoolwork. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m certainly not always successful at doing so; it’s easily one of the most challenging aspects of my job. But it’s also one of the most rewarding- there’s almost nothing better than when a struggling student asks for an extra worksheet to practice, or is excited to read you their writing piece. It reminds me that, even though we sometimes must measure progress in inches, it is progress nonetheless.
Grandpa: Well, gee, that sounds like quite the experience!
It sure is! And it’s quite the honor as well. Although I know the ten days of winter break will fly by, I’m already eagerly anticipating both the growth and challenges that will meet me when I return for six more months of service in the spring.
If you or someone you know is interested in serving a year with City Year, get in touch with a recruiter! Our next application deadline is January 25th.