On September 9, over 200 City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Members took the pledge and commit to a year of service in 18 high-need schools in Philadelphia. Opening Day events like this one took place at 27 sites across the country and were made possible by national event sponsor, Comcast NBCUniversal. As our Philadelphia tutors and mentors prepared for a successful start, their AmeriCorps peer and team leader, Aleia Mangano offered words of wisdom from her City Year experience last year.
“My City Year experience last year was one of the most transformative and meaningful years of my life. One reason was because of the strong relationships I built with students, like Bryan.
The past few years, Bryan had been told by many adults in his life that he was a “bad kid”. After being held back, he barely slipped through his second year of sixth grade with D’s in math and literacy, multiple suspensions, and a poor attendance rate, thus putting him at-risk to graduate. He began to accept this “bad kid” persona as the truth and carried it with him into seventh grade. He often masked his academic frustration and depleted confidence level with a “too cool/ I don’t care about school” attitude.
Your service will matter this year because there are students who feel like they have been labeled and expected to achieve at a certain level and you will meet children who need a champion to help them see beyond this.
It took a while to build a relationship with Bryan. One of the connection points was his love of basketball. One day, we made a list of the strengths and qualities that he had that he thought made him good at basketball. I then drew a connection from basketball to school by showing him that these characteristics are a part of who he was, and did not only apply to basketball. I told him his leadership skills, dedication to his team, and persistent work ethic could apply to his classwork. At that point, he had just shrugged and walked away.
I encourage you when you have these moments of feeling ignored or rejected by a student this year, be patient.
About a month later, Bryan shyly walked up to me after class with his notebook in his hands, looking down, and said “Uh, Ms. Aleia I wanna show you something.” He slid the notebook onto the desk and excitedly watched me as I read what he wrote. He wanted to start a movement in his community that promoted education as a tool to end violence in his neighborhood. He told me that he considered what I said about being a leader in school, and wanted me to be his mentor to help him get this movement started. After an overwhelming first month of trying to adjust to City Year life, that moment truly brought me back to why I was here.
Treasure and keep these moments of joy and success you have throughout the year. Not only are they influential for the student, the feeling stays with you forever.
Bryan definitely had his ups and downs. After having had a few difficult weeks that winter, Bryan shifted his mindset again and came to me with that same notebook and that same proud look on his face. This time, he had his own list identifying his strengths and determined the challenges he felt he needed to overcome. He wrote down a list of goals that he had for himself for the remainder of seventh grade and we worked closely together to accomplish them. Low and behold, mid-year assessment results came out and he had jumped an entire grade level in both reading and math. Bryan proved to himself that that he wasn’t “stupid” or “hopeless”; he just needed someone to tell him that so that he can truly be his best self.
You will know you really made a difference this year when you see your student create success for themselves, aim higher, and change their mindset of what is possible. This is a change that lasts beyond a certain grade, or academic year, it lasts a lifetime.
You are about to start a year that will be challenging, exciting, and unlike any other year of your life. I am so excited to watch all of you take on these challenges and share these moments with your students.”