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Starfish Story

November 7, 2011

Photo retrieved from

By Kylie Cannon, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Broadmoor Middle School

Here at City Year, we have something we like to call a Starfish Story.  There is a story we tell of a young girl who took a walk on the beach early one morning after a terrible storm. As she approached the water, she saw that thousands of starfish had been washed up upon the shore. Every time the girl came upon a starfish, she would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean. She continued in this manner for some time, until a man approached her and said “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at how many starfish are on this beach; you can’t possibly save them all. You can’t even being to make a difference!” For a few moments the young girl looked crestfallen. After a minute, however, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it as far as she could into the sea. She looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

At City Year, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the circumstances in which we work and question the extent to which we are actually making a difference. The Starfish Story is here to remind us that, to that one starfish, to that one student, we are making a difference. So today I’d like to share with you a Starfish Story of my own.

One of my seventh graders at Broadmoor Middle, we’ll call him Daniel, was an absolute monster from day one. His behavior was out of control: he would terrorize other children in the classroom, mocking them and stealing their pencils; he would swear at me and the teacher; and refuse to so much as write his name on the day’s assignment. By the end of every day working with Daniel, I was at my wit’s end. Nothing I could do seemed to have the slightest impact.

Weeks passed, and I began to pull Daniel out of class to have conversations about his behavior. We talked about how he was a very smart person and could often get away with messing around in class, but the same wasn’t always true of his friends. Later, I told him that if he could come on time to class every day for a week, I would bring him something. The very next day, he showed up ten minutes late to math class, as usual. When I said it looked like he wouldn’t be getting that special treat after all, Daniel was furious! After that, he made a point of making it to every class on time and pointing it out to me if I happened to be late to class myself due to meetings or other commitments. Lo and behold, this terror of a 12-year-old made a complete 180 at the promise of some candy and a note from a City Year Corps Member.

Sometimes, just talking to these kids like they’re real people and letting them know you respect them can make a world of difference. Daniel is by no means the “good kid” in the classroom, but I know he’s making an effort – he makes a point of showing and telling me this every day. Daniel is just one of many marooned starfish at Broadmoor, but I know that to him, at least, I’ve made a difference.

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