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Inspired by Students, Motivated to Serve

December 7, 2012

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By Laura Boles, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Belaire High School

I remember last year around this time—well, every year around this time—that the weeks of school between Thanksgiving and Winter Break seemed to stretch on and on and on. It was easy to forget that what I should be focusing on throughout the holiday season was all the things I have to be thankful for, like a good education.

Working with City Year has pushed me to remember that every single day, and motivated me to work harder to make sure that I am giving my students the individualized academic and developmental support they need to stay in school, so that they too can be thankful for their education.

But I’ll be honest: sometimes, the task seems daunting.  On those days when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I turn to City Year’s founding stories for an energy boost.

As Meghan talked about in her entry on City Year’s Culture of Idealism, City Year’s founding stories are central to building and maintaining that culture. The founding story that has had the most profound impact on my perception of the role of City Year Corps Members in schools is “The Starfish Story.” In that story, a girl walks along a beach upon which thousands of starfish have been stranded during a storm. She patiently throws them back into the ocean, one after another. A sceptical old man questions why she would waste her time and tells her, “You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” She picks up another starfish, throws it into the ocean, and replies, “I made a difference to that one!”

As City Year Corps Members, we make connections with individual students, our very own starfish, who for one reason or another have washed up on the shore: they may struggle with poor attendance, or behaviour issues, or poor course performance—or all three. We give them the push (or, to continue this starfish metaphor, the toss) they need to get back on track (in the ocean) to succeed.

Cherie Cancio, a 2011-2012 Corps Member at Capitol Middle School (and the Team Leader at Capitol this year!) explained that one of her “starfish” last year was an opinionated girl, Destiny*, who spoke her mind regardless of the context. By exchanging journal entries with Destiny, Cherie offered her an outlet to share her frustrations and concerns. Cherie explained that while reading her student’s first journal entry, she realized why she was at Capitol: she had already gone through middle school and felt what her student was going through at her age, so she could understand why Destiny sometimes lashed out. By writing journal entries back to Destiny, Cherie was able to build a connection with her and to encourage Destiny to become enthusiastic about school.

The connections we make with our students can be immediate, but some of them take a long time to build. By sharing our experiences with our students, and being open to and respectful of them and the issues they bring to us, we can offer them the individual support and extra care they need.

Our students benefit from City Year mentors and tutors—and you (yes, you!) can help us help them. You can make a difference in the lives of Baton Rouge students by clicking here and donating to City Year Baton Rouge. By supporting our program, you enable our Corps Members to continue to be there for struggling students, day after day, year after year.

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