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Starfish Story

December 18, 2012


Picture 2

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

In my last post, I highlighted the significance of the Starfish Story to City Year’s mission, and how important it has been as a source of inspiration to me personally. I wanted to now share my own Starfish Story.

At the beginning of the year I started working with students in a first period Environmental Science class, which is how I met one particular student, David.* David is a social butterfly; he spends a lot of class walking around the room or, in classes where getting up from his desk is not an option, spinning around and winking at as many people as possible.

Many other Corps Members started focusing their attention on David, and while he was perfectly friendly and polite to all of us in every encounter, he continued to avoid doing work: David is very good at distracting people, Corps Members included. A perfect example: While I was trying to get David to work in class one day, he asked me, “Miss Laura, is your hair real?” “Yes,” I responded quickly, and tried to get him to refocus on his worksheet. He cut me off again.

“Do you paint it?”

“Nope. Come on, David, let’s focus on getting this worksheet done.”

I showed him how to calculate a percentage, and he stared up at me in amazement (nobody has ever been so surprised by my ability to multiply a number by 100) before exclaiming, “What you is, some kind of Rapunzel teaching lady person?”

I still laugh every time I think about it.

Still, I didn’t seem able to get David to focus, and could see that his short attention span was starting to frustrate other Corps Members as well. In English class one day in mid-September, however, I had a real breakthrough with him. David was supposed to be working on an assignment about “cause and effect” relationships, but when I peeked over his shoulder I noticed that he was drawing a cloud with the words “Rest in Peace Emily” in large bubble letters. I bent down next to him and quietly asked about it, and he told me, “It’s my mom,” and then added, “She died a couple of years ago.”

I have always been open about the death of my father when I was ten years old—about the same age as David was when he lost his mother—and I immediately recognized in his demeanor and behavior the things that people had identified in me shortly after my father’s death—respect and politeness towards teachers, but an inability to stay focused.

Briefly sharing my own background with David undeniably changed the nature of our relationship. Though we have only discussed that shared experience two other times, I believe the power of that connection—the fact that I understand, to some extent, what he has been through—has served as a way for me to motivate him. While David is still easily distracted, and still loves showing off, he has become more attentive in class, and more eager to do his work. My hair has continued to be a big part of our interactions; he recently used his comment, “Miss Laura, your hair is as yellow as the popcorn my mom used to eat!” – as one of the answers for a worksheet on similes and metaphors.

While it’s easy to talk about how I—and, I guess, how my hair­—have impacted David, I think it’s also amazing how profound of an impact he has had on me. My father is a big part of the reason I was motivated to join City Year. David is a big part of the reason I have stayed motivated. I look forward to seeing David every day. His gleeful impishness keeps me laughing, and he seems surprisingly adept at knowing exactly when I need to laugh, too. His desire to keep people happy, and his refusal to let anything faze him, reminds me to focus on the little things that keep me happy.

The Starfish Story not only gives me a frame of reference to understand what it means to be a Corps Member and what it means to make these connections with students, it also reminds me to reflect constantly on those experiences, and to recognize how much I am changing, too. And I think that, just as David’s knowledge about my father’s death has made him more trusting of me, my knowledge of his own loss has made me realize how important it is to share with my students the things that have shaped me, that transform me from a bossy girl in a red vest and Timberlands into a Rapunzel teaching lady person.

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.


*Name changed for privacy.


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