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Corps Member Monday: Helping Trey Become a “Young Man of Distinction”

March 31, 2014

by Jonathan Doss, a corps member proudly serving on the Albemarle Foundation at Merrydale Elementary School 

My name is Jonathan Doss. I am a 23-year-old African American male from Birmingham, Alabama, with plans to graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham this summer. IMG_1550I currently live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I serve with City Year alongside an incredible elementary school math teacher.

I feel that giving a year of service in inner-city schools is not just my responsibility; it is my obligation to give back, especially to my own race.

Since the start of my year of service, I’ve been working with one specific student who is 13-years-old in the 5th grade.  I’ll call him Trey. Trey was not only academically behind, but he was very angry, emotionally unstable and was continuously called to the principal’s office.  After meeting Trey, I quickly learned that even though he didn’t care about changing his situation, I did.

I was assigned to provide Trey with one-on-one academic help, and chose to work with him on City Year’s behavior initiative called 50 Acts of Greatness.  Things got off to a very rocky start between us.  Trey was not familiar with doing school work and paying attention, and I was not familiar with handling such difficult behavior and lack of respect toward his teachers, peers and myself.  But after working with each other every day, something happened during October. Things changed.

Trey’s attitude toward school made a complete 180.  Despite the frustration I felt some days, I made sure that I started and ended each day with him on a positive note.  Sometimes we recorded one of his ‘Acts of Greatness’ in the journal we kept, or celebrated him for coming to school prepared. Sometimes we’d just talk about his dreams of playing basketball or being a hip hop dancer when he grew up.  We always tied academics to whatever we discussed, and connected his studies to finding success in life. Through many conversations with Trey, I learned that he was often reprimanded for his slip-ups and failures but rarely praised for his accomplishments. He struggled with identifying the good and positive things he was capable of achieving.  I believe the journal we keep offers him tangible examples of what he’s accomplishing on his own.

Trey went from making F’s to making a B in math in only three months.  He was elected classroom leader by his peers and teachers, and even became a leader of the school, earning a navy blazer and tie and the title, “Young Man of Distinction.” Trey is now able to see the immediate difference he can make, the effects his actions have on those around him, and most importantly, on himself.

I encounter students like Trey each day, looking for a consistent support to show them something different or how their unique talent and creativity can position them to conquer their wildest dreams. This is why I believe national service is so vital to the building of the future of this nation. It allows me and my fellow corps members to help students like Trey realize their potential.

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