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Corps Member Monday: Do You and Extraordinary Things Will Follow

April 21, 2014

by Emily Trower, corps member proudly serving on the New Schools for Baton Rouge Entergy Louisiana Team at Broadmoor Middle School

etrowerHello, my name is Emily Trower, and I’m from Louisiana’s neighbor, Arkansas, from the small town of Russellville, or as we call it, RussVegas. I graduated high school in 2009 from Russellville High then went on to attend the University of Central Arkansas, to study psychology. During my sophomore year of college, a good friend of mine told me that one of her friends was involved in an organization that was going to paint and repair a playground at a school on a Saturday morning in Little Rock, only half an hour from our college town. Knowing I love volunteering and service events, she asked me if I wanted to join. Even though it was early on a Saturday, I agreed to tag along, not knowing how greatly that morning would change my life.

When we arrived at the school, my friend and I were the only two NOT wearing khaki pants and a white shirt with a red jacket. Looking around all I could think was, “who ARE these people?” …City Year Little Rock, that’s who. The day was humid and the work was hard, but I had a fantastic day. I chatted with Little Rock Corps Members all day, and I got to observe how they worked as a team and joked around, while still getting so many things done. At a glance, they were dirty, sweaty, had bags under their eyes from a long work week, but when I would ask them about their job, especially about their students, their faces lit up and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Fast forward two years, I was a senior in college trying to decide what to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school eventually, but I was ready for a break from school. I craved constant volunteering and service, especially working with children. I thought back to that random service day two years earlier when I worked with City Year Little Rock, which led me to research the organization of City Year. I found that nationally, it’s an organization that works primarily in schools, but is also strongly involved in the community, and facilitates physical service projects. Basically, exactly what I was looking for- Sign me up!

Although I love Arkansas and will gladly call the Hogs all day, I decided on City Year Baton Rouge. I wanted a change, to live in another state and experience a different culture. I knew south Louisiana was different from anywhere else, had been told it might feel like traveling internationally. While I had some expectations, I did not anticipate how humid it would be, how amazing the food would taste, or how welcoming the people would be. That was my first and continues to be my most important lesson about Louisiana and my life here- expect the unexpected.

In regard to City Year, I knew I would be working with teachers, but I couldn’t have expected how close my teacher, Ms Robair, and I would be, that she’d become close friends. I knew I would like working with a diverse group of passionate people, but I never expected them to feel like family to me. ME- a gal who’s still never traveled north of the Mason Dixon line, now has two best friends from New York. These amazing people would never have entered my life if I hadn’t joined City Year, and I will always be grateful to this organization for opening my small Arkansas world to people who have impacted me more than they will ever know.

Perhaps the person who has influenced me the most however, is not a teammate, boss, teacher, or other community member… but one of my students, who I will call May. Right from the start of the year, May stood out to me as different from her peers. She was independent and often more mature than my other students, giving me the assumption that she was older. Sure enough, she failed fourth grade in Louisiana, making her a year older than most of her classmates. When I received my academic focus list, I was thrilled to see her name on the list, excited to work more closely with her. May however, did not share this opinion.

From the beginning, she was reluctant to work with me. In our first session, I led a small group intervention of 6 students, and we were covering the different types of sentences. I had each student create a few of their own of each kind of sentence, and then we shared our sentences and helped each other correct mistakes. While most students wrote about their friends or football, May’s simple sentence was “I really hate school.” *sigh* Awesome. Okay. I became determined to find out why.

I have three intervention rules. The first is “Do you.” By this, I mean don’t worry about the pace other students work at, don’t compare yourself to your classmates, but YOU DO YOU. May is very independent, and has never had a problem with this rule. My second rule however, is to “be present.” By this I mean be engaged, be awake, be attentive. When May and I began working together, this was her favorite rule to test. She would try to sleep, she’d put on a negative attitude which I knew was a front, and would not answer my questions, but shrug her shoulders instead. For a few months, our relationship was like a never-ending staring contest. …When she finally realized that I wasn’t blinking, that I wasn’t going to give up on her, wasn’t going to accept the minimum… her attitude started changing. Once her attitude changed, she started excelling at my final rule: “Do the most.” May doesn’t do half of my assignments, but tackles them with enthusiasm, especially if I bring Nutella.

I’ve had the privilege of watching May work hard with me in my tutoring sessions, which then led to more active participation in Ms. Robair’s class. This change led to her caring about all of her classes. She even finished a poetry project early for Ms Robair’s class, writing more than required, earning her a high A. Her grades have gone up, as well as her confidence. I have learned to expect the unexpected from May, because she has become a self-motivated young lady. May has transitioned from a student who hated school, viewing a desk only as a place to nap, to a student who greatly cares about her schoolwork and grades, because she understands that decisions now will shape her options for her future later.

There are students like May everywhere, students who need that extra push, more attention, someone encouraging them to “do the most” and giving them to tools to succeed. Ordinary people like me can put on the red jacket to foster extraordinary things from students like May.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Karen Sprague permalink
    April 21, 2014 10:21 pm

    Nice job, Emily!

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