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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.

emily

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Teaching as a LACY Plan

April 18, 2014

by Kate Sheeder, a corps member proudly serving on the Albemarle Foundation at Merrydale Elementary School

With only twenty-fives day left of service, the phrase LACY is constantly floating around the City Year Baton Rouge community. What is LACY? LACY stands for Life After City Year. It’s the term used by corps members to say what they are doing once their ten-month commitment to City Year ends. Corps members’ LACY plans are usually divided into four different categories: returning to school (undergraduate or graduate), joining the work force, joining a different service organization, or STACY (Staying At City Year). On Monday’s blog post, Phillip Spotswood shared his LACY plan to return to City Year next year as a Senior Corps member (go Phil!) and I’m writing to share my LACY plan.

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After serving as a corps member for the past two years at Merrydale Elementary School, I am ecstatic to share that I have committed the next two years of my life to teach an elementary school class through Teach For America South Louisiana. City Year Baton Rouge showed me how rewarding it is to educate children and watch them develop as young leaders and scholars. As a corps member, I was able to observe a variety of teaching styles that I will be able to use in my own classroom. Writing lesson plans as a corps member has prepared me to write my own as a teacher. Basically, all of the tools I gathered as a corps member will be so helpful as I start my journey as a classroom teacher.

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I am also thrilled to teach in South Louisiana. As a proud Jersey girl, it’s crazy how in love I am with Baton Rouge and Louisiana culture. I feel just as home here as I do on the east coast. It was here in South Louisiana that I found my niche for teaching, so it only feels right that I begin my career in the same community.

 

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While LACY plans can seem overwhelming, I am happy to say that I feel 100% confident in my decision to become a Teach for America corps member and teach here in Louisiana. Yes, the challenges of teaching will be extremely difficult and exhausting, but I love a good challenge. Plus, I know City Year has prepared me to lead an outstanding classroom.

Corps Member Monday: Returning for a Second City Year

April 14, 2014

by Phillip Spotswood, corps member proudly serving on the JPMorgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

When our staff first mentioned the idea of Senior Corps way back in September, I don’t think there was a single person in the room who took them seriously. We were too inundated with deadlines and data to even lace our boots up all the way. Staying on for a second year was the last thing we wanted to think about. Even so, the idea was like shrapnel from an explosion that had lodged in my back. Too violent. Re-do. Think a patch of new growth in the garden that you know must be tended, eventually. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I had to face the decision, but I pushed it aside nonetheless, filled my time instead with building myself, my team, and my students. What it has taken me until right now (literally, this moment) to realize is that the growth has been creeping more and more near, all year—has, in fact, pushed me deeper into my sense of self.

All of the opportunities that I’ve had this year—designing lesson plans, organizing CY events, attending professional trainings—has prepared me for a second year with City Year. A better year. A year in which I can apply every mistake and triumph I’ve experienced this time around and create something new. I’m a sucker for logic, and the simple beauty of this process is, well, very exciting.

I’ve found myself writing a lot of poetry about disassembling things lately—hearts, rage, atomic bombs—and I questioned my mental integrity. Was I unraveling at the seams? Then I realized that it is part of my process in thinking about what I’m supposed to do next year. By picking apart various aspects of my life, turning them over in my head, I’m able to organize my thoughts and actions by components.

So. What have I disassembled this year, and what creation has emerged from the wreckage?

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Item 1: I’ve become more attached to my students and school. While I realize I might not be near them next year, the idea of serving in the same community satisfies my desire. By acknowledging this deep level of care that is often painful, I have allowed this care to propel my actions towards another year of service.

Item 2: I appreciate the usefulness of data. Re-do. I have grown to appreciate the usefulness of data. This year, City Year Baton Rouge has made a large shift towards quantitative data collection, using it to inform our interactions with students. At the beginning of the year, I and my fellow corps members outwardly complained about its effectiveness and necessity—seeing it as just another bureaucratic barrier to separate us from our students. By reflecting on the pros of data, I have come to experience it as a vital tool for moving students forward, and I am eager, as a Senior Corps member, to ease the new members’ doubts, to encourage and support them.

Item 3: I have so much to learn about being a sympathetic being. To excel as a Senior Corps member, I have realized I must embody: perseverance, humility, honesty, and compassion. Working daily with students as a corps member has been a practice in perseverance. My perseverance and patience have been tried this year as only an educator’s can, but the trials have only made me stronger. As a second year, I must embody patience and flexibility—the ability to lean with the turns of both the corps members’ needs and the requirements from staff. It is necessary that I embody these values, for if I cannot show flexibility or honesty, I cannot expect my team to uphold the same values. During my time with Senior Corps, I hope to enhance my sense of compassion. This has been something I have struggled with this year, for often it seems that in order to truly push students forward, one must find a balance between the compassionate and the honest heart. I am searching for this balance, and am eager to continue in the capacity of a team leader.

March 28, 2014, I received my call from admissions, accepting my application for Senior Corps as a team leader. I have already accepted the position, and I can’t tell you how eager I am to start enacting these changes in myself that will affect others.

Please Join City Year Baton Rouge for School House Rock!

April 11, 2014

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Please join us to celebrate and support City Year’s commitment
to keep Baton Rouge students in school and on track to succeed.

City Year Baton Rouge
School House Rock
Annual Gala

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Renaissance Hotel Ballroom
7000 Bluebonnet Boulevard

6:00 pm Cocktails
7:00 pm Seated Dinner and Honoree Celebration
8:30 pm Dessert Bar and Live Music

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 To sponsor the event or purchase individual tickets, please click here or visit www.cityyear.org/batonrouge.

RSVP by April 11, 2014
Business Attire

Please contact Mellie Bailey for more details at mbailey@cityyear.org or 225.663.4222

City Year Baton Rouge School House Rock Sponsors

25th Anniversary Sponsors
Bain Capital
Jennifer Eplett and Sean Reilly

Presenting Sponsor
Top of the Class Sponsors
Andreeff Foundation
Lamar Advertising Company
The Lemoine Company, LLC
Raising Cane’s
Reserve Telecommunications
SGS Petroleum Service Corporation

Principal Sponsors
Buquet and LeBlanc
Candy and Robert Be
Dana and Jim Bernhard
The Celtic Group
Entergy Louisiana
Barbara and Brian Haymon
JPMorgan Chase
Kathryn and Luke Kissam
Milford Wampold Support Foundation

Teacher’s Pet Sponsors
Beth and Rudy Aguilar
Kellie and Robert Belk
Credit Bureau of Baton Rouge Foundation
Hannis T. Bourgeois
Kean Miller, LLP
Knobloch, Poche’, & Burns Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors
Kracht & Frazier
Ava and Cordell Haymon
Postlethwaite & Netterville
Terrie and Edmund Sterling
Stonehenge Capital

A+ Student Sponsors
Leslie and Scott Berg
Janet Boles
Jan and Terry Hill
Luisa and Ben Hu
Jill and Perry Leslie
Susan and Richard Lipsey
Tracey and Ty McMains
Yvette and Drew Rispone
Melissa and Jimmy Sanchez
Tricia and Chuck Sanchez
Brenda and Tommy Teepell

School House Rock Gala Committee
Bobbi and Lane Grigsby
Honorary Committee Chairs

Beth and Rudy Aguilar
Allison and Ross Barrett
Candy and Robert Be
Leslie and Scott Berg
Dana and Jim Bernhard
Lori Bertman
Trisha and John Carmouche
Donna and John Fraiche
Deane and Scott Frazier
Ann and John Paul Funes
Shawna and Dan Gardiner
Fran and Buck Gladden
Gwen and Todd Graves
Gwen and Leo Hamilton
Suzanne and David Hamm
Barbara and Brian Haymon
Luisa and Ben Hu
Kathryn and Luke Kissam
Emily Landry
Jill and Perry Leslie
Laura and Jared Loftus
Pamela Matassa
Tracey and Ty McMains
Alisa and Michael O’Connor
Laura and Jay Poché
Torie and Richard Preis
Jennifer and Sean Reilly
Melissa and Jimmy Sanchez
Tricia and Chuck Sanchez
Catherine and Matt Saurage
Whitney Vann and Robert Schneckenburger
Terrie and Edmund Sterling
Brenda and Tommy Teepell
Erin Monroe Wesley and Mitch Wesley

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Corps Member Monday: Sculpting Tomorrow’s Leaders through Student Council

April 7, 2014

by Toya Washington, corps member proudly serving on the JPMorgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

When the whole world is silent, even one voice can become powerful.” These words were spoken by 16 year old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai during her acceptance of Harvard University’s 2013 Humanitarian Award. Yousafzai’s courage to speak out against the injustices in her country is an inspiration to everyone, especially today’s youth. Her words served as the tagline for the 2014 Youth Legislature session that the representatives of Capitol Middle School’s student council had the opportunity to participate in this past week. Youth Legislature is a two-day mock session where students vote on student governor, senator, and debate bills written by their peers. With the support of Diplomas Now and 100 Black Men Capitol Middle’s student council was able to experience the workings of our government system first hand.

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Student Billum, 6th grade representative, said that Youth Legislature has taught him so much about our government system. “I am really excited about participating in Youth Legislature next year and hopefully I can run for an executive position such as senator.” At first the experience seemed a little intimidating however, by that afternoon the students were fully engaged in the session and continuously voiced their opinions on bills. At the closing ceremony all of Capitol Middle’s students were recognized for their outstanding professionalism and civic engagement by being inducted into Youth Legislature’s 2014 Hall of Fame.

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I have worked very closely with Student Council this year and they have grown near and dear to my heart. I am very thankful to Diplomas Now and 100 Black Men for their help and proud of the work these students have done so far this year.

 

Photo Friday: Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service Comes to Capitol Middle

April 4, 2014

by Juliette Rocheleau, corps member proudly serving on the JPMorgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

Things were really blooming at Capitol’s garden on Tuesday, April 1. In honor of Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service, Mayor Kip Holden paid a visit to the Capitol Middle School community garden, where he along with City Year AmeriCorps members, Senior Corps Members, Foster Grandparents, and Delta Service Corps he planted hot peppers and zucchini with assistance from Garden Club president, eighth grader Gregory Johnson.

The Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service highlights the value and impact of national service to the nation’s cities and demonstrates that by unleashing the power of citizens, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs have a positive and lasting impact – making our cities better places to live

After the planting, Mayor Holden had a discussion with members from Student Council, Girls On The Run, Men’s Capitol C.O.R.P. and Girl Talk, extra curricular groups geared toward behavior coaching, leadership, team building and getting kids active. The students had the chance to ask the mayor their own questions about leadership, his career and growing up in Baton Rouge. Thank you to Mayor Holden for engaging our students!
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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.