By: Melissa Santiago
As part of City Year culture, we recite a pledge together during unity rallies to remind us why we serve and what our purpose is. The City Year pledge ends with what I believe is the most important aspect of our service: “to help build a stronger community.” This is by far the ultimate goal of our service and why we focus on education.
Many of the students we work with lack stability in their personal lives which often interferes with their academic performance. Financial instability as well as a high number of broken family homes are just a two factors that alter the stability and control a child feels in his or her life.
Sean* is a 4th grade student in my class who like many of our students, is extremely intelligent when he chooses to be. More often than not, however, Sean chooses not to pay attention and disrupts his classmates. Last week, he got into a violent fight at school with another boy and when my fellow teammate and corps member spoke to him about it, we saw a side to Sean that we had never seen before. Sean said he had to hit the other boy because he made a disrespectful comment about his deceased father. Sean told us his father was recently murdered and on top of losing a father, his brother went to jail around the same time and Sean had to move from a safe suburb of town to a more risky area, and subsequently lost his sense of community. Clearly these transitions had taken a toll on Sean and his emotional welfare. How can a boy who’s been through so many traumatic events be expected to easily focus in class or control his emotions?
For many students like Sean who lack stable relationships in their life, our role in the schools is so much more significant. My team and I do our best to provide him with a stable relationship that could possibly be the only one he has in his life right now. Our presence greeting him at school breakfast every single morning, assisting him in reading class every day and checking in with him at recess is starting to create a community Sean clings to. Several times a week when I see him in the school hallway he asks if I’m going to be in his class later. His teacher tells me that in moments when he doesn’t have City Year in his classroom he asks when we’ll return. Everyone in City Year could tell you there are multiple examples like Sean which motivate us in the morning when we want to hit snooze or calm our frustrations after a hard day of work. To build community requires tough work and renewed dedication each and every day. Attending two weekend service events to benefit the community and spending an entire day completing physical service projects throughout the city, this week are a perfect example of City Year’s commitment to build community outside of just schools. I have to commend my team and my entire corps for recognizing this commitment to community and practicing it inside and outside of the schools. As they so amazingly exhibited for me this past week (via a surprise birthday celebration in my honor) knowing that miles away from my family and friends in a new city, City Year Columbus is the community I depend on for strength and fellowship. As we continue the year, I hope the rest of our community feels the same way about City Year and that our goal of building a stronger community, nation and world for all of us is accomplished as a result.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect his identity