By: Jackie Gibbs
Because community is an important City Year value, its essence has become a repetition throughout our service. I have found that reaching out beyond our partner schools is when that sense of community is most present.
Over the holiday the corps participated in Thanksgiving Service Day at Heyl Elementary School. Having learned that Heyl Elementary was once a partner school with City Year, I was thrilled to know that the school understood the organization and even more so that the students recognized us. Entering as a stranger, but having been welcomed as a long, lost friend insinuated the feeling of connection.
I assisted two fellow corps members in a 2nd Grade English Classroom. We focused on reading short stories and writing holiday cards to children in hospitals. As we hovered in the doorway to the second grade classroom waiting for the teacher to choose a group of students who were to make holiday cards with City Year, small voices cried in chorus, “Pick me! Pick me!” I scanned the room and my eyes began to water as I noticed one of the students bawling in the corner because he wasn’t chosen.
By lunchtime I felt like a celebrity. Many of the students we had just taught and even students near by who joined for the mere fact that their friends were, shouted, “Sit by me! Sit by me!” The room was filled with laughter and cheer, which to my amazement ended almost as instantly as it began. Heyl enforces a clapping system that can only be emulated by listening to the sound of the beat, which requires everyone to be quiet. Instantly, everyone was working together and organization was maintained
The part of the day I had been looking forward to had finally arrived: recess! While I love serving at a high school, in a 9th grade classroom, and would not trade that for any other grade, I do look forward to recess because after teaching in a hot building cooped up in a classroom filled with the B.O. of growing teenagers, it’s all I can do to dream for some sort of outdoor activity. I scanned through all of the dramatic demands that might occur during a normal day at recess from past stories I had heard from corps members. I couldn’t tell you how many times students asked me to pick them up to reach the monkey bars and how pleased I was to inform the students of my Jell-O arms that couldn’t lift anything (thank you CSX and Chase teams)! Needless to say, I was still clobbered by a mass of children who were supposedly playing an innocent game of tag.
Just before we began to end the day a few corps members presented a brief career advancement speech to a group of select students. During questions and comments the principal shared a story about a mother who had been running late for an appointment who, having become familiar with City Year, entrusted her child with a corps member to escort them safely to school. City Year is seen as a protection and the fact that schools and parents, who don’t personally know City Year corps members, will entrust the safety of their child in City Year hands shows something about community.
Later on, the principal had informed us of the ongoing talk about consolidating schools together, which would mean the possibility of closing Heyl Elementary down in the process. Because Heyl Elementary plays a pivotal part in the community, without it, there would be no unifying factors to hold the community together.
As I was leaving one of the students asked when City Year was coming back. The reaction from the students at Heyl gives me hope for future service days to contribute to the impact of community within other schools.