Letting Go

These 10 months have been an exhilarating ride, filled with indescribable highs and a few devastating lows. The changing altitude has left me breathless, and as the last few weeks of service are approaching, it is almost time to catch my breath and gaze back at what I have accomplished.

The knowledge that I have 10 mere days to spend with my class before we part ways forever brings me to my knees. Saying goodbye to my 20 high school freshmen—students I have tutored, mentored, defended, supported, loved with all of my heart—will be the greatest challenge of this immensely challenging year. I now see with intense clarity how fleeting my entrance into my students’ lives has been. I first met them not 9 months ago, and now that they finally trust me completely, I am leaving. My kids will still face the same barriers, both in and out of school, that I spent a year trying to help them overcome. And until thousands more volunteers devote part of their lives to changing the lives of others, these obstacles will still impose upon millions of kids across America.

Still, I will go to Boston University next year and begin my studies as a Sociology & Political Science major. I hope to continue fighting for the right to a proper education. Besides, I’m not saying goodbye to my students forever. I promised them I will be back in Columbus in May 2017, just in time for their high school graduation.

— Micah Baum, First Year Corps Member, the Chase Team at Mifflin High School


Pushing Through

concrete flower

The final 2 months of our 10 month commitment are among us. And as I begin to interact and converse with many corps members, I cannot help but to notice the mental state that we are all in—tired, apathetic, and mentally distraught. The City Year journey tells us that the storming phase usually happens around November through January, but what are we to do when it comes in March? What are we to do when apathy has dried up every ounce of idealism in our bones? What are we to do when there seems like there is no end to this storm?

no pain no gain

I can honestly say that the storm never truly ends, especially when discussing the nation’s drop out crisis. The intensity of the storm changes, which we cannot control; but some days will be easier than others. I have noticed that perspective is a crucial piece in our mental state throughout this journey and that the way we react to the storm is the key to success. Here are a few concrete ways for you to keep things in perspective as we sprint this homestretch:

  1. Become aware of those things that you have influence over, and place your emphasis and focus on the things that you have control over.
  2. When you are in the midst of a power struggle with your students, focus on how your body reacts and consciously take slow, deep breaths—or better yet, walk away.
  3. Of course humor, dance, and music will always get you by. Studies show that listening to slow music decreases blood pressure (http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/514644_6).
  4. And we cannot forget food! Coordinate one day out of the month for a team potluck lunch. Place a theme around each potluck and play into it.
  5. Hone in on ways to relieve stress (i.e. lighting candles, taking baths, drinking chamomile tea, sleeping with lavender scents)
  6. Keep your eye on the prize! Student success, City Year Graduation, and that Segal Education Award.

–Tamar Carr,  second year Team Leader, Chase Team at Mifflin High School

To Be or Not to Be?

image by Royal Shakespeare Company

“To be or not to be?” What a question.  Though our dear Shakespeare may not have intended it to, this statement inherently suggests two options for a state of being. And what we don’t realize (although perhaps poor Hamlet did) is the weight of those two choices upon us every day, either from ourselves or from others. We either “are” or we “aren’t” certain things, we either “be” or we don’t. This dichotomy is maddening, leaving little room for different shades of being. Yet those shades are what create the complexity and ultimately the humanity in any individual. Thus by pondering Hamlet’s curious question, we can come to the conclusion that we may only be pondering what we are, not who we are. And it is very important not to confuse the two.

image by Getty

“When we see someone for what they are, not who they are, this leaves room for only anger, frustration, and feelings of superiority or inferiority.”

Whether or not our students have read Shakespeare, they live this question every day with their approach to both people and situations. Insults and statements loaded with assumptions about what people and things “are” or “aren’t” come flying out of their mouths like kamikazes. They are linguistically trapped into labeling people as “bitches” or “faggots,” or “fuckers,” take your pick. Students may not realize it, but they are telling people what they are, not who they are. This is cause for concern, because as a result they begin to confuse the two. When we see someone for what they are, not who they are, this leaves room for only anger, frustration, and feelings of superiority or inferiority. We lose the human component, a person’s story, which is essential for compassion to take place. When we say a statement like, “she’s a bitch,” we are labeling that person, and somewhere along the line our attitude drastically changes toward them to compensate this mental categorization. It is therefore not enough for corps members to simply stop the verbalization of this labeling. We must try to reframe how our students react to others, to get them to switch from the “be” to the “being.” This small shift accounts for a world of difference simply because it accounts for the possibility of mistakes, moods, and change. Should someone be “being a bitch,” that sequentially leads to the next question, “why are they being that way?” This mental shift can also account for the possibility of a person’s behavior being only temporary, giving you the mental flexibility to allow them to change.  If we can encourage our students to use different language with themselves, we can help them see the difference this can make on their reactions to others and themselves. Because “to be or not to be” is a question, and a good one, but it isn’t the most compelling question when it comes to a human being and their complexities. What someone “is” or “isn’t” remains static, and ultimately incomplete. Why not plant a more profound seed in the minds of our students, the seed of who someone is being, and why they are being that way. That simple question of “why?”  … now that is a question.

— Sophia Antoun, first year corps member at Mifflin Middle School


This time of the year is my favorite. In the hustle of our day to day here at City Year, it’s our moment to take a step back and remember what we have to be thankful for. For many of us and for me in specific, I can get lost in the weeds with our day to day responsibilities in CY and forget to take the time to reflect and see all the things I have to be thankful for. I have so many things in my life to be thankful for; my health, my friends and family, my second year of service with City Year, my team, my fellow TLs, my students, the teachers I get to collaborate with each day, food, shelter, clean water. When I really step back to look at my life I realize that I have so much to be thankful for. I hope that all of you this season, can take a step back, and reflect on everything that is beautiful in your life.

–Zandra Casto Team Leader at Mifflin Middle School