Life in a Week: Ashley Dzurnak


Monday mornings can be a struggle for everyone, so we decided to pump up our morning greeting with some new cheers.  Even though most students act too cool to join in, I heard a few students singing good morning as I walked to class.  During first block, I noticed one of my focus list students was missing.  I was able to slip out of class for a minute and make a phone call home.  After speaking to her mother, I learned that my student was sick and would probably be absent the next few days.  I know missing class will make it difficult for this student to stay on track, so I will start making some lesson plans to help catch her up when she returns.

Today, our school hosted a blood drive through the American Red Cross.  After learning about past struggles at LMSA with blood drives, I took on the role of blood drive coordinator.  Students, teachers, corps members and community members all donated side by side – Ubuntu.  Students earned volunteer hours and learned about the blood donation process. After encouraging first-time donors all day, I decided to donate for my first time as well. We all agreed, it was a successful event and we are looking forward to hosting another drive at LMSA!

Every Wednesday during planning period, the Diplomas Now team gets together for an EWI (Early Warning Indicator) meeting.  The team consists of teachers, City Year, Communities in Schools and our school transformation facilitator.  During these meetings, we discuss a small group of students who are struggling with attendance, behavior and course performance and collaborate to best support the students to get them back on track. PITW #36: Learn how to get diverse input for designs and decisions. I shared some successes a student had with me during a pull out session.

Thursdays are some of my favorite days because I get to each lunch with some of my most difficult, yet charming, students.  We have been running 50 Acts of Leadership during lunch, City Year’s behavior coaching program that helps students develop as leaders.  On this Thursday, we talked about different types of communication, as well as conflict resolution.  Even though these students still have a long way to go, I am proud of their accomplishments so far!

On Fridays we spend our mornings in the school and afternoons at the office for training and professional development.  This Friday, we had the opportunity to mock interview with employers from the Columbus area.  I am so thankful that City Year invests time and energy into helping grow the corps as professionals and giving us amazing networking opportunities.

— Ashley Dzurnak, Team Leader of the ATT Team at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy


Real Talk With Miss Christine

By: Christine Olding

A few weeks ago I started doing this lunch group on Thursdays with six, 6th grade girls. It was supposed to be a chance for them to talk about a variety of topics that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about with anyone else (health issues to boyfriends and everything in between). I was unsure exactly how it would go over because let’s just say I was not the favorite person among the 6th grade girls.

When I first started this experience I was known by many of the students as the “mean” one due to my strict disciplinarian structure. However, in the past few months I have begun to develop relationships with these girls in ways I, honestly, never thought imaginable. I get hugs and jokes on a daily basis and am constantly asked questions about my love life (something I find pretty hysterical). So, when I was asked to do this group, I was excited and nervous on what exactly would happen given our rocky road.

The group is set up like this: they go grab their lunch and come to a classroom where I am awaiting their arrival. During our first meeting we came up with 10 topics that would be discussed. Each week we talk about a different topic. I present the topic of the week and open the floor each time stating that it is a safe space and whatever is said between these walls will never leave these walls. I try to answer their questions to the best of my ability and hope for the best.

I was amazed by the girls willingness to share and ask questions that I knew were hard for them to discuss. They are 100% open to what I have to say and what each other have to say. It is my chance to show them a different perspective on the issues that plague them. It is my chance to say” hey, I remember being in the 6th grade and I remember how much it sucked at times. So, here are some things to help you get through it.” Each week, I make a point to let them know that each of them is important, beautiful, smart and loved. (Something I know that they rarely hear). It is my hope that they will truly listen to those words and believe them because all I want for them is to believe in themselves and each other, like how I believe in each one of them.

Dr Seuss and Read Across America Day

By: Christine Olding

Dr. Seuss is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. A man we are all familiar with and who personally changed my life as a small child. I could sit here and talk to you about who he was and the books he wrote, however, I am going to show you how Dr. Seuss directly affects my service.

Most of you have heard the quote, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” A quote that I use daily in my service. A few weeks ago, I was alerted that one of my 4th grade students was being bullied due to his size and intellect. I decided that it was duty to help him through this time. He’s never been the type of kid to use violence to solve his problems and I could tell he was having a hard time coping with this new onset of bullying. I wanted to make sure he realized and took pride in how amazing he truly is. So, I decided to show him this quote. After showing him we talked about what the quote meant and differing ways he could “protect” himself from negative situations that he would find himself in. We talked about his friends, family, what he wanted to be when he grew up and an acronym S.A.S.S (stay calm; assess the situation, solution orientated and self-confidence). Together we talked through the good and the bad and solutions to a multitude of problems.  I continue to meet with this student and we continue to discuss how to better handle situations and how to find confidence in who you are.

I know that this is an unconventional way to celebrate the birth and influence of such a great writer, however, to me, it is the best way to say thank you. Thank you Dr. Seuss for helping one 4th grade student find out who he is and all the wonderful things he can do.

This Friday February 24th is Read Across America Day for City Year Columbus. A day we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Seuss.  This year, the book that is being showcased this year is The Lorax, in observance of the moving coming out this year. The theme this year is green and some suggestions to make your school community green include: making a reading garden, planting a Truffala tree forest or even just having a Lorax lead your schools reading parade.  So, grab a pick and grab a kid and help Dr. Seuss change their lives like he changed mine, yours and 4th Andrew.

Hand in Hand

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.

Penny Harvest, It Just Makes Cents!

By: Christine Olding

Each week I write about differing stories of how City Year is impacting the students we serve, but how do the students we serve impact their communities? This week, I am going to explore the Penny Harvest, a way for our students to raise money for local, state, and national charities through their own philanthropic endeavors.

Penny Harvest was founded in 1991 as a way to show children that they too can make a difference. Since 1991, $8.1 million in grants have been awarded to various community organizations, all from pennies. This opportunity allows the children to do something that they are often not given the chance to do: make a difference. It allows our students to contribute to things that they view as important. Each classroom votes on a differing cause or organization that will get their pennies.  Penny Harvest allows the students in each classroom to have a common goal that they must collaborate on to make come true.

Penny Harvest was first introduced to me by the student council at Hamilton. During morning announcements a few weeks ago, the students got on over the intercom and did a skit introducing the idea to the rest of the student body. Within their three to five minute skit they hit the main goal of the idea: to raise money for charities…with pennies. They then came around to each classroom handing out small colorful paper bags and burlap sack.  Upon first hearing about that they would be raising money solely with pennies; I was a little taken back and thought to myself, “how are pennies ever going to make a difference?”  I know this is a rather pessimistic outlook for a young idealist like me; however, sometimes you have to look at things for what they are. Though, I thought the idea might not be the most effective in the entire world, I was still interested to see how the students would react to this challenge.

I quickly began to realize that my previous thoughts on the matter were seriously mistaken. Each day I would watch in amazement as the students in my classrooms would march in carrying as many pennies as their paper bags could handle. They would get a small reward of a sticker each time they donated. Every day I would be reminded by the announcements of the growing astronomical amount of pennies each classroom was bringing in. I realized that, though these students may not have a lot to give, they are willing to give whatever they do have to help others.

50 Acts of Kindness Update

By: Christine Olding

If you remember, a few weeks back, I wrote a blog entry depicting the new behavior initiative that we were going to implement at Hamilton STEM Academy. That behavior initiative is called 50 Acts. It is meant to help the most behaviorally challenged students in school to become leaders within their school and community. Each week I meet with six differing students and discuss differing ways to handle the situations they face and also, their emotions. I do that in a variety of ways, but I have found that simply having basic discussions works best with the group of students I work with. I, also, ask each of the students’ one act of leadership they have done that week. It can be something as simple as saying “Thank You”, to as complex as, a detailed story of they helped a member of their family. Each week brings new stories and new challenges. Here is a walk-through of a typical meeting my 50 Acts group.

I go to get my group of students every Wednesday at 12:20 P.M. From that time until 12:45, we eat our lunches and talk. I start out each meeting of, “Miss Christine’s Secret Lunch Crew”, by asking them their act of leadership for the week. It always amazes me how eager each student is to tell me what positive things they have done that week. Some of my favorite acts of leadership that have occurred within my group consist of moments when my students have helped out other students in their school. From helping prevent a fight to helping them with their homework; it truly is outstanding how helpful these deemed “bad” students can be. It shows me that with a little bit of guidance these students really can be outstanding citizens.

After we discuss the differing acts of leadership each of them has done that week, we move on to the topic of that week. Upon first starting my group, I used to have them play interactive games, but found that they enjoyed simply talking out their problems much better. It, also, proved to be much more effective. I give them a topic to discuss and they take it from there.  Last week’s topic was, “How can I prevent a negative situation from happening?” Each of my students came up with thoughtful and helpful ways to prevent differing situations. They, also, took it upon themselves to ask me for advice about differing situations they currently are facing and what to do.

The one thing I find most fascinating about my 50 Acts group, is how their school ideals and home ideals conflict at a very alarming rate. Though, they know what the right thing to do is, they find it difficult to extinguish certain situations because of things they have either learned or been told at home. When that is brought to my attention, I do my best to try to explain how acting one way at home might not be an okay way to act at school, “At home, your boss is your parents, at school your boss is your teacher, the principal or any other adult you come in contact with. At home you have to listen to your parents but at school you have to listen to what the adults at school ask you to do”.  Despite the fact that every week I have to remind my students of the above fact, it has proved to be beneficial. Though, some of my students are still reprimanded for certain bad choices, they have really begun to improve in the behavior department. I am truly proud of each and every one of my students progress.

50 Acts was created to help the students that most people have given up on, the students who have been deemed “lost causes”. However, every week I am shown how helpful, thoughtful, and caring each one of my students can be.  By just taking the time to listen to each and every one of them, we are truly making an impact of mass proportions in their lives. We are giving them something that they are not used to; we are giving them a chance to succeed.