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

Breaking Through

"It takes intelligence and will to learn how to swim through those remarkable set of challenges, and intelligence and will are things Marshall possesses in great volume."

“It takes intelligence and will to learn how to swim through those remarkable set of challenges, and intelligence and will are things Marshall possesses in great volume.”

Everyone has their own set of struggles in middle school. I’ve heard many people describe it as their most awkward and challenging time in life. And oh, how some of us are challenged more. One of my students has lost two cousins to gun violence in the last year. One of my students doesn’t expect or feel he deserves a nurturing home environment. One of my students is drawn into conflict nearly every day, trying to feel respected. And when these problems, each enough for one of my students, meet together to weigh on the shoulders of a single, thirteen year old child, the water is deep. It takes intelligence and will to learn how to swim through those remarkable set of challenges, and intelligence and will are things Marshall possesses in great volume. I spent weeks, following him out of classroom ejections and escapes, observing his mind and body pedal through winding corridors of the school, cautiously offering a modest word here and there. He moved on, from face to face, judging for trustworthiness, smelling for safety.
I liked and respected Marshall from the start. It took some time for him to trust me. Now I can help him navigate situations in class and out, trying to nudge him towards better decisions. I hope Marshall overcomes the challenges in his life and comes to realize his full potential. Actually, I’m sure he will.

-Edward Plumb, second year corps member at Mifflin Middle School

Targeted Intervention

Mifflin Middle School team at Parents, Friends and Family Weekend

One of the students that I work with really struggles with math. City Year’s focus on computational fluency really applies to this particular student as I could see her struggle with basic multiplication and addition. The underdevelopment of these skills was causing her to make significant mistakes on her course work. Upon recognizing this, I began pulling her out of class to focus on fact families. After she was able to see the relationship within fact families clearly, we moved on to how this skill applied to her current course work. After seeing this, she not only improved the quality of work she turned in, but she told me that she had gone home to practice her multiplication tables. Her willingness to improve and independently cultivate her own skills inspires me to do the same. I am grateful for the time I have to work with her this year and to see her grow into her full academic potential.

— Sophia Antoun, first year corps member Mifflin Middle School