A Starfish Story

The first time I met with this student, he would not look at me. We stood there in the hallway, and he looked at the wall, the ceiling, the floor. He nodded and shook his head. He answered in monosyllables.

This student is on my focus list for problems with behavior, academics, and attendance, so he had D’s, F’s, and suspensions last year. However, he is bright. He just has trouble keeping himself from goofing off with his friends.

Last week, report cards came out, and my student had all B’s and C’s. He had passed every class, and I was so proud and happy for him! As soon as I saw him, I went up to give congratulations. I told him that he should be proud of himself and that he had done a great job.

“No,” he said. I asked him what he meant.

“Those grades aren’t good enough,” he responded.

“Oh, what grades do you want?” I asked.

“A’s and B’s.”

I somehow managed to keep myself from jumping up and down, and we had a conversation about what he needs to do to get there. He gave me thoughtful answers, and we made a plan together.

The next period, he was back to smacking his friends and running around the classroom. But everything has changed, because now I know that he, himself, wants to get there.

– Cora Henry, first year corps member of the CSX Team at South High School


Welcome to South

I proudly serve at South High School, one of the three high schools City Year partners with in Columbus. We are located in a neighborhood where some of the houses are boarded up and some of the streets have patches of weeds instead of sidewalks. But our school is a beautiful old brick building with big windows and gleaming red floors (I’m not kidding– they actually gleam).

The students have pride in their school and the graduation rate improved over the past year since City Year and Diplomas Now became involved. Our work is not over yet, however. Every morning at precisely 7 AM, twelve twenty-something-year-olds in red jackets form two lines outside of the main doorway to the school. As the students stream in to get breakfast in the cafeteria, we cheer “Good morning!” and hope our silly antics will make the students smile.

The twelve of us hail from diverse backgrounds: we’re from California and Colorado and Haiti and Ohio, we majored in politics and biology and English and teaching, and we have a wide variety of religious beliefs and dance moves. However despite our differences, we form a strong team, tossing around ideas, lending each other moral support, and making each other laugh throughout the day.

Each of the corps members travels with a cohort of 20 to 30 ninth or tenth graders, and we spend almost all day with our group. I know all my students well; I can draw connections between classes for them, I check in with each student a few times throughout the day, and I know exactly who could use a reminder to capitalize their proper nouns or get started on their math warm-up. Often corps member will sit down with a group of two or three students to work with throughout a period, ensuring that the teenagers get to work at their own pace.

The City Year team also prepares whole school events. So far we have had one in-school dance per month, with food and music in the cafeteria. Each subsequent dance has stricter admissions requirements; the Halloween dance (which is tonight!) will require the students to have two D’s and one suspension at worst. Our after school choir program, the South High Harmony Project, recently performed at the President’s Cup, and more performances will follow in December. We held a blood drive and planned a community open house, Welcome to South Night, for parents and community members.

Welcome to South Night featured a performance with the student band and cheerleaders, a step dancer, a student beat boxer, and a praise dance performance by one of our own corps members! The events don’t stop now, though. This Thursday we will host Trunk or Treat, a Halloween celebration with trick or treating inside the school. For November, we have planned a week long competition between cohorts to see which group can answer the most math warm-ups correctly. Additionally, we are designing an English event for December…more details and excitement to come!

–Cora Henry, first year Corps Member of the CSX Team at South High School