By Jenna Richards, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bank of America team with the Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8 school
When I explain what City Year is, more questions usually arise. “But what do you actually do?” people often reply. Even to someone familiar with our mission, the inner workings of City Year can seem vague. What do AmeriCorps members do all day long? Let me tell you one insider’s experience.
I serve in a third grade classroom at the Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8 School in Mattapan. My school day starts at 7:45am, about an hour before I make it into the actual classroom. My team and I spend that time greeting students with a series of high fives, cheers, and songs as they arrive at school. Once I do get inside, I greet my students and partner teacher personally and then get to work.
Part of being a successful AmeriCorps member is being willing to be flexible. I spend the majority of a service day addressing students' needs as they come up: meandering around the room to conference with them about what they're reading, creating incentives for students who lack motivation, checking in with them if they're struggling with focus or motivation. Adapting to the needs of the students and giving one on one attention where needed allows my partner teacher to more effectively instruct the class.
My presence also gives the students another model for appropriate behavior. When they are called to pay attention, I too practice what we call "full-body listening," or having a quiet mouth, eyes on the speaker, and a calm body. When the beeping of an oncoming announcement comes over the loudspeakers, I hold up two fingers to the sky in our schoolwide silent symbol to show I am listening. And when the scholars owe time at recess for misbehavior, I sit right alongside them outside on the pavement. When I follow the expectations set for the students, I can better relate to them and treat them fairly.
My role also extends beyond the classroom. In City Year, we have a number of values that capture some of the reasons why corps members serve. My favorite one is “Students First.” Putting students first means I often spend recess outside with my students or bring them up to the City Year team room to eat lunch. This time with students outside of a classroom environment is vital in order to build stronger student relationships and strengthen the support I can give inside the classroom.