By Mike Bruffee, corps member serving on the MFS Investment team
On the MFS Investment Management team serving at the Dever-McCormack Upper School, the Zulu proverb Umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu is a value we really live by. The proverb, ubuntu for short, means, “I am a person through other people, my humanity is tied to yours.” I find that this is something that permeates our service, guiding how we interact with our students, the teachers, the staff, and with each other.
I see and hear ubuntu demonstrated on our team every day through the positive interactions corps members have with students and in the stories my teammates share with each. During the day, each corps member’s attitude is “How can I help you?” After service is over for the day, at final circle, we laugh, cry, and cheer together, sharing our students’ successes and struggles. If one corps member is trying to work out a problem, teammates will try to help, no matter what.
We have an intuitive sense that we are all interdependent, and the very nature of our service illustrates this. For example, the corps members serving in 6th grade is piloting a partnership with Citizen Schools, another AmeriCorps organization whose teachers provide classes with extended learning time. By continuing the in-class tutoring we perform during the day in Citizen Schools’ classes, we are giving our students extra chances for targeted, student-specific instruction. Each corps member is now working with students from other corps members’ classes during the day. In sharing students, we have undeniably woven together the work that we do; if one student succeeds, we all succeed.
My teammates serving in 7th grade are piloting a positive school climate initiative (called “You’ve been caught being good!”). Every time a student is “caught” demonstrating positive leadership qualities, that action is recorded on a blue paw-shaped piece of paper and posted up in their homeroom /on a display in the halls. Now their classmates can see how they’ve been stepping up in leadership roles. Leadership can take many forms, from standing up to a bully, to simply making someone’s day brighter with an unexpected smile. So far, this initiative has brought a sense of community to the school that we hope will only continue to grow.
In the 8th grade, students learn early on about ubuntu from their Civics teacher, Ms. Avashia, and corps members assist in recognizing those students who demonstrate this quality. Every day corps members encourage their students to care for each other and be leaders in the school. Each time a student shows good work in class, or does something positive for one of their peers, they are awarded “Ubuntu points” and their work is displayed in the classroom. If one student succeeds, everyone succeeds!
The City Year corps at the Dever-McCormack lives and breathes ubuntu every day. With every student and corps member success, we are all buoyed in our collective success. We understand that the work we do is dependent upon our connection with our students, and the knowledge that their lives are inextricably linked together with our own.