AmeriCorps Member Clay Rychlewski is part of the East Technical High School Team at City Year Cleveland this year. Below are some of his reflections as he begins his service year:
Has it really been only three months? I’ve already had so many experiences and met a great many amazing people that it seems like it was long ago that I was a fresh graduate, unsure of what to do with my life. City Year has given me an enormous amount of confidence, skills, and connections so that on day one of meeting the students I felt ready and energized to begin serving alongside such a promising City Year team.
Did I get the best City Year team of perhaps all time? It’s a distinct possibility. What has struck me since the first day with my team is how invested and passionate each of us is when it comes to equality and social justice. Not only does my team have an awareness of social issues but they also have the most powerful tools of all; respect and love. As a new inhabitant of East Technical High School, many things took me by surprise. Firstly, the school building is a massive three-story structure that houses only a few hundred students making it feel quite empty even when the students only use the second floor. The staff is cohesive and the teachers have great talent with the students. The system of using two teachers to teach each classroom is a new one to me but it seems effective.
One of the most important factors, though, is that our students are great kids. I was told stories beforehand about the toughness and stubbornness of the East Tech students, yet after spending time with them one can see the intelligence, respect and understanding that they have. The key thing I have learned from them is that their respect is earned when respect is shown.
I feel quite bad that I let myself be talked into believing the worst in a school that I had never even seen before. I lowered my expectations before even walking through the front door. So, here is my first promise to myself: I will not lower my expectations for students because of any other’s opinions than my own. High expectations can equal high results.
I’m learning so much about the students here at East Tech. It seems that everyday new perspectives unfold for me to understand about the lives of these students even when we just arrived in the schools. It is hard to comprehend now but having a team that is so diversely aware helps me with the problems I have relating to the students. That’s one of the great things about serving others; you learn more about yourself as you learn about others. Learning about yourself through learning about others is an attribute of the ideal of Ubuntu; the City Year value that an individual’s humanity ties them to each and every person in the world.