Throughout the service year, AmeriCorps members interact with hundreds of students, but for some students, AmeriCorps members build a deeper connection with. At City Year, we call these students, “Starfish”. Originating from one of City Year’s Founding Stories, “The Starfish Story”. Where a young girl came upon hundreds of beached starfish and as she began to toss them back into the water, a man told her it was useless because she couldn’t possibly help all of them. The little girl threw another starfish into the water and replied “I made a difference to that one.” And from there, other people joined her and eventually all of the starfish were saved. At City Year, our Starfish students remind us that individually we may only be able to change the lives of one or two students, but when we join together, we can change the lives of thousands.
The following interview was conducted with Kai Chambers, an AmeriCorps member serving on The Friends of Andrew Jackson team at Andrew Jackson High School regarding one of her Starfish students this year.
Who is your Starfish? Tell me about him/her.
My starfish Erica (name changed to protect identity), is a sophomore at Andrew Jackson Highschool in one of my algebra classes.
What was she like before and after you began building a relationship with her?
In the beginning as with all students, we’re just getting to know each other and it takes a couple weeks before students become comfortable with you. Erica was really reserved at first but by week two or three she was already starting to open up with me. And, by the fourth week our conversations began to be more than just about math and she really began to feel comfortable around me. As I’ve gotten to know her she’s always telling me how she was different last year and has changed a lot. She’s not as talkative as before, because she’s trying harder to get her work done and that’s why she was so quiet at first.
What is a typical day like with Erica?
Erica has a really good head on her shoulders, she is smart and super determined. On a typical day I would come into class and we would make small talk. At first, I would frequently have to ask if she’s okay, how’s school going, how are things going outside of school and now when I walk in I can hear her saying, “Ms. Chambers, Ms. Chambers”.
What do you think was the turning point in your relationship with Erica?
One day I was late getting to class, maybe only two minutes but the bell rang. I was walking up the stairs and I saw Erica and another student outside the classroom talking to a teacher. Clearly, something happened during the time and Erica was involved in a verbal altercation. I could sense how upset she was so I was like, “let’s go, let’s go on a walk”. Now, this was before we had become close or talked about anything personal. So, Erica and I walled for at least 10 minutes and she was talking, letting her emotions out and telling me what’s going on. I really felt that was a turning point for us because she confided in me and was able to freely express herself. For her I think she was able to see that I wasn’t just a math tutor but someone who she could trust and this was a turning point for the both of us.
What makes you proud of your Starfish?
When I was coming into City Year I was so nervous about making connections, seeing how the students are and wasn’t sure if they would feel comfortable with me. But just knowing her and getting to know her the past few months I can see how persistent she is to challenge herself to do better. Erica is such a determined young women and I tell her this all time. Her greatest asset is that she is always trying and keeps trying.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give your starfish.
One thing I would like to say to her is, to always keep focusing on herself. Never to allow what other people think to get in the way of your success and determination. Keep pushing, you got it girl!
Marketing and Communications Intern
City Year Jacksonville