Throughout our service year, we interact with hundreds of students, but there are a few that make a special impact on you. At City Year, we call these students “Starfish”. This term comes from one of our Founding Stories called “The Starfish Story,” where a young girl came upon a hundreds of beached starfish and she made it a goal to return at least one to the water. People told her it was futile because she couldn’t possibly help all of them, but the little girl replied “I made a difference to that one.” And thus she began a movement of returning the starfish to the ocean. For us City Year AmeriCorps members, these are students that are changing right before our eyes, and while you might not be able to make a difference with all 80 or so students, we know we change the lives of a few.
One of my Starfish students is a young woman named Sarah (name changed to protect privacy). Her freshman year of high school has been eventful. Prior to high school, Sarah was quite confident in math. Much to her surprise and dismay, when she began high school, she was placed in intensive math. This thought stuck with Sarah. She was ashamed of having to be in an intensive class. Her confidence shaken, Sarah was reluctant to speak and generally unhappy in class. However, after several months of supporting Sarah, we began to see her improve and become more outgoing.
Then in December, after months of progress, the unthinkable happened: her brother was shot and killed on his way to school. This was a turning point in her year. I was nervous to see how she would react. She and her brother were close. Understandably, Sarah could have shrunk into confusion or sadness, but thankfully and joyfully, she instead grew right before my eyes. She would speak out against bullying and answer questions. Sarah also has been more pro-active in seeking out tutoring opportunities. We have even begun to research colleges for her to attend in the fall of 2018.
During a phone call home last week, when I related how she was growing and how proud I was of her, her grandfather stopped me and thanked me. I was taken aback by the praise that I was receiving because every day Sarah inspires me to keep doing my work. Sarah’s resiliency is incredible and her work ethic is second to none in my classes. She asks the hard questions and pushes those around her to do better. I’m proud to say that I have met this awe inspiring young woman, and cannot wait to watch her grow over the next four months.
Written by Victoria Riley, proud City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Sea Best Team at William M. Raines High School