As I look back on my service year thus far, I am amazed by the difference that half a year can make.
Only this past June, I was completing my final year of college at a small school —a “bubble” many called it— where professors and faculty supported and advised me daily. Now, a few short months later, I find myself in a class of two-dozen rambunctious eighth graders finding my place as a mentor myself.
As mentors, City Year corps members are extremely privileged but also extremely challenged. Never mind advising through four years of college—in City Year, my fellow corps members and I must develop relationships with our students over the course of ten short months. And though it seems as if we have such little time to make a difference in our students’ lives, my experiences this year have assured me that it’s possible.
One reason that I am able to form relationships with my eighth graders is because my students respect the uniform. When I wear my City Year uniform, I reflect the dedication and support provided by the corps members that came before me. One student in my class, Bruce*, has proven the power of the red jacket to me.
Early this school year, Bruce moved into my class from a higher-performing cohort. His grades were slipping, particularly in literature and composition. Upon moving into my class, he became hesitant to participate and was often distracted easily. He ignored teacher’s requests to sit up in class and start his work on time. I began to sit in the back of the room with Bruce during a few class periods each day.
In a couple weeks time, I learned about Bruce’s love of cooking, his expertise in math and his frustration with writing. We worked together to reorganize his messy papers into a new binder. Soon, he began to say hello to me before school and visit our City Year office at the end of the day. Almost immediately, I saw Bruce’s grades go up in all of his major subjects. He has since become more engaged with his fellow classmates and is more responsive to teachers.
My experience with Bruce opened my eyes to the value of mentorship. I realized firsthand that I would never have a shot at helping my students to succeed educationally if I did not build a trusting relationship with them first. At City Year, we must be the positive role models in our students’ lives and with one year to do it, every second counts.