The Starfish Story is one of City Year‘s founding stories. It talks about how making a difference to one student, while it may seem minimal, can compound into making a huge impact. This is one of City Year Seattle‘s Starfish experience.
Calvin is a third-grade Latino student in my class. He is also an eight-year-old boy who has missed the better part of his second grade year and apparently his first grade year due to obesity-related health issues. As a result, Calvin is tremendously behind academically. Although he is in third grade, he began the year barely able to write his own name without having someone trace the letters first.
Regardless of his circumstances, Calvin is a boy with a heart of gold who has always been tremendously optimistic about school. In my nearly three years of working with elementary students, I have never met a child (or possibly anyone) who is as genuinely caring and sincere as he is. In fact, Calvin’s happy attitude is what made me so eager to work with him.
I collaborated with his teacher and his special education teacher to find activities for Calvin to do while the rest of the class is occupied with their group lessons. We organized a curriculum where Calvin will play math and reading games on a customized website during the time he had previously been drawing or otherwise unproductive.
Now, when the teacher begins her lesson, I take that opportunity to get Calvin set up on a computer to play his assigned math/reading games. In addition, the reading coach at Roxhill Elementary has been coming in to provide reading/writing intervention periodically throughout the day.
In the Starfish Corps after-school program that City Year provides, I keep a special eye out to make sure Calvin is doing something productive. This after-school program is designed to explore the basic building blocks of community and leadership. The program emphasizes the students’ voice, encouraging them to explore the social factors that influence their community and to express their ideas and feelings about them. Throughout the year students learn and serve together in small teams, exploring the qualities that make us unique while forging positive, cooperative relationships. Through this program, I’ve had the opportunity to see Calvin in a unique light: running around and playing with the others and engaging with his fellow students in the club. This may not seem particularly impressive to most people except for the fact that–due to his conflict with obesity– Calvin is usually very reserved and shy, especially when it comes to physical activity.
In the two months that I’ve been at Roxhill, I’ve watched Calvin grow from being a third-grade student who could not write his name without help to being able to write nearly half a page by himself. I’ve seen him go from dreading being embarrassed in front of his class to being excited about doing his lessons. And, most importantly, I see him having fun at his school. While I can’t come close to taking all the credit, I do like to think that maybe I have a small part in the catalyst that could potentially change the rest of Calvin’s life.
*Names have been changed to protect the children with whom we work
Text by William Smith, City Year Seattle/King County corps member serving at Roxhill Elementary
Photo by Jennifer Cogswell