I Am at Peace. I Am Calm.

Research from Johns Hopkins University has found that low attendance, poor behavior and course failure in math and English are strong indicators that a student will drop out before graduating from high school.

Corps member Rebeca Juarez works in a middle school at a new City Year Seattle Diplomas Now site, where she mentors and tutors students like Yazan* who sometimes exhibits poor behavior, showing him that there is a better alternative.

“I hate this!” Yazan says. The teacher and I look at each other and I know what I must do. I do this every time he is upset; I do this at least once a week and I’ve been working with him since the beginning of the year. He can be the happiest kid when he’s in a good mood, but he can sometimes be unreasonable when he gets angry.

I take him out of the class so the teacher can continue with the rest of the class, put my hands on Yazan’s shoulders, look him in the eyes and say, “Yazan, look at me. I need you to take some deep breaths with me.” I was told by one of the teacher’s assistants that when he gets angry, he can be calmed by deep breathing and chanting “I am at peace” or “I am calm.” I didn’t believe it would work, but it has never failed.

He then replies, “No, I hate school. I’m never coming back here again.” I continue to encourage him to talk to me and let out his frustrations. After a while, he finally agrees to go back to class. But I know that this is only a temporary solution and I want to get him to a place where he avoids such aggression.

When Yazan finally calms down, we have a frank talk. I want him to look at what he can do to control his anger in a healthy, productive way. It is sometimes difficult to summon a soothing voice, but in a calm tone I direct him, “When you feel like you’re going to explode, for now, just ask to be excused from class – and be polite. Find a quiet spot in the hall, close your eyes, and start your breathing practice.”

Yazan agrees and says “I promise I will work on not getting mad, Rebeca.” Since then, his anger episodes have decreased and I meet with him once a week to practice dealing with situations that might precede negative behavior. I know these are small steps, but all journeys begin this way. I hope I see his arrival during my City Year.

*Names have been change to protect the children with whom we work

Text by Rebeca Juarez, City Year Seattle/King County corps member

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