City Year corps members start their day in schools before the first bell rings in the morning and end their day after the last student leaves. They are a constant presence in students’ lives, and they form incredible bonds with the students who need it most. Through near-peer mentoring and tutoring, corps members effect real change in students, improving their behavior in class and their attitude towards school. In this Starfish Story, Team Leader Andy Tilton describes the relationship that his team of corps members has formed with one struggling student.
At my City Year Diplomas Now middle school, there are many incredible students. With his earnest desire to do well, his goofy mannerisms, his smile and his energy, middle-schooler Haytham* is a joy to my entire team. But he does have some issues that he is continually trying to address. He has trouble focusing on school work and difficulty controlling his emotions and expressing them in a healthy way. He can be perfectly calm and happy one moment and yelling the next.
The seventh grade Diplomas Now team has been helping him control his anger since the beginning of the school year. We’ve taught him breathing exercises, counseled him on how to manage his anger when he’s in class and given him a lot of positive reinforcement when he successfully calms himself down. While Haytham still struggles with his grades and behavior, he is continually improving, in part through the relationships he has built with the City Year team and the school. The other day, Haytham came up to me and proudly exclaimed that he had finished all of his homework. He said, “Man, I like the new me! I get better grades.” That’s when I realized how far he has come in just seven months.
Recently, he wrote a letter to my team and said, “I hope you are here forever.” Receiving letters like this reminds me that our work in this school is truly making a difference. We’re “making school to be a lot of fun” and helping kids like Haytham grow and learn. Haytham’s letter gives me renewed perspective on the impact of my service. It’s a reminder for why I joined City Year and why I continue to serve every day.
*Names have been changed to protect the students with whom we work
Text by Andy Tilton, City Year Seattle/King County Team Leader