October 2011, after much planning, anticipation, and excitement, the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School kicked off their first month of After-School Heroes! After-School Heroes (ASH) is an enrichment program led by City Year corps members for middle school students. The program focuses on civic leadership and encourages students, or “Heroes,” to develop their skills, knowledge, and values as leaders of their schools and communities. Through the program, Heroes learn about social issues in their own community and learn how to work together to address them.
Physical Training (PT) is arguably the most public aspect of City Year’s service and leadership development. As a corps, we generally perform PT on Friday mornings before our community service events. To the outside observer, PT looks similar to a military squadron performing exercises in unison with multiple call and response elements. As part of After-School Heroes we decided to slightly modify City Year’s PT to make it more applicable to ASH and our students own leadership development and roles. However, the important elements are generally the same; the Heroes recite a pledge and then perform various exercises.
We quickly discovered that some of the Heroes deemed our exercises to be ‘boring’ and in response, we invited them to come up with new ideas for exercises. We also promised to incorporate their move into our official City Year Seattle PT routine, if the move was good enough.
The Heroes were not given any formal time to organize new routines, but between every single transition we saw students circling up and talking about more exciting moves and exercises. Since many of the Heroes did not know each other before our program started it was inspiring to watch them lead each other without our supervision.
Many of our Heroes are incredible dancers so it’s no wonder that the move that they came up with was admittedly much cooler than some of the moves that we had shown them. One move that they performed was a modernized version of a school pride dance called ‘the Aki Beat’. Throughout ASH we try to give the Heroes opportunities to be leaders, but this experience was truly unique because the leadership was self initiated. Additionally, corps members from Aki taught the entire Seattle/King County Corps the Aki Beat during PT the following Friday.
It is very evident that ASH provides students with the opportunities to thrive in leadership roles and gives them the confidence that some desperately need. In only the first month the Heroes’ sense of solidarity and support is remarkable and we look forward to whitnessing how the Heroes continue to express themselves as leaders throughout the year.
*Text by City Year Seattle corps members Hylke Snieder and Elle de la Cruz