Denny Student Blog: Alan


At Denny International Middle School (DIMS), we pride ourselves on the promotion and advancement of a “culture of literacy.” Around every corner and classroom, you will find contest flyers, inspirational quotes, event announcements, and bits of learning all concerning literacy. The teachers and administration all think of literacy as less of a standard to be taught, but more of a cause to be furthered. We want our students to love reading, even find it to be infectious, and write well.

Last year, a City Year corps member named Sam Boutelle was one of many individuals who worked tirelessly alongside teachers and staff to help spread this literary fervor. Sam, however, soon discovered there was a problem. He noticed that for the most part, students had responded well to the impassioned exaltation of literacy, particularly in writing: producing poems, essays, stories, and book reviews. All of which were deserving of a little extra praise and recognition than a Level 3 or Level 4 grading could bring. But none came. Instead, they would be passed back to the student and soon thereafter become forever lost in the paper-stuffed abyss that is a middle schooler’s backpack. I never had the pleasure of meeting or working with Sam myself, but I imagine his response was, “That’s simply not good enough.”

Sam took to the internet to find a solution, and the “DIMS Authors and Scholars Blog” was born. Run by the City Year ELA coordinators and supported by teachers and staff, the blog is an online platform for highlighting the vibrant community of talented creative writers and artists at Denny. It is referred to as a single blog, but in actuality it is three separate webpages, each dedicated to a grade level. All three are filled with everything from expository essays to pencil sketchings, and a wide variety of poems in all shapes, sizes, and styles. All together, the blog boasts a combined 81 postings and has garnered over 2,000 views in just two years. You can check out the blog posts here:

6th Grade Blog
7th Grade Blog
8th Grade Blog

Admittedly, this might all seem like little more than a shameless plug in an attempt to amass a larger viewing audience, but what I think we can all learn from Sam and the DIMS Blog is no solution to a problem is ever outside the reach of innovation. If it bothers you, address it. If it doesn’t exist, create it. And if it is met with indifference, assess the situation with a clear mind, a level head, and the courage to either stay the course or move on. As for me, I will continue to make sure that students have the opportunity to share their creativity, their struggles, their triumphs, their questions, and the workings of their inner selves with the world. Why? Because writings like this one, submitted to the blog by an 8th grader, should never go unseen:

As a young girl,
I was surrounded by hate,
Parents fighting until divorce,
It left me alone,
My family broken,
Now a teenager,
Everyone’s caring and happy,
I have a step-father,
I’m no longer alone,
My family is a fixed mirror,
Though you can still see the cracks,
It’s because I’m a Denny Dolphin
and I finally belong.

Go Dolphins.

Seahawks Pride: Jessica

Although the Super Bowl has come and gone, Seattle fans still have a lot of team spirit. Highland Park Elementary showed their support before the game, but the students still have great memories of this historic game.

City Year Timberland boot featuring Seattle skyline at the pep rally.

City Year Timberland boot featuring Seattle skyline at the pep rally.

In the midst of all of Seattle’s Hawk craziness, Highland Park Elementary gathered their students together for an end of the week pep rally. This event consisted of adorable performances by especially spirited students. Our personal Highland Park cheer squad got everyone “FIRED UP” with chants and even an impeccably executed lift. Another student unicycled around the whole gym waving the twelfth man flag – tall and proud.

Students cheer on as the 12th Man Flag goes by.

Students cheer on as the 12th Man Flag goes by.

Staff got in on the fun with “SEA what?! Seahawks” cheer. While we were technically cheering for the Hawks to win, we were really cheering for our kids to win. This pep rally was just another moment to bring our students together, to create a school environment with support and unity.
Corps members Tobias and Nahid stand in front of the Seahawks banner.

Corps members Tobias and Nahid stand in front of the Seahawks banner.

In hindsight it is obvious that the Highland Park pep rally directly influenced the Seahawks winning the 48th Super Bowl (not missing a snap on the first play). But even with the season over Highland Park and its staff will be cheering for their students through the rest of the year.


Day in the Life: Paul

I wake up before the sun rises. I roll out of my sheets and into the dark world. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but the thought of not being there for my students is far worse than the thought of getting out of bed early. With their futures at stake, I have learned to accept some compromises.

I gather up my uniform. Some days, I find it difficult to convince myself that I’m half as durable as these boots, half as classy as this tucked-in white dress shirt. Still, I take one end of my shoelace in each half-asleep hand and weave them together until they’re inseparable, like exhaustion and dedication.

Backpack? Check. Teeth brushed? Check. I am no longer Paul. I am now Mister Paul. I step out into the quiet of early Seattle and look out over the foggy, distant lights of the city. Soon, I am walking through the rusted front door of my home away from home, Aki Kurose Middle School.

The early bird students are there every morning before I arrive, like clockwork. They keep themselves entertained with card games, Rubik’s Cubes, jokes, and harmless pranks. One student tells me he gets up at four every morning. When I ask why, he simply says “I dunno.” I don’t know either.

I pop into the classroom to say good morning to my rad partner teacher, a recent 8th grade Language Arts transplant from Connecticut with a wicked sense of humor and laid-back style. He jokes with me about the trials and tribulations of being married with children. I tell him I don’t know how he does it – that the hundred different kids I serve each day will last me a lifetime.

I set up in the City Year room at Aki, making myself a quick breakfast while mulling over notes from previous days and weeks. What happened to that student? He was on an upward spiral for the longest time. Now it seems he’s coming off the rails again. Gotta get him back on track.

Now it’s time for my fellow corps members and I to have our first circle, where we gather ‘round and share joys from our lives with each other. It sounds silly, I know, but you’ve gotta understand: City Year is a culture all its own. When still growing accustomed to it all, it seemed absurd to me, even cultish at points, but in time I’ve come to see that there’s a depth of thought and intention behind it all, and I’ve joined in the fun.

Circle’s over. Now that I’m used to the snuggly warmth of the indoors, it’s time to step back out into the cold dawn. Students are arriving, and we corps members get to welcome them, setting the tone for their day in a big way. Now’s our chance to dance poorly and draw a few smiles and high-fives. I don’t take this part lightly–if I look closely, I can see a few children’s’ eyes light up just because I’m there. The same could be said for any member of our team.

With a few smiles, the cold doesn’t seem so cold anymore. I follow the last straggling students in the door as the first bell rings.

First period. I say good morning to any students who might have been too cool to say hello to me in front of their friends. I get a sense of who’s coming into class ready to focus and engage, who’s falling asleep at their desk, who thinks they’re a sneaky Instagram ninja, and who’s too shy or ashamed to admit they need help.

The classes themselves are a blur. There are ten thousand variables in any classroom on any given day. That student who’s been my secret gem will, on some days, make me want to breathe fire. Other times, that student I never really clicked with will hit me with an act of grace so stunning I’ll be left speechless. If one thing doesn’t change, it’s my purpose here: to be the best possible version of myself at any given moment, because these kids deserve no less.

Some days, my best isn’t very good. My mind padlocks itself, and I find it impossible to chain together the words I need to explain a basic concept. Some days, I have rough stuff going on in my personal life, and the stress of a situation overwhelms me. I snap at a student and am humbled as I see their eyes lower, disappointed in themselves. I make a mental note right then, even in the midst of my frustration-hazed brain, to apologize to them later and remind them that they’re going to change the world for the better one day.

Other days, I float on clouds. I share a new approach to tackling a problem, and I can witness the enlightenment in a student’s eyes. I show a kid that I care about them and believe in them, and watch them fill with a new spirit. Yet another student goes out of their way to build bridges where just a few months ago they were burning them.

By the end of any given day, I’m spent. I want nothing more than to go home, grab a meal, shower, and rest. But more often than not, as I’m replaying the day in my mind, it isn’t the moments of conflict or the notoriously lewd (and often hilarious) comments of 8th graders that linger with me. It’s the moments of breakthrough, of endurance, of compassion.

Despite the volunteer wage, I have had no more rewarding job than this one. The reward is getting to watch my students improve and grow as human beings, as I improve and grow in this crucible along with them. For this one fleeting year, their fates and my fate are woven together tightly, like the laces on my exhausted, determined boots.