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.

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City Year Hosts a Successful Investing in Education Breakfast

City Year hosted its second annual Investing in Education breakfast at Aki Kurose Middle School on Tuesday, February 5th.  Business leaders, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) educators, and community members joined City Year to explore the benefits of investing in public education. 

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Speakers included Mia Williams, Principal of Aki Kurose; Jason Young, Vice President of Handset Marketing of T-Mobile and City Year Board Member; Michael Robinson, City Year Corps Member; Jane Nishita, Market Development Manager of CenturyLink; Gemma Edwards-Aronchick, Program Manager of Microsoft Citizenship and Public Affairs; and Simon Amiel, Executive Director of City Year Seattle/King County.  

Principal Williams welcomed guests to “Peace Crane country,” describing that Aki students come from many diverse backgrounds, with over 20 languages spoken in the school.  She further stated that of the 750 students that attend Aki, 87 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.  Ms. Williams asserted that City Year corps members are “a vital resource to our school.”  She celebrated the energy that City Year brings to Aki, joking that she still hears corps members cheering at 5 pm, long after many teachers and staff have left the school.

City Year corps member Mike Robinson shared his personal experiences working with students at Aki, emphasizing that, as much as City Year affects the lives of students, “[students] also impact us.” 

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Jane Nishita, keynote speaker, began her remarks by recalling the inspiring life of Aki Kurose, the Japanese American teacher and internment camp survivor for whom the middle school is named.  She then highlighted a number of successful ways CenturyLink invests in education throughout the Puget Sound region, including implementing employee volunteer programs and partnering with organizations like City Year. 

Building off of Ms. Nishita’s remarks, Gemma Edwards-Aronchick expanded upon the value of partnering with community groups, underscoring the “collaborative spirit” of City Year. 

Jason Young said that City Year’s “get-it done culture” resonated with T-Mobile, who saw investing in City Year as “both a responsibility and an opportunity…to be involved” in improving the lives of students.  Mr. Young emphasized the importance of investing in the future workforce, and he urged civic leaders “to think about how [they] can magnify the impact that City Year is making…here in the Puget Sound, but also beyond.” 

Further delving into the economic benefits of investing in education, City Year Seattle/King County Executive Director Simon Amiel revealed that the more than 12 million students across the nation projected to drop out over the next decade will cost about $3 trillion.  Mr. Amiel explained that in Seattle, City Year’s goal is to saturate the feeder patterns consisting of elementary and middle schools that feed into the four comprehensive high schools that together, contribute 50% of the dropout students in order to “secure our city’s graduation pipeline.” 

We thank our guests for attending the Investing in Education breakfast, and we look forward to future partnerships that will help more students reach their full potential, thereby building a stronger community in Seattle for all of us. 

Written by Anna Akers-Pecht, City Year Corps Member serving at Aki Kurose Middle School.

Why I Serve

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School. In her blog below, she explains how her experience growing up in rural Southern Virginia inspired her to make an impact in public education, work to break down racial barriers and commit a year to service.

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School.

City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School.

I serve because, while Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, it never fully integrated them. Growing up in rural Southern Virginia, I experienced firsthand the lasting, harmful effects of segregation. After the Brown v. Board ruling, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., called for a campaign of “Massive Resistance” in Virginia, during which white Virginians resisted desegregation at all costs. Rather than integrate, a neighboring county, Prince Edward, shut down its entire public school system for five years. In my own county, Brunswick, many white parents created a private academy that still exists today.

I attended the public school system, where the student population was roughly 80 percent African-American. The majority of students qualified for free and reduced lunch, and our school system constantly struggled to meet federal benchmarks on standardized tests. I was always frustrated that my school never received the full community support it deserved, as many local businesses support the academy and not the public schools. Perhaps most frustrating to me were the teachers who worked in the public school system, yet sent their own children to the academy. One day after school in the tenth grade, I was talking to my English teacher’s daughter, who attended the academy. As we spoke in the hallways, she told me, “Mama doesn’t like me hanging around here after school,” expressing concern about drugs and violence. I felt hurt and infuriated that my own teacher would characterize our school in such a negative way.

Growing up, I only thought about how the academy’s existence negatively affected the public school system. Now, however, I realize the academy is only a symptom of the lingering, underlying racism that has seeped down like a poison through the generations. Beyond the schools, this poison has prevented our entire community from growing and reaching its full potential.

Making the distinction between desegregation and true integration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Desegregation will break down legal barriers, and bring men together physically. But something must happen so as to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.”  I serve to break down these destructive barriers between groups of people, so that our country will one day fulfill Dr. King’s dream of “a truly brotherly society…a beloved community.”

After-School Heroes Gets Underway

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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 … Continue reading