Attendance and Behavior Rally at Aki Kurose Middle School

Dan Do before the Pie

Corps member Dan Do prepares to be pie'd by a student!

Recently, the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School hosted their first ever Attendance and Behavior Rally. The entire student body entered the school gymnasium during the last period of the day as music blasted over the PA system. Some students walked in not knowing what to expect while others danced their way to their seats.

Once the school filled the gym, corps member Sean Morrin took the microphone and greeted the crowd with, “Welcome Aki students! Can you make some NOISE?” The gym absolutely erupted with cheers. The rally continued with the warm up “Shout If,” as students were encouraged to shout if they would answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:

Shout if you want to be rich when you grow up!

Shout if you want to go to college!

The kids were practically bouncing out of the bleachers by the time Sean asked the last question:

“Shout if you would tear up a million dollar winning lottery ticket!”

Around twenty students were tricked and they shouted, but their friends were quick to correct them. The shift in the crowd was tangible and when Sean repeated the question, half of the school was shouting “No! I would not do that!” Sean paused and explained,

“Each and every one of you is sitting on a winning lottery ticket. All you have to do is show up for school every day and do what we all know we have to do to be successful to cash it in. Every day that you do not show up to school, it’s like you are slowly tearing that winning ticket into smaller and smaller pieces. So who wants to cash in their winning lottery tickets?”

It was clear that his message had made an impact. But that was only the introduction.

For the next part of the rally, ten volunteers from each grade level were chosen to participate in a relay race against the other grades. Enthusiastic volunteers lined up for a race across the gym, one student at a time – but with a catch. Each grade level had a different challenge to complete on the far side of the gym before returning to the other:

  • Eighth graders were challenged to ten consecutive jump-rope turns
  • Seventh graders were challenged to do head spins on a baseball bat
  • Sixth graders were challenged to only five jumping jacks

The sixth graders shone as winners, with all ten sixth graders finishing while the seventh and eighth grade were still on their fifth and sixth runners.

After the race was over, Sean asked, “Now, who thought that race was fair?” To no one’s surprise, the seventh and eighth grade did not, but the race was rigged for a specific reason. Sean explained, “Missing school is an unnecessary barrier to learning, and every day you miss makes it tougher on yourself.” In that moment, everything became evident – and the gym suddenly became silent.

In a moment school faculty and staff recalled for weeks afterward, the entire middle school student body quietly reflected on what attendance means to their academic success. To end the event on a positive note, students were drawn at random from a box where students drop their Behavior Bucks—an affirmative behavior management system corps members have developed this year—for the chance to throw a whipped cream-covered paper plate in the face of their favorite City Year corps member. The pies were a splash, and midway through the activity the entire crowd was chanting the names of corps members they hoped to see pie’d next.

Megan after Pie

Corps member Megan Hugel after being pie'd!

The rally was a blast for all who were involved and a clear example of the Aki Kurose City Year team’s dedication, creativity, and overall impressiveness in their service. Extra credit for the event goes to Ed Brown and Chris Wodicka for designing the rally and to Sean Morrin for masterfully facilitating it. The rest of the Aki Kurose team, as always, gave their full support and their willingness to help… and of course get pie’d!

Text by Nick Hernandez, City Year Seattle/King County Team Leader of the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School

To the City Year Staff: I Hope You Are Here Forever

A letter from a middle school student to his City Year corps members.

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

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