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.

Comcast Cares Day 2012

For the past 11 years, Comcast employees across the country have participated in one of the nation’s biggest single-day volunteer efforts: Comcast Cares Day. On Saturday, April 21, 2012, this inspiring day of service took place in many cities across our nation including Seattle.

Comcast employees and City Year corps members have worked together to improve their communities for over ten years.

Comcast employees from Seattle and the surrounding areas returned to El Centro de la Raza on Beacon Hill for a second year in a row. El Centro is a community hub for advocacy on behalf of the Latino Community in Seattle. Through their comprehensive programs and services, El Centro works to build unity across all racial and economic sectors, to organize, empower, and defend the most vulnerable and marginalized populations and to bring justice, dignity, equality, and freedom to all the peoples of the world.

In total, 190 Comcast employees participated in a variety of important service projects at El Centro de la Raza including painting, groundswork and pavement repairs. The combined effort of the time contributed by volunteers resulted in $25,000 worth of financial capital of the day’s service.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

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Reluctant Starfish

Lauren Joyner, the author of this post, is 23 years old and came to City Year Seattle from Elon, North Carolina. She went to the University of North Carolina. She serves as a tutor and mentor for Wing Luke’s third grade class. A fun fact about Lauren: she can recite every chapter of the Harry Potter series.

James*, a fifth grader at Wing Luke Elementary, began his year as an unwilling participant in the Discovery Club after-school program. Organized and run by the City Year team at Wing Luke, the Discovery Club allows students from kindergarten through fifth grade to meet biweekly for recess, homework tutoring, and structured activities inspired by cultures and communities around the world.

One of only two fifth graders in the program, James claimed that each activity was “for babies” and “so boring.” After three days of refusing to participate in the planned activities, and subsequently sitting aside in the “Think It Over” zone, I knew that something needed to change for James. I serve in a third grade classroom, so my interactions with James are limited to our meetings at Discovery Club and in passing around the school. I made it a goal to acknowledge James whenever possible, so that I could get to know him.

Discovery Club runs year-long, and with four family members in the club, I knew he was in it for the long haul. I went to talk to James.

Starfish after-school students work on an activity together.

I told him, “James, we’re decorating pumpkins today. We’ve got a lot of fun paint colors and art supplies. I bet you’re good at art, and who doesn’t like painting a vegetable?”

“No! That’s kids stuff!” he exclaimed. Hmm, time to try again, I thought.

“Ok, well guess what? Next Tuesday, we’ll be playing a soccer game while learning about Guatemala. I’d like to see you beat Mr. Eric. I’m sure you could take him! Do you play soccer?”

“Ugh, NO!” was his cutting reply as he shifted, turning his back to me.

I didn’t learn much from James about his interests during that conversation, but I let him in on a secret.

“So, James. The other City Years and I were talking, and we think that we could use someone like you, with all of the experiences and knowledge you’ve gained from your years at Wing Luke.”

He remained in his defensive stance, facing the wall with his arms crossed, but he began to glance back over his shoulder.

“There are a lot of younger students in Discovery who could benefit from a role model. Is helping us by being a leader in the club something you would like to do?”

James immediately responded, “Yeah,” followed quickly by, “wait, I mean, no!” He tried to take it back, but the damage was done. I knew something was resonating with him.

During the following sessions, James refused to do certain activities, but he began participating in others, particularly homework time and recess. He was less disruptive, no longer shouting out how bored he was.

Any time I see James on the playground, I exclaim, “James! You look SO excited for Discovery Club today! I know this is your favorite day of the week!”

He’d retort, “Nuh uh! I don’t like Discovery Club!”

Corps member Lauren Joyner of the Samsung City Year Team at Wing Luke Elementary works with one of her students.

This exchange has become routine with us. He plays his part as the agitated, unwilling Explorer, but now there’s a hint of a smile on his face when he’s denying his love for the program.

I know he’s still not completely invested in Discovery Club; however, he painted pictures while lying on his back during our Michelangelo lesson. He played basketball during an activity about Turkey.  He helps to pass out supplies and works with his teammates, rather than moving to the “Think It Over” zone.

James doesn’t have to love Discovery Club, and I’d say it’s realistic to think that he isn’t going to. My goal for James (and for each of the students I serve) is for him to know that someone understands how he is feeling, and to help him believe that his time in the program can be a worthwhile experience filled with positive moments. Based off the small successes so far, I’m optimistic about how his year will play out.

Starfish take Social Action

Jessie Curry is 22 years old and from Iowa. She works as a mentor and tutor for Wing Luke Elementary's 5th grade class. One of her favorite student moments was when a second grade girl decided to give the City Year Team nicknames. Jessie was named "cute eyebrow."

The Starfish Corps after-school program promotes academic success, educational learning, service, and positive leadership for 3rd-5th grade students. The program is run by City Year corps members. During the day corps members work as in-class, full-time mentors and tutors. In the afternoon, corps members run the Starfish Corps after-school program.

The Starfish Corps at Wing Luke Elementary has been hard at work learning about “needs and wants”.  For the past six weeks, the students have learned about many facets of the phrase “needs and wants” through a variety of activities including art projects, relay races, and games.

The Samsung City Year Team at Wing Luke Elementary provides intensive in-class tutoring as well as the Starfish afterschool program.

The Starfish gained an understanding of how wanting a new gaming system and needing food to eat are different experiences just as wanting friendship and needing to feel cared about are different experiences. Through a role playing game, the Starfish discovered how a family’s size, salary, and unexpected life events can change what a need or want is for that family. The Starfish also explored which elements are needed in a community to create a positive environment for people to live. In addition to learning about wants and needs, the Starfish had the opportunity to take action and fulfill the emotional needs of patients at the Seattle Children’s Hospital by creating cards and letters for them.

The Starfish Corps discussed how there are issues, such as stealing or bullying, that can affect our needs and wants. To address these issues, the Starfish created public service announcement videos that spoke out against acts that impact the ability for students to feel safe and happy at Wing Luke. The goals for this project were for the students to be creative, work together, and send out a message about why the issue is wrong, how it impacts them, and to encourage others to make choices that would positively affect the Wing Luke community.

Students in the Starfish corps participate in after-school programming.

The Starfish definitely stepped up and produced great videos surrounding the ideas of bullying and stealing. Each team put a different spin on their Public Service Announcement and expressed powerful opinions including:

“Stop bullying now.  Pass it on.”

“Don’t steal; it hurts people’s hearts.”

“Stop bullying.  It needs to stop.”

“Stealing makes me feel unsafe, sad, and angry.”

Not only did every student participate in this project, but the teams had the chance to speak out against real issues that have recently occurred in their school. The City Year team at Wing Luke hopes to incorporate the videos into Monday morning assemblies so that the Starfish Corps can address a need in their school for social change and awareness.

By being a part of this program, the Starfish students have the chance to share a powerful message with their peers, elicit change through creative videos, and fulfill a social need for their school.

*Text written by Jessie Curry.