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.