City Year Seattle hosts its first Investing in Education Breakfast


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City Year Seattle/King County’s first Investing in Education Breakfast was held Thursday, November 3rd. The event provided an opportunity for citizens who believe in the importance of education to network with peers and hear how the City of Seattle, Seattle Public … Continue reading

From Distractions to Mastering Fractions

City Year corps member tutoring a student

This is the second in our series of Starfish Stories.  Read more about our starfishes to find out more about how  City Year Seattle is making a difference in the lives of children all around the city.

Sara* was always out of her seat – something was always fascinating her on the other side of the classroom, someone always provoking her to give them a piece of her mind, some unused pencil always somehow needing to be sharpened. It was always some excuse, and her work always remained unfinished. I would work with her at her seat, but she was a master of the art of distraction. On a good day, I could get her to put her name on the page and complete the first problem before she demanded to use the restroom – her favorite escape plan.

At first glance, it might seem as though she is just an overactive nine year old being a trouble maker. Beneath the surface, however, is a little girl who is always out of her seat because she is too scared of what might happen if she were to sit down.  She knows that she is having trouble understanding the material, and that is something she cannot bring herself to face.

On that day, I took a different approach. I brought her to a separate area of the room, out of view of curious classmates. She was avoiding word problems about division, so I retrieved some unit counters and placed them in front of her.

Mary has twenty cupcakes. There are ten students in Mary’s class. How many cupcakes does each student get? Pretend that these counters are delicious cupcakes. You’re Mary. What do you do?

Step by step, we worked through the first problem with a tangible strategy she could see, feel, and finally grasp. In the three months I had been in her classroom, I had never seen her work as hard as she did that afternoon. I saw her engage each problem with new found confidence: She had finally got it.

Suddenly, there was a commotion from the other side of the room. I feared this would distract Sara; however, to my surprise and delight, Sara picked up her head and said, “You can go deal with that, Miss Malia. I’ll be fine.” I really think you will be, Sara, I thought to myself, and I left her to finish her work.

Since that day, I’ve watched her using those counters, also known as manipulatives, to help her understand her math.  The fact that Sara’s realizing more and more that she learns in a tactile manner and that she can do her math if she uses the right method reminds me why I’m serving with City Year and why I’m doing this work.

I’m not just teaching these kids facts and numbers and algorithms.  I’m also teaching them how to learn and work through problems on their own, and in the process building up their confidence towards gaining skills and increasing intelligence.

*Names have been changed to protect the children with whom we work

Text by Malia Makowski, City Year Seattle/King County corps member serving at Dearborn Park Elementary

Photo by Romel Antoine

Making A Difference at Roxhill Elementary

City Years in the classroom - oh yes!

Corps members tutor students in the classroom

The Starfish Story is one of City Year‘s founding stories. It talks about how making a difference to one student, while it may seem minimal, can compound into making a huge impact. This is one of City Year Seattle‘s Starfish experience.

Calvin is a third-grade Latino student in my class. He is also an eight-year-old boy who has missed the better part of his second grade year and apparently his first grade year due to obesity-related health issues. As a result, Calvin is tremendously behind academically. Although he is in third grade, he began the year barely able to write his own name without having someone trace the letters first.

Regardless of his circumstances, Calvin is a boy with a heart of gold who has always been tremendously optimistic about school. In my nearly three years of working with elementary students, I have never met a child (or possibly anyone) who is as genuinely caring and sincere as he is. In fact, Calvin’s happy attitude is what made me so eager to work with him.

I collaborated with his teacher and his special education teacher to find activities for Calvin to do while the rest of the class is occupied with their group lessons. We organized a curriculum where Calvin will play math and reading games on a customized website during the time he had previously been drawing or otherwise unproductive.

Now, when the teacher begins her lesson, I take that opportunity to get Calvin set up on a computer to play his assigned math/reading games. In addition, the reading coach at Roxhill Elementary has been coming in to provide reading/writing intervention periodically throughout the day.

In the Starfish Corps after-school program that City Year provides, I keep a special eye out to make sure Calvin is doing something productive. This after-school program is designed to explore the basic building blocks of community and leadership. The program emphasizes the students’ voice, encouraging them to explore the social factors that influence their community and to express their ideas and feelings about them. Throughout the year students learn and serve together in small teams, exploring the qualities that make us unique while forging positive, cooperative relationships. Through this program, I’ve had the opportunity to see Calvin in a unique light: running around and playing with the others and engaging with his fellow students in the club. This may not seem particularly impressive to most people except for the fact that–due to his conflict with obesity– Calvin is usually very reserved and shy, especially when it comes to physical activity.

In the two months that I’ve been at Roxhill, I’ve watched Calvin grow from being a third-grade student who could not write his name without help to being able to write nearly half a page by himself. I’ve seen him go from dreading being embarrassed in front of his class to being excited about doing his lessons. And, most importantly, I see him having fun at his school. While I can’t come close to taking all the credit, I do like to think that maybe I have a small part in the catalyst that could potentially change the rest of Calvin’s life.

*Names have been changed to protect the children with whom we work

Text by William Smith, City Year Seattle/King County corps member serving at Roxhill Elementary

Photo by Jennifer Cogswell