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Curious & Compassionate. Rescued by dogs. Lover of chocolate and sushi (not together).

Express Yourself

By Abe Fox, corps member serving on the CSX Greenwood team

This past month, the Starfish after-school program was themed around making healthy choices. Over the course of the month, students learned about different ways they could incorporate healthy choices into their daily lives, be that through physical activity, artistic expression, or learning how to use their imaginations.

On Tuesday, March 29, the students engaged in a self-expression activity.  The students first participated in a “four corners” activity where they moved to a corner of the gym that agreed with their favorite response to a given situation.  The corners were labeled dance, write, draw, or music.  The purpose of the four corners activity was to show how different students have varying emotional outlets. The lesson concluded with students illustrating self-portraits: artistic representations of what makes them unique.

Two days later, the students were able to experience first-hand the professional artwork at the Menino Art Center (MAC), which is located just down the street from the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy.  Led by seven corps members and two volunteers, the Starfish after-school students walked the 15 minutes down the road to the MAC.  Upon settling into the main gallery, MAC employees presented the current exhibits to corps members and students.  The room was full of paintings from Haitian artists commemorating the last year’s earthquake disaster.

From realistic to abstract, the students were fascinated as they learned about the various kinds of painting techniques used by the Haitian artists.  Each artist uniquely expressed their grief, showing their interpretation of the tragic event through their canvas.  Leaving the MAC, students were reflective of the earthquake but also inspired by their newfound ideas of how they too could express themselves.

Fourth grade Starfish students proudly hold their stylish, individualized silhouettes. Photo by Alexandra Cogan.

Two Weeks Helping Others at the Greenwood

Due to 3rd-5th grade MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing during the last two weeks of March, corps members at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy left their testing classrooms in order to support other parts of the school.

The MCAS requires 2-3 days of testing for each grade and takes place over the course of two weeks, alternating days between grade levels.  For the past two weeks, the CSX Team has worked mornings in 1st and 2nd grade classes to support younger students with their math and literacy skills by tutoring them one-on-one or in a small group setting.

This rotation is just one of many examples showing the corps members’ impact reaching further than their own classroom.  Corps member Abe Fox states,

“I enjoy meeting a new group of kids and being able to invest into another class, which I feel I will be visiting throughout the end of the year just to help out.”

Students in all grades benefit from the corps members’ devotion to enhancing the culture and environment at the school.

In addition to classroom support, the team spent time during the second half of their day beautifying the school to enhance the student experience.  Corps member painting projects included: shapes, musical notes, algebraic angles, and scenes to reflect the “7 Habits of Happy Kids” book.  The “7 Habits of Happy Kids” book is based off of Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  The school is the only in Massachusetts, and one of 437 schools in the world, practicing the book’s teachings.  This new theme is reinforced each day and in every classroom throughout the Greenwood.

Even when placed in a foreign environment, the CSX Team manages to assist students in the school who are not fortunate enough to have a full-time corps member.  The team’s dedication to helping turn around the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy is evidenced by their persistence to not let long MCAS days go by without a valiant effort to have a positive impact on students.

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The CSX Team Serves Up a Break

It has finally reached that time of the year when the sun still shines before the CSX Team leaves the building.  With this new found natural light, the City Year team at Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy found within them, what some would call, a spark of light.  This radiance shines in the form of spontaneous volleyball games minutes before screaming children come rushing through the doors for Starfish, the after school program implemented by the City Year corps members.

The CSX Team enjoys the minutes between the end of their service in the classroom and their service at the after school program, Starfish.

Corps members are often asked how they manage the long hours and stressful situations.  Some use caffeine; others use food; the CSX team—they use volleyball (and food).

Recently, corps members take their stress to the gymnasium before the after school program begins at 3:50pm each Monday through Thursday.  All the day’s frustrations are released at the swift slap of the “Life is good” volleyball.  The ball, which was received during City Year’s Advanced Training Academy a few weeks prior, holds true to its label—Life is good.  Retreating to the court to reenergize for at least two more hours of strong service gives the corps members a chance to let the difficulties of the day bounce away.

Fridays Away at City Year Boston

It’s Friday morning and City Year corps members are not in school.

Where do the red jackets go at the end of the week?

City Year corps members retreat to headquarters every Friday for trainings and service.

On Friday mornings, 140 corps members come together to begin their day by performing powerful PT (physical training) at Copley Square (weather permitting of course).  Following PT, the corps participates in a community building ‘Unity Rally’, which highlights the day’s activities and potential service opportunities, and energizes the school teams for a full day of service and training at the City Year Boston Headquarters for Idealism.

The saying, “City Year is not perfect, but it is perfectible” is one way to reason for the teams to spend the day at City Year Headquarters on Fridays.  Corps members (CMs) participate in a series of trainings, service opportunities and meetings with other CMs serving at different schools.  Bi-weekly “Idealist Journey” sessions allow CMs to reflect and pose questions that range from service at school to life at home.  Corps members also meet with their Working Groups (After School Coordinators, Attendance and Behavior Coordinators, Positive School Environment Coordinators, Communications Coordinators and Math and English Language Arts Coordinators), where they engage in the learning and sharing of best practices to enhance service at their respective schools.  Fridays are also a time for teams to designate a time to plan for their service at school.  Topics include enhancing an after-school program, initiating an attendance protocol, maintaining already working procedures, or proposing new strategies to create a better positive school environment.

Shaun Allen, a corps member serving at Blackstone Elementary, states, “I like the atmosphere of the office when everyone comes together on Fridays.  When we’re given effective trainings, I feel like there’s a lot I can apply to my service in order to make it better.”

Ideas constantly flow throughout City Year Boston’s office.  Fridays allow corps members to not only regain perspective of their service, but also enhance it by teaming with other corps members and staff in the office.   Ultimately, service is strengthened through trainings and collaboration, continually making City Year a more perfect organization.

CSX Delivers Hope to the Greenwood and City Year Boston

CSX is providing the school with more than school supplies… they are giving hope to the students at Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy

After three weeks of postponement due to Boston’s unrelenting snow, the CSX event at Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy finally takes place.  On Tuesday, February 1, CSX gives the school an unforgettable event that provides the students and teachers with a fresh start.

CSX, the Greenwood’s City Year team sponsor, is more than the leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation in North America; they fund 12 other teams across the nation, provide first-aid and CPR trainings to all City Year corps members, and coordinate very large service projects around the country with City Year’s Care Force team.

As the curtain is drawn, dozens of large boxes are revealed before the entire school, and silence falls upon the crowd.  Students and teachers are brought to the stage to reveal the surprises that CSX employees have worked months to prepare.  A group of five students reach into one of the 12 cardboard boxes full of cinch bags.  The students open the bags to discover markers, a composition notebook, flashcards, a first aid kit, pencils, and a CSX safety guide.

CSX provides every student at Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy with a cinch bag full of school supplies

Next, a third-grade teacher is brought up to open one of the 23 chests that line the stage.  Contrary to the students’ intense, contained curiosity, the students roar with screams as the chest is opened and each piece of supplies is revealed to the crowd.  In addition to each teacher receiving a chest, the principal gained two bulletin boards, an electric paper cutter, and hundreds of inspirational letters to the students from CSX employees working on the project.

For many of the 350 students, this is their first set of markers and pencils.  One teacher, who is near tears, states, “For the first time ever, [her student] has a backpack to carry his homework.”  A fifth grader reflects on the day to explain, “The supplies will help me be prepared to do school work because I didn’t have pencils or paper at home.”

CSX is providing the school with more than school supplies though; they are giving hope to the students at Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy.  By simply providing the students with pencils and markers, they are directly enabling the success of their education.

See corps members and CSX employees unloading an entire truck full of supplies!

(photos: Elliot Haney | 2011)

Challenge By Choice – 5th Graders Reach A New Level

At 4:05pm, 3rd-5th grade students in City Year’s Starfish after-school program sit down to begin their grade-level homework.  When the 5th grade Starfish walk into their room, they experience something beyond their grade level—something beyond elementary school.  Twelve students venture into Room 203 each day, six of whom are from the class that corps member Mr. Rooks works in four days a week.

Elijah Rooks, a corps member at the E. Greenwood Leadership Academy, solves an algebra problem with one 5th-grader during the Starfish After-School Program. Photo by Alexandra Cogan

Corps members provide students enrolled in the program with one hour of homework support and another of enrichment lesson plans.  These lessons include team-building activities, arts and crafts projects and social justice projects.

Upon completing their work in homework hour, students have a choice of playing educational Harvard Achievement Support Initiative games, reading silently, assisting other classmates with their homework, or, more recently, challenging themselves on a whole new level.

Recently, Mr. Rooks introduced algebra to two of his students.  For the past few weeks, he has given these 5th graders algebra equations to ponder and ultimately solve.  And solve they do! The students taking on these taxing problems plea to receive additional practice.  Mr. Rooks says algebra “pushes students that need to be pushed.” They yearn for a challenge, and Mr. Rooks fuels their drive by building their skills and enriching their minds.

E. Greenwood’s Celebration Assembly

On Wednesday, November 24, 2010, the CSX Team serving at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy put on the school’s first Celebration Assembly that had teachers applauding, students cheering, and the principal strutting down the runway.

The Assembly began with an enthusiastic performance by the 5th grade step team, infused with City Year repertoire as demonstrated by the team each week during morning physical training in the schoolyard.

Next, City Year corps members performed seven skits alongside teachers and staff to demonstrate the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” theme that is new to the school this year.  Students were presented with scenarios that taught them how to achieve better grades whether by going to bed earlier in the evening or working more efficiently in school.

Following the informative skits was the event all the students had been waiting for—the Uniform Fashion Show!  This is the first year the school has required students to wear uniforms.  In an effort to energize the student body to not only wear their uniforms to school, but to wear them properly, four students from each class were chosen to walk the runway in the cafeteria.  Students cheered on their peers as they modeled their outfits to songs by Willow Smith and Beyoncé.

Finally, the school learned the new upbeat school song with thanks to a 5th grader’s parent.  It was clear that the song was a hit from the undercurrent of humming and singing throughout the building by students and teachers the rest of the day.

Principal Wright was so overjoyed with the outcome of the school assembly that she requested the CSX Team to conduct one each month!

Painting a New Story at E. Greenwood’s Service Day

By Alexandra Cogan, CSX Team, serving at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy

On Saturday, November 6th 2010, the CSX City Year team serving at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy, along with some of their fellow corps members and students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, came together to beautify the school in a powerful day of service.

Corps Members work together to carefully paint a quote in the 4th/5th grade hall at E. Greenwood Leadership Academy

Teams assembled to conquer the interior of long-neglected rooms, door frames, staircases, and radiators in the building.  With more than 15 sentences (i.e. hundreds of letters) to delicately paint, ladders were climbed and renovation began.  Inspirational quotes were painted throughout each hallway, encouraging students to unleash their potential and succeed not only academically, but socially as well.  Because the school is within its first year of transformation, many quotes focused on its new leadership theme.

Five hours of service, forty-five paintbrushes, fifteen quotes, three staircases, three rooms, fifteen math equations, eight pictures, and countless radiators and door frames later, the time to put down brushes had approached.  Despite not being able to fully finish their work, the corps members and volunteers reluctantly put down their paintbrushes and reassembled in the cafeteria.  With thanks to the Boston Civic Engagement Team’s effort, the projects will be finished in the coming weeks with the assistance of E. Greenwood’s CSX City Year Team.

A few days after the Service Day, I roamed the halls in search of a quote to highlight in this article when a 5th grader asked me what I was doing.  He excitedly informed me of his favorite quote and read aloud:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I asked him what it meant and he confidently explained, “If someone were being mean, being mean back wouldn’t make it stop.  We have to be nice to people who are mean.”  He unknowingly not only provided me with a perfect quote to highlight the theme of this article, but also helped me see that City Year is making a difference.  Putting these quotes on the school walls was not just about beautifying the building, but it was about inspiring and connecting the students to a greater cause.  Each day students, teachers, and administrators at E. Greenwood slow their pace as they take a moment to ponder the quotes that not just color the walls, but also motivate the school to continue its powerful transformation.

Breaking Chains: Ending Bullying at the E. Greenwood Leadership Academy

Greenwood Leadership Academy and the CSX Team discuss what they learned during their Social Justice Day on bullying

Addressing bullying early on in the school year can have an incredible impact on a student’s education experience.  E. Greenwood Leadership Academy’s City Year team discussed the issue of bullying at their Social Justice Day during the Starfish after-school program on October 20th, 2010.  Corps members (CMs) began by introducing group norms to the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders prior to delving into serious conversation.  Students were then divided into two groups and placed on either side of a taped line in the middle of the cafeteria to partake in an exercise used in the movie “Freedom Writers.”  The Starfish Corps was asked to step forward onto the line if the statement involving bullying resonated with them as it was read aloud.  The level of sincerity and maturity displayed in the room surpassed the expectations of the CMs.  Not only were the students displaying their best behavior yet, but they were also being honest and open.

A number of students labeled as bullies by their peers calmly stepped forward to the question “Have you ever put someone down because of their learning ability?”  The peacefulness displayed throughout the room informed students that judgments were not being passed, but rather respect.  With more than a fourth of the Starfish Corps stepping forward when asked the question “Have you ever been put down because of your learning ability?” it was apparent that this Social Justice Day would yield interesting results.

The Starfish Corps settled into the next part of their Social Justice Day with CMs defining harassment, bullying, empathy, and advocate—important words associated with bullying. The students were then asked to “challenge [themselves] by choice” by speaking out about times when they either knew someone who was bullied, were victims of bullying, or bullied others.  One by one, students raised their hands to share their stories of being bullied in school.  Once the children had an opportunity to talk, CMs asked the Starfish Corps how they might have felt if they had been the victims of bullying.  This reflection time allowed the students to ponder issues faced by not just themselves, but also by their peers.  Bonds between classmates grew as they expressed their ideas to counter harassment and chains were broken as the Starfish Corps united against bullying.