Wordless Wednesday: In An English State of Mind

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

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Whether it be observing our students working diligently on their algebra during a Leadership Development Day, acting as proud parents to see our students off to their first bowling experience with Boston Celtics players, or getting a student to help monitor their peers signing in to our Extended Day space, the Bain and Company Team serving at the English High School depends on their students. Through all of the frustrations and tribulations, we are so fortunate to have some dedicated students with mountains of potential and this photo montage is in honor of all of the students we serve at the English High School.

The “English” Translation: Your Guide to Student Vernacular

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

Throughout my lifetime, I have learned that miscommunication is often the root of discrepancies and conflict. I have found that at City Year, and more specifically, English High School, having a firm understanding of student language is essential in being successful in our mission. This lead me to the development of the “The English Translation,” a pseudo-personal dictionary that I created in order to assist myself with the vernacular that my students used daily. Over the past 8 months I have encountered 5 words and phrases that have stood out to me the most:

5)    Ya Forcin’ It (v.) Your actions are quite exuberant for what you are actually trying to achieve

4)    Good Looks (interj.) I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do a favor for me with or without me asking.

3)    I’m hip (adj.) I am quite knowledgeable about the current subject of conversation

2)    Aggy (adj.) of or pertaining to intolerable/undesirable actions or speech

1)    Schemin’(v.) To be involved in clandestine activities which are only carried out to improve one’s own self-interest

[Interview: Kevin, City Year and his student Darwell]

Now, these 5 words and phrases represent an entire vernacular that is used commonly throughout our schools. I know that I often use them without even thinking about it and have tried to incorporate them into grammar lessons with students. Simply asking students to think about what part of speech these words represent is an easy way to combine critical thinking and every day vocabulary. Not only can it work into grammar lessons but it is helpful to teach the idea of “time and place.” Getting students to consider alternative words that are more appropriate for school and other professional setting is always a helpful lesson.

Interview: Sometimes, If You Want to Know, Just Ask Your Students

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

I was curious to know what sort of impact I was having with one of my students, Darwell*. I figured that the best way to find out why he was making more progress than some of my other students was to interview him. I chose Darwell because this is the first year that he has had City Year in his classroom and he has showed significant progress. Right before I approached Darwell with my questions, I decided that it would be more authentic if I let him come up with the questions himself. This would prevent any bias that I would have subconsciously installed into my own questions. I was very impressed with the wisdom that he showed in the development of his questions and answers. I also thought an interview would be more interesting for him if he was the one making the answers and questions, since he loves to talk.

Darwell asks himself, “What did I first think of City Year?”
He states that, “At the beginning, I just thought City Year was ‘regular,’ like extra help in the classroom. I enjoyed having them for extra help, but didn’t really ask for it.”

I then ask Darwell what he means by ‘regular’ and his explanation turns into an interesting analogy. He tells me that his relationship with City Year is similar to when you like a girl and then she decides she likes you too, and then she becomes part of your everyday life.

My response: “So City Year is like your girlfriend?”
Darwell, after rolling his eyes, “Not exactly Mr. Fish”

“What are my thoughts of City Year now?”
“I think that City Year is okay, but sometimes aggravating. I know all of the CY people now, so I’m comfortable going up to anyone.”

“Do I think that CY has helped me?”
His response: “Definitely, they have helped me with my work and gave me wake-up calls and get me to class. I have a C+ in English now and was failing term 1 and 2.”

“What would I do without City Year?”
“I would fail. I would also be bored because I’d have no one to bother.”

I am so proud of the progress that Darwell has made in his school work and equally as proud of the progress that he has made establishing relationships with myself and other CY teammates. I caught him scribbling on his desk and instinctively told him to stop, until I realized he was writing “City Year.” I looked puzzled and he answered my confused look with confidence and stated, “City Year is going to save me.”

*names changed for privacy.

Students Inspire Me to Write: An Original Poem

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

Some of my most interesting conversations with my students at the English High School happen in the most casual of settings. Many of these discussion inspire my writing. I thought it would be appropriate to share an original poem I have written from my students’ perspective. It largely centers around the outcomes I hope to achieve with my students this year.

Waiting

High School,
The beginning of Our freedom,
Freedom to choose,
Freedom to be who we want to be,
Yet we find ourselves,
Waiting.

Waiting to be granted the choice-
No, the opportunity to choose.
We are waiting for the moment,
When we are treated
Like the adults we are waiting
To become Continue reading

A Ripple of a Joy: “Patience is Bitter, But Its Fruit is Sweet”

Quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Written by Kevin Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

Two of my favorite aspects of City Year culture are “Ripples” and “Joys.” A “Ripple,” like a ripple in water, is when an aspect of City Year is passed on to someone who is not affiliated with the organization. A “Joy” is a story or experience that brightened one’s day.

One of the most difficult aspects of my service year so far is not knowing whether or not my students appreciate my presence. I signed up for City Year being well aware that instant gratification would be something that I may have to sacrifice, but I have learned that receiving even a minor appreciation is sometimes the difference between a negative and positive day for me.

[More: Read Kevin’s List of ‘Tips for the Ultimate Mentor’]

The Hallways at English High School

I serve in a cohort of all male 9th grade boys, making it even more difficult to receive the feedback I yearn. The classes at English High School are separated by gender and the boys aren’t exactly willing to express their gratitude or feelings on Continue reading

Five Tips Friday: The Ultimate Advice in Mentoring Students

I’ve completed one term of my AmeriCorps service year with the Bain and Co. Team at English High School and it seems as though I am finally making some progress with the students that I mentor.  I realize that we are all having unique experiences with our own students, but I would like to share some mentoring tips that I have found quite useful up to this point.

1) Leave any preconceived notions at the door.  Months of training cannot possibly prepare anyone for each scenario that they may face. The best we can do is be open-minded and eliminate our misconceptions on where our students are coming from.  I have found that my most meaningful conversations with students have been the result of candid conversations where I engaged in active listening.

2) Remain positive.  There will inevitably be days when it seems as though negative events outweigh the positive ones.  Remember that there may be other people on your team, as well as your students, that could be depending on that positive energy you provide.  If you need to take a break and sit down for a minute, go for it.  Just do what you need to do to remain fresh and positive.

3) Appreciate small strides.  If one of your students comes to you excited about passing a test, take into consideration that that student felt it necessary to show YOU that they did well.  You may very well want to further improve that grade and thought that they could have done better, but appreciate the fact that they are excited about the grade and wanted to share it with you.

4) Don’t be afraid to diverge.  We sometimes find ourselves feeling guilty partaking in conversations with our students that take them away from coursework, but sometimes, it is necessary. That 3-minute conversation about their weekend may open a whole new realm of possibilities for you to engage with your mentee in the future.

5) Show your students that you are HUMAN.  My most influential breakthroughs have occurred when I show my own humility and admit mistakes.  I have found that when my students recognize my own imperfections they can relate to me better.  This final thought demonstrates one of City Year’s founding stories- UBUNTU- I am because you are.  I consider myself a teammate in my students’ success.

These are only five of my tips for mentoring, and although I have found them to be quite successful for me and my students so far, that does not mean they are universal. By no means do I consider this an exhaustive list and I look forward to further contributing to it as I continue my journey.

Why I Serve: My Top 5 Moments of Service

By Kevin Fish, corps member serving on the Bain & Company Team at the English High School

One of the most amazing aspects of City Year is that everyone involved will give you a different reason for why they serve. It has taken a few months into my year of service to really highlight why I serve, but it seems so simple when I actually take the time to think about it: I serve because I want to leave this world better than how I found it.

As I pondered the reasons why I’m here, I thought it would be helpful to research why my colleagues serve, and I came across City Year Boston Admission Coordinator Ben Marshall’s thoughts on working at City Year: “I told myself at a young age that I would spend my professional life working for companies that are trying to create a better society… I feel that I have stayed true to that goal.” It is great to see people from a myriad of backgrounds coming together to accomplish similar goals.

Now that you have a better sense of why Ben and I chose to work and serve at City Year Boston, I thought I would share my TOP 5 moments of service that I’ve able to capture on camera so far! These moments are important because they’re what keeps me serving.

Beating my students in a staff vs. student flag football game 1) Beating my students in a staff vs. student flag football game

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2) Greeting English High School students every day with a powerful morning greeting

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3) Watching my teammates be cheerleaders for a day

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4) Collecting leaves to make Teacher Appreciation Dinner centerpieces

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5) Wearing my PJs to school during spirit week

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Although these are my TOP 5 moments of the past 2.5 months of service, they only represent a small portion of the reasons why I continue to serve. Nothing can beat watching my students grasp a Physics concept that I helped explain to them, looking on as they volunteer to answer a question in Algebra, or seeing them show up early to homeroom to make sure that their class wins the City Year attendance competition. I serve to remedy a problem – a problem that is all too real for the students we serve throughout this country and the world. I serve to improve access to quality education to the students at English High School. I serve so that all of my students can achieve and exceed the potential in them that is just waiting to be unleashed.

I Wish I Could Go Back to High School

Written by Kevin Fish, corps member serving on the Bain & Company Team at English High School

There were numerous times after completing high school that I would hear the Avenue Q song I Wish I Could Go Back to High School and find myself knee-deep in nostalgia, remembering the early mornings, lunch with friends, student government and homecoming dances. If you asked me in college whether I would walk the halls of high school again, I would have chuckled and simply said, “No.” But I was wrong.

Now, for all of you Adam Sandler fans, I am not referring to some Billy Madison-esque second chance at completing my secondary education, but the opportunity to serve through City Year in Boston as part of their second high school partnership.

Green Street T Stop

I start my mornings heading out the door towards the Green Street stop on the Orange Line near English High School. There, I am greeted by my team, sponsored by Bain & Company, of 10 City Year corps members, my team leader, and my program manager for our first team circle, a team meeting to discuss what the day has in store.  Following our team circle, we head to the front of the building to begin our morning greeting.  Here, along with my team, we cheer on our students as they enter the building.  Some of the students that I work with specifically have actually started to  join in on the cheers and the greetings, really making me feel like the school is embracing City Year.  Some of English High‘s administrators and staff also join in and clap along as they enter the building.  One of my favorite chants is, “Smile to Pass,” where we encourage students to smile before they enter the building.

English High School

After the homeroom bell rings, my day really begins.  At English High, corps members serving in the 9th and 10th grades travel with a cohort of students.  I serve alongside my fellow corps member and partner, Terry, and we spend the day going to five different classes with 25 freshmen boys.  We start off in English class, where we discuss Of Mice and Men, or whatever our current piece of literature is, and then move on to some one-on-one tutoring in Algebra, where our students have been learning how to solve equations.  Lunch time is one of my favorite parts of the day – not because I get to replenish my depleted energy supply while sporting the coolest lunch box I could find – but because I have the opportunity to eat lunch with my students and get to know them on a much more personal level.  The conversations at lunch tend to be much more candid than those that take place in the classroom, and I really feel like I connect with students during this time.  After lunch, I attend an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class, which prepares a select group of students for college through the use of a more interactive classroom structure.  I really enjoy the discussions and debates that arise in this class because I get to see my students’ academic personalities.  Terry and I finish the school day with Physics and then U.S. History.

The final segment of my day is a homework-drop in space for students after school.  Here, I get to help different students with their homework, organize binders and provide them with any sort of help they may need.  It is always a fun and high-energy space, where productivity is our number one goal.

Now that the Bain & Company Team has been at the English High School for two months, I really feel that City Year is becoming a norm for students and the administration.  I can already see our team becoming a part of the English family, and look forward to all that my service year has to offer.