Wordless Wednesday: Our ‘Starfish’ Defying the Odds

By Nicole Chandler, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the MFS Investment Management Team at Dever-McCormack Lower School

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City Year has founding stories that resonate into the work we do as corps members. The Starfish story is about a young girl who stands up for what she believes regardless of her situation by saving washed up Starfish. Addressing the many challenges that our students face are at the heart of the Starfish Morning Enrichment Program at the Dever-McCormack Lower School. So every morning we enthusiastically greet our students with a power greeting, we teach them about social justice, and we lead games where students can enjoy being kids. Some of the joyful moments at Starfish:

Students writing positive words about themselves as a warm-up activity

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Wordless Wednesday: No Ordinary Uniform

By Diana Mai, AmeriCorps member serving on the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care/PTC Team at Holland Elementary.

Whenever I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is my City Year uniform. Keeping all the parts laid out on my bed – dress shirt, khakis, belt, and bright red jacket – save me a lot of time in getting dressed. But besides being generally awesome, the uniform also symbolizes what City Year stands for. Even though it’s a uniform that we’re all required to wear, it’s also representative of the unity we all feel. And despite the fact that we each come from different backgrounds and serve at different schools, we are all committed to City Year for the same reason – to serve full-time for a school year in communities that need it the most and to make a difference in the lives of others.

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

12 Days of City Year: A New Day Brings a New Experience

Written by Nithya Prabhala, City Year AmeriCorps Member Serving on the CSX Team at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy.

Although the holidays are now over, the adventures continue as one Corps member reflects on 12 days of new experiences serving in a City Year uniform:

Day 1: Seeing kids at the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy have a real playground to use, enjoy and act like real kids in.

Our new playground!

Day 2: Watching Steven* attempt to telepathically move the ball closer to him during a game. He thought that strategy would beat going to pick it up himself. Smiling every day at things kids do or say.

Day 3: Kids in our Starfish Extended Day Program starting to take initiative and help their peers or younger students with homework. Some of the fifth graders are becoming a routine part of my third graders’ lives. It is inspiring to see them take on challenges.

Day 4: Watching 20 kids devour 8 very large cartons of ice-cream Continue reading

Winter Showcase Fills Harbor Middle School with Joy; Corps Show Off New Moves

By Michaela Kinlock, AmeriCorps member serving on the Summit Partners Team at Harbor Pilot Middle School

On Friday, December 16, after a day of team bonding, the Summit Partners team returned to Harbor Pilot Middle School for the school’s first ever winter showcase!  Organized from top to bottom by Harbor’s music teacher Ms. Fraser, the winter showcase gave more than 60 students the opportunity to perform for a huge turnout of their teachers, family and friends.

The showcase began with the school choir (currently in its first year of existence) who performed holiday selections such as “All I Want for Christmas is You”, “Noche de Paz/Silent Night” and “Umoja”, the Kwanzaa song, which also featured a seventh grader showing off his talent playing the djembe drum.  Next, The Harbor Middle School Steppers performed an impressive routine that caused cheers to ring out in the crowd.  In between musical sets, a handful of seventh graders were selected to read to the audience the free verse poems that they’ve been working on in class.

The Winter Showcase was amazing and left students, parents and teachers alike smiling from ear to ear.  It was really inspiring to see our students so proud of themselves and their school.

The Summit Partners Team has been so impressed by how hard Ms. Fraser and our students have been working on the showcase.  We were thrilled when Ms. Fraser asked if we wanted a slot in the show!  We decided to give the students a glimpse of what we do on Friday mornings when we’re not there to greet them at the door.  Below is the abridged PT routine that we performed for the school, including the Summit Partners Team’s original PT move: the Washing Machine!

Wordless Wednesday: Holiday Appreciation and Panther Pride at DMC Lower!

On November 21st, City Year Boston AmeriCorps members serving on the MFS Investment Management Team at the Dever-McCormack Lower School hosted a Staff Appreciation Breakfast. This breakfast honored all teachers, administrators, and staff that keep the school operating, striving to meet goals, and promoting Panther Pride.  A special thanks to the parents of Corps member Nicolas Gonzalez for working hard to gather food donations.

Our banner - We appreciate the staff! Made by Corps Member Becky Drossman

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City Year is…Cool! Red Jackets the Latest Craze Among Middle Schoolers

By Epiphany Acevedo, AmeriCorps member serving at City Year Boston

Sporting a red City Year jacket.

Sporting a red City Year jacket.

What’s the first step in turning around a school? Winning over our students. As with any middle schoolers, it will take some hard work and dedication on our part to earn their trust and respect, but we are ready to give it our all!

I’d heard plenty of corps members serving at elementary schools talk about how much their students idolize them and how they let students wear their City Year gear as a reward for good behavior and academic achievement.  I didn’t know if a similar approach with middle school students would be as effective.  That is, until recently.

It all started when Patrick “Swayze,” one of my team members, let an 8th grade student who often struggles with his behavior wear his red bomber jacket for the day. After the first couple of class periods, it was already clear that thanks to Swayze and his student, City Year bomber jackets had become my middle school’s latest craze – every student I passed in the hall wanted to wear my jacket.  Realizing this, my fellow corps members and I decided that students would be able to creatively earn the privilege of wearing our jackets.

“…every student I passed in the hall wanted to wear my jacket.”

Proudly showing off the red jacket.

Proudly showing off the red jacket.

Instead of requiring students to exhibit specific behaviors, we decided to tailor jacket requests to each individual student.  In other words, Student A might need to turn in all of his homework for a week, while Student B might need to practice tuning out distractions during class.  Most students are extremely motivated to work on whatever we ask of them in order to wear our jackets.

Now that we have reached a concord with our students, I am psyched to see how we can use the red jacket craze to help them grow personally and academically.


Wordless Wednesday: Putting Idealism To Work (PITW) – an Inspiring Infographic

By Elijah Fanelli, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bank of America team at Young Achievers Science and Math K-8 Pilot School

Uniting Cultures: “PASOS” Steps Up School Pride at Dever-McCormack Upper

Until recently, Dever Elementary and McCormack Middle had always been divided entities, despite the bridge conjoining them.  They were two seperate worlds, with different academic environments, principals, and mascots. Now that consolidation of the two schools is underway, one of the main goals of staff and partners is to create a unified culture. To elevate school pride, our MFS Investment Management Team© at the Dever-McCormack (DMC) Upper School is providing in-school support for DMC’s Step Team, “PASOS.”

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“PASOS,” which means “steps” in Spanish, demonstrates teamwork, passion, determination and the enthusiasm of a student body that is excited about building school pride at DMC.  These qualities remind me of my AmeriCorps service year with City Year.  And thankfully, I have had the privilege of being the City Year rep for PASOS and they have welcomed me with open arms.  They have even let me rehearse choreography with them, showing me moves, and pulling me in on debriefs and spirit breaks. Touched, I could not help but return the favor by teaching them a City Year favorite: power lunges. I told them that City Year does PT (Physical Training), or rhythmic calisthenics, for the same reason PASOS performs: to showcase pride.

Last month, PASOS collaborated with City Year. We performed at the PRIDE assemblies, showing the rest of the school that there is a lot to be proud of being at the Dever-McCormack Upper. Together, we are dedicated in creating a positive school climate, and I personally look forward to watching PASOS grow.  I take personal pride in leading their peers in creating a common culture for DMC.

A Very Appreciative Breakfast – Thanking Our Wonderful Teachers at Orchard Gardens

By Richard Knight, corps members serving on the Johnson & Johnson Team at Orchard Gardens

What is a great way to show teachers your appreciation for all their hard work? Make them breakfast at the crack of dawn! My team, the Johnson & Johnson Team serving at the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School, had the opportunity to do just that on a beautiful Tuesday morning in Roxbury.

Teachers enjoying their fluffy pancakes and cooked-to-order omelets before classes begin.

Teachers enjoying their fluffy pancakes and cooked-to-order omelets before classes begin.

We all met at the quiet hour of 5:45 AM outside of the school to start the coffee-making process so that we’d be ready for the teachers and staff at 6:15 AM. We were on a mission. The breakfast we prepared consisted of pastries, omelets, pancakes, and (of course) coffee. Our team of 14 corps members and 2 team leaders – all managed by our program manager, Mr. Khoi Tau – worked efficiently to prepare everything on time. As soon as the first few teachers and staff appeared, the rest were not far behind. Three griddles were working full-time, churning out enough hot pancakes and eggs for more than 30 guests. Thankfully, we had enough of everything to meet the demand. There was a short-lived panic when the huge coffee urn ran out (who knew teachers loved coffee so much!?), but a backup 12-cup coffee maker saved the day.

“Three griddles were working full-time, churning out enough hot pancakes and eggs for more than 30 guests.”

Mr. Knight and Mr. Yalamanchili, part-time chefs for a day!

Mr. Yalamanchili and Mr. Knight, part-time chefs for a day!

All in all, the appreciation breakfast was a success. We heard nothing but positive reviews, and many teachers said they were looking forward to our next event. In light of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we had also prepared Turkey-themed note cards for teachers to send out appreciations to their co-workers. This was a neat way to allow them to recognize and compliment each other in a tangible way. The breakfast we made was our way of saying a huge “Thank You!” (also in a very tangible way) to everyone at Orchard Gardens, and they heard us loud and clear. My team and I are most definitely looking forward to our next event!

An invaluable teammate, an outstanding chef, and a role model for making strong partnerships with teachers, Richard serves in a 7th grade Math classroom during the day and works closely with many 8th grade students in our City Year extended day program, We Are The Change.

A-B-C, Easy As 1-2-3!

By Nicole Chandler, corps member serving on the MFS Investment Management Team at the Dever-McCormack Lower School

At City Year, corps members support students who are off track in any of the ABC (attendance, behavior, and course performance) early warning indicators. At the Dever-McCormack Lower School, the MFS Investment Management Team takes attendance seriously because of its large impact on student success. But we like to make it fun! We are having a school-wide competition called “The Panther Prowl.” The mission behind the race is to improve overall student attendance and provide students with an incentive to come into school – and want to be there! It’s a team effort, so the students want to make sure that their classmates are at school to win the challenge. What’s wrong with a little friendly competition?

Our initial attendance board displaying why it’s important for students to be at school.

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Team Leader Lisamarie Indovina and corps member Nicolas Gonzalez look on as the Panther Prowl is presented at the DMC Lower’s PRIDE Assembly.

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Program Manager Jackie Levine (left) and corps members Becky Drossman and Nicolas Gonzalez work hard on the attendance board!

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The work in progress on our Race to the Top board, which displays the school’s October attendance data.

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Corps member Marielle Rabins as the DMC’s panther mascot. The winning class will receive a large panther to display on their classroom door.

School Spirit at the Dearborn

By Epiphany Acevedo, corps member serving at the Dearborn Middle School

Originally a girls’ finishing school established in 1912, the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury has been around for a long time. And although it is home to a wonderful teaching staff and brilliant students just waiting to fulfill their full potential, the school struggles against a tough reputation.  For this reason, last week my teammate Scott Jones taught a lesson on school spirit during our extended day program’s Social Justice Thursday.  He explained the importance of being proud of where you come from – or in this case, where you go to school.  Scott also explained that the students could easily change their mindset about the Dearborn by changing the school’s physical appearance.

After his lesson, Scott handed out colorful paper and paint and the students had a blast creating posters and fliers demonstrating school pride!

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Idealist Interview: Principal Leah Blake

Written by Michaela Kinlock, corps member serving on the Summit Partners Team at the Harbor Pilot Middle School

At City Year, idealism is a highly valued quality.  Throughout my year of service, I have decided to periodically interview and profile individuals who represent what it means to be a true idealist.  This month, I interviewed Leah Blake, principal at the Harbor Pilot Middle School in Dorchester.  Check in throughout the year for more Idealist Interviews!

Ms. Leah Blake came to the Harbor during a particularly challenging period.  She took on her role as principal last February after being asked to take over the position mid-year.  The Harbor Pilot Middle School is now in its second year of state-designated turnaround status, which means that it is has been significantly underperforming for several years. The faculty and administrators have embarked upon many initiatives to not only improve MCAS scores but also the morale of the students and overall culture of the school, which is where the school’s partnership with City Year comes into play.

Why did you want a City Year team at the Harbor?

“I know what kind of work City Year has done in other turnaround schools and I was like, ‘Why don’t we have one?’ We have significant growth to make; we need to make progress and we need a team with focused goals on how to help us achieve this progress…Small group tiered instruction is part of our redesign plan, and its hard to follow through with that without extra support.  The district realized our need, and that with the needs of our students we need [a City Year team].  I don’t know how this school would function without extra support.”

What is your vision for the partnership between City Year and the Harbor?

“Continued growth with supporting our tiered instruction and also continued growth with our after school program and external supports.  I would also like to see the student government grow and develop and see how that relates to the governance board and how students have a voice…By June I would love to see [how City Year's attendance initiatives translate] to data…to see how the work that we have targeted has come to fruition.  How have the students made progress based on the extra support you all have given them?”

How do you think City Year has helped the Harbor thus far?  Have you noticed a difference in the school atmosphere or the students since the Summit Partners Team’s arrival?

“Oh my gosh, the kids…it’s a different culture.  It boosts the morale of our culture and our staff to have City Year supporting us.  It absolutely helps us move forward together.  City Year creates a culture that we’re all in it together.  Not only do we want the students to succeed academically, but we also want to support them socially and emotionally…You walk into the Harbor and things are just different.  Here’s a school that’s deemed failing, but we don’t see it that way because we’re really working together.  We’ve really put structures in place for students to succeed.”

Harbor Pilot Middle School Principal Leah Blake

Harbor Pilot Middle School Principal Leah Blake

Ms. Blake went on to discuss the specific instances of City Year’s impact on students that she has witnessed in the few short months since the school year began.  For example, one student serving an in-house detention requested to still be able to go to her City Year Leadership Lunch meeting.  Another student proudly displayed a recognition certificate from City Year on his desk during class.  Teachers have even commented to Ms. Blake about the personal transformations some students have begun to make since September.

Ms. Blake is one of the strongest champions of City Year at the Harbor and has really set the tone for how accepting and supportive the staff has been to our team since our arrival in September.  Her dedication to the success of the students, faculty, and the Summit Partners Team are the reason why Ms. Blake represents true idealism.

“It boosts the morale of our culture and our staff to have City Year supporting us.  It absolutely helps us move forward together. City Year creates a culture that we’re all in it together.”