Learning From Lit: Advice from Your Childhood

By Kelly Martin, senior corps member

Last year, one of my third grade students brought in Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. As soon as I saw the smiling bat on the cover, I was overcome with nostalgia; I fondly remembered the story that captured my curiosity and taught me about fruit bats, while simultaneously making me laugh. The incident reminded me of the lasting power a book can have on a child. The messages in these stories are timeless. As we begin the school year and our service year, I encourage you to remember the wisdom of classic children’s literature.

make way ducklingsMake Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
In this story, a family of ducks decides to live in the Boston Public Garden, and quickly become a part of the community in which they live. To corps members who are new to the Boston area, I recommend exploring the diverse neighborhoods of Boston. But remember this: in order to truly make a difference over the next 10 months you need to serve with the community, not just in the community.

Green EggsGreen Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Unlike the main character in this classic Dr. Suess story, serve each day with an open mind. You will face innumerable challenges and new experiences; you will most likely find that the new things you try are the things from which you will learn the most. If you’re not feeling challenged and uncomfortable at times, than you’re probably not learning and growing enough. From public speaking to eating green eggs and ham—be willing to tackle challenges and try new things with an open mind and positive attitude.

AlexanderAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
This book teaches children—and adults—that everyone can have bad days. However, the most useful thing I’ve learned in City Year is the impact of shifting my frame of mind when dealing with bad days and daily challenges. Every time a seemingly negative situation arises, practice looking at this “problem” as an opportunity to grow. Woke up with gum in your hair like Alexander? This is an opportunity to try a chic new haircut, or even donate your hair and teach your students about service to a cause greater than self.

Goodnight moonGoodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
They say that the first thing you’ll lose during your corps year is sleep. While being committed to your students and your service is important, sleep, in addition to other forms of self care, is a necessity. If you aren’t taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional self, there is no way that you can effectively mentor and tutor students. Even if you have to say goodnight to all the objects in your room—find a way to make sleep a priority.

hobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
As we follow Bilbo Baggins through his adventures, we see him face many perils, but one of the greatest challenges he must overcome is his own self doubt. Just like Bilbo, you were chosen to be on this adventure. There will surely be difficult times ahead for you; when faced with great adversity, reflect on your purpose. Others saw your potential and sometimes all it takes is a little self confidence to realize it yourself. Don’t restrict your talents by questioning your capabilities; believe in yourself, take initiative, and be the change you want to see.

A year of service is incredibly challenging, and there will be times when your experience feels far from a perfect story book or fairy tale. However, you have the power and tools to write a tale that is both interesting and meaningful.  I am proud and excited to serve with the 2013-2014 corps. Welcome to City Year Boston!

About the author:
Kelly Martin is a 2013-2014 senior corps member serving on the Bain & Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. 

Friday Five: Rainy Day Games

By Curtis Bloomfield

Rainy days, the indoor recess of summer. When you’re eight years old, what could be worse that being stuck inside all day with nothing but re-run cartoons on TV? To beat rainy day boredom, here are a handful of indoor games that keep students’ minds fresh while maintaining that summer sense of fun.

Silly Sentences: This is card a game that is designed to help students learn the parts of speech. Students choose one noun, one verb and one adjective puzzle pieces. They put the pieces together to form a proper sentence. Players then must also identify which words are nouns, which words are verbs, and which words are adjectives. The sentences tend to be funny and odd, which is guaranteed to make students laugh.

Money Dominoes: Here we have a card game based on traditional Dominoes. Each card has two halves; one half depicts coins or dollars and the other half has a numerical money amount. The goal is to get rid of all your cards first by matching equal values. You can match numbers to numbers, coins and dollars to coins and dollars or you can match numbers to coins and dollars.

Blink: This card game forces students to think quickly and critically. The cards are divided evenly among the players. The cards have different shapes, colors and a different number of shapes. After a three seconds countdown the players have to quickly get rid of all their cards by placing cards that match colors, shapes or number of shapes in the correct pile of cards. The student who gets rid of all their cards first wins.

Scrambled States of America: This game strengthens students’ U.S. geography knowledge. Each student is given five cards that each lists a state and facts such as its capitol and the nickname. Players take turns drawing question cards from the deck. After the question is asked they must each decide which of their state cards answers the question. For example a question is, “What state’s nickname has more than two words?” One answer would be New York since the nickname is The Empire State. The person with the most correct answers wins the game.

Brain Quest: Quiz students on several different courses including history, science, geography, math, and more. Each student is given a chance to answer the trivia question for a point. Brain Quest can be played in teams or individually, but the person or team with the most Brain Quest points wins.

About the author:
Curtis Bloomfield was a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. 

Words From Our Students

Edited by Gregory Fabry
Gregory Fabry is a 2012-2013 corps members serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Corps members at the Hennigan Elementary School asked their students what their greatest accomplishments were this school year. Their responses covered the broad range of goals that our students set for themselves: academic, social, and behavioral. Here are some of their responses:

After seeing that she and a student she’d been in a conflict with have things in common, Summer* a third grader, said her greatest accomplishment was, “Going to the office and getting along with Denesha*.”

“Today is my greatest accomplishment!” – Charlotte*, third grade, after succeeding with her new behavior system.

“I completed 21 book reviews and I’m learning new things in math.” – Max*, fifth grade

“I told my mom I did good in school and she checked. So she surprised me with cupcakes for my birthday at school” – Monica*, third grade

“My behavior is getting better and I’m getting organized!” – Amos*, fifth grade

Ashley Fahrenkamp, a corps member serving in the third grade said, “I asked Henry* what his greatest accomplishment is from this year and he said, ‘Doing all my work.’ I asked him to tell me more about it and he said, ‘Finishing my reading responses.’ He used to sit for 30 minutes without writing anything. Lately he’s been finishing a paragraph!”

* Names changed to protect privacy.

We Are …

Poem by Curtis Bloomfield
Curtis Bloomfield is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain & Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Opening DayWe are City Year.

We are change agents.

We are Boston and we stay strong even when facing adversity and when the odds are not in our favor.

We are 265, a force to be reckoned with.

We are believers of hope, justice and all that is good.

We help those who are in need, we work with students who need an extra push and encouragement in course work.

We put idealism to work.

We stand tall with the shoulders of giants and we build bridges that never fall apart.

We fill boots that make footprints that will last forever.

We are happiest when we realize that it is better to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We serve once, sometimes twice, but to our students and in our hearts we serve for life.

Focusing on ELA

By Curtis Bloomfield
Curtis Bloomfield is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Hennigan_ELA CONES

The cone word game.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Hennigan Elementary School was listed as “among the lowest performing 20 percent of schools.” The school community is working toward improving students’ English language arts (ELA) test scores. Course work and lesson plans are designed to strengthen ELA skills every day and Hennigan is so determined that they have even incorporated ELA-focused games into gym class.

Ms. Dultz, the gym teacher at the Hennigan, created some great games. She shows that working on improving our ELA skills can be fun. Here are two of her activities:

The cone word game works to improve student fluency and vocabulary. To play, Attach a verb or a noun card to 20 to 25 cones (see picture on the right) and scatter them on the floor. The students are separated into two teams, the verb and noun teams. One player from each team starts.

The noun player runs to find a verb cone as fast as she can. Once the player finds the verb cone, she has to show understanding by acting out what the verb is.  For instance, if the verb on the cone were jumping jacks, the player would demonstrate jumping jacks. Then, she knocks the cone over, to show that it’s already been found and used. The verb player does the same with the noun cones, only instead of acting out the word, he only has to yell out the noun he found before knocking the cone over.

After knocking over the cone, the player runs back and tags the next runner, who repeats the process.

The first team to find and enact all their words first wins! After one round of this game students have a better understanding of verbs and nouns. When we switched teams for the second round, students on both sides were easily able to find which cones were verbs and which cones were nouns.

Word laps is a game that resembles track. The course can be made out of cones, or students can just run circles around the gym. The facilitator of the game holds a small plastic bag of tiny foam letters. After each lap they run, students draw a letter.

After each runner earns two or three letters, they divide into teams of four. Using only the letters they’ve drawn, they must try to spell as many words as they can in 10 to 15 minutes.

The words must to be at least three letters. For every five-letter word, or longer, that the team spells, they receive an additional point. The team with the most points wins.

Can your students beat our record? One team was able to come up with 24 words; 12 of those words were six-letters each (more than enough to win them the game).

These two ELA focused games have helped students do just that—focus. Games such as these are what help the students of the Hennigan see that learning can be fun and easy.

Looking for more energetic games and ideas? Check out:

Friday Five: Resources to Build Math Skills

By Greg Fabry
Greg Fabry is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Perhaps more than any other subject taught in school, math depends on building upon prior skills. When students struggle with foundational skills, such as simple operations, or concepts like place value, they have difficulty solving more complicated math problems. When complex math is placed on a weak foundation, the result is students not achieving their full mathematical potential, lacking confidence, and generally disliking math.

The truth is, most students are far better at math than they give themselves credit for. For example, I serve with third graders who are expected to fluently add and subtract within 1,000 by the end of the year. However, the simple adding and subtracting needed to perform more complicated operations is too often labored and done on fingers. Motivating students to practice basic math can be difficult; it is seen as “too simple” or “kindergarten math” even if students struggle with it.

Solving this problem requires a two-tiered approach: strengthening basic math skills, and emphasizing practice of more complicated math before other math skills are built on it. Luckily, there is a wide selection of free educational resources online. This post will review three online resources that can be used by students at home to strengthen math skills, and two games that are relatively autonomous; students can play in pairs or in small groups.

1. XtraMath.org

XtraMath is one of my favorite websites for sharpening math skills. It has a “back-to-basics” approach: students start by mastering their addition and subtraction facts before moving to multiplication and division. A streamlined interface and a useful grid to organize math facts encourages students to make the entire board green before moving on to the next operation. This website can be used during a computer block or log in information can be sent home with students.

2. First In Math

While First In Math is a program typically purchased by school districts for students, this website has a family edition at 24game.com. Similar to XtraMath, it focuses on live feedback while practicing math skills, and is a comprehensive program spanning Kindergarten through eighth grade. It incorporates more games, rather than the streamlined flashcard approach used by XtraMath. Before purchasing a subscription (which is $19.95 for six months), I strongly recommend checking if your district or school has already set up an account for students. An iPhone app – which is not tied into a subscription – recently was released and is available for $0.99.

3. MathABC.com

MathABC allows specific skills to be selected and targeted. This requires more intervention on the part of an adult, but is useful when a student needs to improve a specific skill, such as place value. While other programs might only tangentially or indirectly cover a specific foundation skill, targeted practice allows the strengthening of that skill without beating around the bush.

4. Rolling 100 (math game)

In this game, players take turns rolling two dice. Each roll adds to their running total and the first person to 100 wins. Players can roll as many times as they want per turn, but if they roll a 1 on one die they lose all points accumulated that turn; if they roll a 1 on both dice they lose all points overall. For a variation, multiply the two numbers rolled and add that to the running total instead.

5. Math Battle (math game)

Cards with the numbers 1-12 (alternatively a set of standard playing cards with Kings taken out, Aces as ones and Jacks and Queens as 11 and 12, respectively) are divided between two players. Each player puts down a card. Whichever player says the product of the two numbers out loud gets to keep both cards, and the students with the most cards at the end of the game wins.

Single-File Line, Please

By Curtis Bloomfield
Curtis Bloomfield is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Hennigan Playground“Your class is so nice and quiet in the hallway. Good job!”

One compliment from a Hennigan Elementary staff member and each student in the fifth-grade line receives a special surprise. Looking back at the line I saw the booming smiles on every students face as they realize that they had accomplished one of the transition goals we set together.

Encouraging students to behave in the hallways (walking silently, in a single-file line) was one challenge my fellow corps member Angelina Escobar and I faced. Every day we walked our fifth graders to their special classes (gym, swimming, art, or science classes).

I can empathize with the students. I remember what it feels like struggling to sit still in class. After what felt like an eternity of never-ending rules and schoolwork, walking through the hallway seemed like a time to release all of those hours of suppressed energy.

However, as an adult, I recognize the importance of walking quietly so as to not disrupt other classrooms. Our students, however, were still learning this. Sometimes what should have been a two-minute walk ended being a ten-minute travel to their next class because we had to stop and wait for the line to quiet down. Hallway transition had become a serious issue but how would we solve it?

After some solid advice from one of the respected school coaches, Coach Dawnn Jaffier, Ms. Escobar and I devised a strategy to improve the smoothness of our hallway transitions: before going in to the hallway, we made two announcements to the students of the line. We remind them that Ms. Escobar and I would each reward two of the quietest students who make the best line possible. The students must carry their good behavior throughout the day in order to earn the prize. The second announcement we made was that if the entire line received a compliment from a random adult while in the hallway, the entire class would receive a prize.

When the students earned that compliment from a staff member, immediately they all stood tall, smiles on their faces. The line was so quiet you could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall in hallway. We’re proud that our students learned that following rules could help them not only earn class-wide prizes, but also the respect and appreciation of the adults around them.

Alumni Spotlight: Dawnn Jaffier

By Greg Fabry
Greg Fabry is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Dawnn Jaffier, Youth Interventionalist at the Hennigan.

Dawnn Jaffier, Youth Interventionalist at the Hennigan.

Coach Dawnn Jaffier is a Youth Interventionist at the Hennigan Elementary School and a City Year Boston (CYB) 2010-2011 alumna. She continued her AmeriCorps service by working for Playworks after her year at CYB and now has a more permanent role at the Hennigan School. She is a well-known presence and personality at the school and the students at the Hennigan deeply respect her. The team at the Hennigan also appreciates her for always being willing to contribute her expertise on her students and the school environment.

City Year Boston (CYB): What was your City Year experience like?

Dawnn Jaffier (DJ): I was a corps member from 2010-2011 at the Tobin [K-8 School]. It was a great experience. It was a lot of hard work, but I feel like at the end, I got a lot out of my year and I use a lot of that now. […] I still use the City Year calendar that my Program Manager made.

CYB: What is your role at the Hennigan now?

DJ: I wear many gloves. Primarily I’m here for youth intervention; I’m here to help with behavior […] and work to catch a lot of the [behavioral] problems that are going on in the school. I can walk into a classroom, pull out five students and talk to them. I help out with the school climate, and I try to bring in external resources from my own connections.

We did cheerleading for a couple of years and that’s starting up again. Last year we had 43 girls, and this year we’re going to do it again and try to get uniforms. I do a lot of fitness; I was a basketball coach, a soccer coach and a volleyball coach… and I did recess. So my hands reach out wherever I can, and I try to help wherever [the school] needs me.

CYB: How did your year of service influence your decision to continue working in a school?

DJ: I continued working in a school because I wanted to continue doing an AmeriCorps program, so last year I served at Playworks as the Playworks Coach for the Hennigan. I love working with kids and have been working kids since I was 14, and I’ve been in after schools and community centers since I was 5, so it was just in my blood. My main goal is to work with kids, no matter what setting I’m in.

CYB: How do you use what you learned during your year of service in the work that you do today?

DJ: I didn’t think during my year that I would use some of this stuff, but now that I’m out of the corps I do use it. I use PT [physical training] to help with discipline and to bring a group of kids together. During our summer program for our hour block we would always start with a founding story and discuss it, and then for the rest of the time we would do PT. I use a lot of the PT moves as cheers to get kids motivated. Little things here and there—being able to use little bits of City Year culture—is awesome.

I also learned working as a team and being more understanding, because—I don’t want to say I’m aggressive—but sometimes I can be a force to be reckoned with. I learned that at times I needed to take a step back and let other people shine, that other people have different ways of working and don’t always have the same experience and knowledge that I have. So being in the corps gave me a wide array of ideas, experiences and people that I’ve worked with.

CYB: If there was one thing that you would want to tell current City Year corps members, what would it be?

DJ: Get to know people in the corps. Don’t lock yourself up into a box, because you’ll miss out on meeting so many amazing people if you limit yourself to one group. Try to branch out and don’t be a loner—feel free to move around. That made my year so much better, because I could hang out with so many other teams.

To meet another Playworks coach, read our interview with Jay Arnold

Wordless Wednesday: “We Are All A Team”

By Curtis Bloomfield
Curtis Bloomfield is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. 

Recently, we held a Faculty Appreciation Breakfast for all of the staff. Both the staff and the City Year Boston team exchanged words of thanks and appreciation toward one another. One fifth-grade math teacher expressed her appreciation to the corps members by saying, “We all are very grateful for the service that City Year does here at the Hennigan.” The corps members were all very grateful for the hard work the faculty at the Hennigan puts in and continues to put in every day and night. After providing donuts coffee, pastries and breakfast pizza the corps members then proceeded to go and greet the Hennigan community using our loud and proud morning greetings. Before leaving, the principal extended an invite to the corps members with these words, “We want to invite City Year to our Hennigan team breakfast tomorrow because we are all a team together!”

Curtis Bloomfield_Hennigan_Decorations 2 Curtis Bloomfield_hennigan_cm _ teacher 2 Curtis Bloomfield_Hennigan_Lunch Staff pic Curtis Bloomfield_Hennigan_Decorations 3

Friday Five: Jamaica Plain Nonprofits

By Greg Fabry
Greg Fabry is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the Bain and Company team at the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain.

Jamaica Plain (JP) is a thriving cultural center, with many businesses, restaurants and art studios lining the main streets, as well as an expansive spectrum of residents who are the lifeblood of the community. One benefit of having a neighborhood with such a large sense of community is that there are many fantastic nonprofits right in our own backyard. Here are five JP-based nonprofits that are making a positive impact.

Bikes Not Bombs (BNB) is “using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change.” People generally have fond memories of receiving their first bike; BNB aims to bring that experience to as many children as possible. With over five dedicated youth programs, students can build their own bike, learn the Boston bike-lane system, take field trips to many other socially-conscious organizations (for example, an urban farm) and even perform community service. They also run many community events, such as an upcoming Bike-A-Thon in June.

The Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) was created in the 1980s in efforts to reverse a trend of youth violence in Jamaica Plain. The organization started by holding community meetings, street cleanups and crime watch groups. Today, this organization now runs a variety of youth leadership, education and community programs that serve over 1,000 youth across Boston.

For more than 35 years the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNCD) has worked to improve the quality of the JP community for low- and moderate-income families. One of the greatest successes of the JPNDC is “The Brewery.” The abandoned brewery was purchased in the early 1980s and revitalized as a complex for small businesses. The Jamaica Plain’s World Fair, which used to be one of the most prominent neighborhood festivals, brought thousands to the neighborhood each year. With food, vendors, live music and activities for all ages, many individuals hope the fair will re-emerge in the future.

Community Servings is a nonprofit at which many of our City Year Boston teams have volunteered (including mine!). The organization delivers almost 400,000 meals a year to those who are too sick to cook for themselves. There is also a food service job-training program, which is 12 weeks long and aims to build vocational and interpersonal skills.

Last but not least, Urban Edge, located across from the Jackson Square T station, aims to build community stability in low- and moderate-income families. Urban Edge also runs community events. Recently, they held a back-to-school event where they distributed more than 375 backpacks filled with school supplies to local families.

From looking at these five organizations, I can see that the Jamaica Plain community is proud of their neighborhood. I am proud to serve in a community with so much civic pride and with so many like-minded people who believe in the same sense of service as City Year.

Editor’s note 12/3/12: An earlier version of this article stated that the Bikes Not Bombs annual bike-a-thon was in January. This event is actually held in June. We apologize for this error.