Mr. McDonald: A Dedicated Educator

By Lucas Holmes, corps member serving on the PTC team 

Photo by Elliot Haney | 2013

Corps member helping a student sound out a work. Photo by Elliot Haney | 2013

“You have two minutes to focus,” Mr. McDonald tells his students in the hallway before entering the classroom. Consistent and clear expectations are one of the keys to Mr. McDonald’s success as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher at Dearborn School.

With a large percentage of ESL students attending Dearborn School, Mr. McDonald fills a significant and much needed role for the school. McDonald recognizes this, working tirelessly to improve the English of these English language learners.

Having the privilege to serve alongside Mr. McDonald this school year, I am fortunate to get to know him and his students. Patience, positivity, and warmth emanate from Mr. McDonald in the classroom, and students respond with an equal amount of respect and focused energy. Although Mr. McDonald’s students face a unique challenge compared to their native English-speaking peers, Mr. McDonald sees their potential to learn as equal, if not greater.

Mr. McDonald’s faith in his students was evident at the beginning of the year when Mr. McDonald worked with them to set an achievable goal of growth for their reading. Instead of setting a goal based on experience from teaching previous years, Mr. McDonald asked the students how much they wanted to grow by the end of the year and let the students decide on the number of words per minute (WPM) by which they wanted to improve.

The students eagerly set their own ambitious goals. With some guidance, Mr. McDonald and the students agreed on the goal of growing 100 WPM by the end of the year; a goal that Mr. McDonald knew would be a challenge to achieve, but certainly possible if the class worked extremely hard. With the students’ goal in mind, Mr. McDonald crafted expectations and lessons to help students meet their goal, requiring 20 minutes of reading per night.

To keep students accountable, Mr. McDonald visually displays the WPM of each student for each beginning and end of month to track the progress of his students. The growth of the class is apparent, but the display also shows that growth does not come easily.

Even though the rate of growth may not be on pace for the end goal of 100 WPM, this should not be a reason for discouragement. Students are encouraged by the fact that they set high expectations for themselves; it means they were willing to risk failure for the sake of pushing themselves to grow as much as they can. Regardless of whether or not the students reach their goal at the end of year, surely Mr. McDonald and I will be proud of the progress that they make.

About the author:
Lucas Holmes is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the PTC team at Dearborn School in Roxbury. 

Mentoring Independent Thinkers

By Alex Loughran Lamothe, corps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal

Travis Fuller, corps member

Travis Fuller, corps member

Corp member Travis Fuller’s mentor changed his life. He will tell you that, plain and simple: “She taught me how to think; she taught me how to ask questions, [and] how to form solutions to those questions.” He has a special appreciation for the immense positive power that a mentor can have on a young person’s life.

His own positive experience has been critical to his service on the PTC team serving at Dearborn School in Roxbury. His goal: to support his students to become independent thinkers, as his mentor supported him.

During his college years at University of California, Los Angeles, Fuller worked as the Financial Supports Commissioner in student government, and, through that work, met his mentor. “She’s an absolutely amazing person and someone who I looked up to a lot,” he reflected. Whether he had business problems, school problems, or personal problems, he knew she was someone he could talk to and count on.

This year, Fuller is a mentor in his own right to the 8th and 9th grade students he serves at Dearborn. As he works to help students complete their math assignments and English essays, Fuller hopes to “walk in his students’ moccasins” and to understand where his students are coming from; he does not want to just tell his students how to be successful. Rather, he takes a page from his mentor’s book.

“I think the thing that was so effective about [my mentor’s and my] friendship and our relationship was that she would never give me the answer to something. She would guide me through a problem, but she would never give me a definitive solution,” Fuller remembered. Once he arrived upon his own idea, “She would throw her weight behind it and would help me achieve what I wanted to achieve.”

Fuller has taken this concept with him to the Dearborn. “I try to have [my students work through] with their own problems, because that is what they’re going to have to do in the future. They’re going to have to identify an issue, formulate a response to an issue, and to figure out what the best way to deal with that issue,” he said.

Fuller has been investing in his students long-term grown.  “I’m trying to get them to be independent thinkers, and that’s what my mentors, or at least the people whom I have considered mentors, have always done with me,” he said.

Mentoring may take many different forms, but perhaps this is a philosophy that we all can use in our own mentoring relationships.

Related articles:

About the author:
Alex Loughran Lamothe is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal team at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester. 

Creative Creations from our Students

Photos by Kate Tessman

Pencil and paper aren't the only ways to create art. A growing artistic fad at my school is bracelet making, specifically bracelets made with small colorful rubber-bands. These handcrafted bracelets are designed and created per request by several of my students, and for many are great ways to show individuality, support of a sports team, or pride by wearing their native country’s colors.

Pencil and paper aren’t the only ways to create art. A growing artistic fad at my school is bracelet making, specifically bracelets made with small colorful rubber-bands. These handcrafted bracelets are designed and created per request by several of my students, and for many are great ways to show individuality, support of a sports team, or pride by wearing their native country’s colors.

Two students and their corps member model their new bracelets.

Two students and their corps member model their new bracelets.

About the photographer.
Kate Tessman is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the PTC team at Dearborn School in Roxbury. 

What Are You Thankful For?

By Rebecca Leclerc

Photo by Golshan Jalali

Photo by Golshan Jalali

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I was curious to find out what the City Year Boston community is thankful for. I asked students, corps members, school faculty and school partners what they are grateful for and these are some of the answers I received:

“I’m thankful for being alive and all the things I have, even if they’re not always the things I want.”
-5th grade student at the Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for all the things our school has, like snack and going outside, because not all schools have them.”
-3rd grade student at the Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for my team for becoming my family when I’m so far away from my own.”
-Ashby Gaines, corps member serving on the Wellington Management team at Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for my life and all the things my mom and dad have done for me.”
-5th grade student at the Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for all the positive energy in my life.”
-Playworks Coach, Coach TK

“I’m thankful for a great start to this year of service and for being able to participate in my fourth year of service.”
-Abe Fox, Program Manager for the Wellington Management team at Trotter Elementary School School.

“I’m thankful for each new day and all the new opportunities offered to me every day.”
-Krystal Figueroa, corps member serving on the Wellington Management team at Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for my family and being able to go to school.”
-6th grade student at Dearborn School

“I’m thankful for my family for always giving me the opportunities to pursue my dreams and goals. I’m thankful for my students, because I am learning so much from them everyday. And lastly, I’m thankful for my City Year team, friends and boyfriend for supporting me everyday.”
-Kim Schneider, corps member serving on the PTC team at Dearborn School

“I’m thankful for Thanksgiving day and the beautiful and delicious abundance of vegetables and grains I can prepare for my family and friends.”
-Ms. Cante, Teacher at Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for being able to play football.”
-5th grade student at Trotter Elementary School

“I’m thankful for coming to City Year and entering a warm and open group of people who share a common goal and look out for one another.”
-Phylicia Bischof, corps members serving on the Bank of America team at Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8 School

“I’m thankful for my fellow 5th grade corps member and the support she offers me in our afterschool program. I’m thankful we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
-Emily Zinger, corps member serving on the Wellington Management team at Trotter Elementary School

About the author:
Rebecca Leclerc is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the Wellington Management team at Trotter Elementary School.

The Value of Tangents

By Lucas Holmes

Photo by kevinzim | flickr

Photo by kevinzim | flickr

Some of the most valuable lessons that the students learn are the lessons that arise unexpectedly. While doing an activity that involved identifying adjectives that describe different illustrations with students in my English as a second language (ESL) sheltered immersion class, one student encountered the adjective “energy-efficient” and matched it with a picture of wind turbines. Another curious student asked why we need efficient energy.

Immediately, I lit up and exclaimed, “That is a great question!”

I took advantage of this rare opportunity to go beyond the basic vocabulary lesson and decided to delve into a meaningful conversation about changes in our climate. As I started asking them more questions and explaining global warming and pollution, I felt myself become passionate; I could see that the students were responding to my enthusiasm.

One student asked: “Are the plants and animals going to stay forever?” I believe that this type of thinking is what generates meaningful learning because it awakens passions. This genuine curiosity would not have manifested itself if the vocabulary lesson had not veered onto a slight tangent.

Sometimes tangents can go far beyond what is necessary and be distracting; simultaneously, this is why they are valuable. Too often we dismiss tangents as irrelevant. But I would argue that the benefits of tangents are frequently overlooked. Not only do the students become more engaged because the information is delivered in a spontaneous, unpredictable manner, but also the material itself dives deeper beneath the surface level lesson, making real world connections.

I believe learning should never be rigid. The students want to explore and think in new ways, and educators should accommodate this. Tangents are a valuable tool that teachers can use to keep the learning dynamic, relevant and interesting for the students.

About the author:
Lucas Holmes is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the PTC team at the Dearborn School in Roxbury.

The Warm Up League

By Mackenson Charles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a true believer in the power sport and enrichment programs can have on the lives of our youth. I’m confident in this ideology because I am a product of it. Sports taught me life values that I did not acquire in my household or a classroom. I incorporated this theory into my service year and it worked successfully. My greatest accomplishment was creating, implementing and managing the Warm Up League. The Warm Up League is a before-school intramural basketball program that aims to encourage timely and consistent attendance in our students.

It all started when Lance*, a student in my history class invited me to play basketball with him before school in the gym. I gladly accepted his invite. The following morning I arrived to school 30 minutes early to join Lance again. As I entered the gym, I saw 12 students shooting hoops. They were curious to see my skill level and ready to criticize if I was not up to par.

Fortunately, my shots were going in consistently that morning. My 15 minutes of shooting around earned me the right of passage from the basketball critics and attending morning gym became an everyday routine. Soon, I would get selected to play in full-court games, as the captain of the teams would shout, “A’ight, I got City Year on my squad.”

As time went on, I noticed that the freshman students rarely were picked to play in the full-court game, mainly because the other students thought they weren’t “skilled” enough. They would be subjected to play on the side hoops and were often yelled at if they got in the way of the full-court game. I would substitute myself out the game most times so a neglected freshman could play. This wasn’t much help though, as the players would not pass the ball to my replacement. The full-court games lacked team work, competitive spirit, and sportsmanship.

This fueled the idea to start the Warm Up League. I envisioned a basketball league that values inclusivity, leadership, and sportsmanship, while simultaneously combating tardiness.

Running a basketball league effectively requires a lot of time and effort. Thankfully, my team leader Nicholas Fernandes helped organize the Warm Up League initiative. A total of 65 students signed up to participate in the League after two days of sign-ups. The participants were divided into seven teams and each team was assigned a team captain. The students were apprehensive at first because they did not know what to expect and how well the league would be managed. Game schedules were posted all around the school. There were two 20-minute games played, Monday through Thursday. Teams would play up to three games a week.

The first official game of the Warm Up League showed promise. Players wanted to make sure their teammates were aware of upcoming games so they would remind each other throughout the day.

Morning gym started with 12 students shooting around, and grew into a basketball league that averaged 35 students daily and 55 participants total. Students who had a chronic history of being late for school where now showing up early to play in their games.

About the author:
Mackenson Charles was a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team at The English High School in Jamaica Plain. 

Algebra Transformations

Written by Aaron Staudinger, with Sarah Binning
Aaron Staudinger is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team at The English High School. Sarah Binning is a Communications Coordinator at City Year Boston.  

mathclass_HSWhen the school year began, the Algebra class that I serve was a combination of a lack of focus and a dearth of confidence; this manifested itself in a competition for who could distract the class the most. This behavior was most prevalent in one student, Justin*. Justin did not believe he had the ability to learn a single math problem and refused help from both his teacher and me.

This was frustrating for me because I know that—despite what our students may think—math really is applicable to the “real world.” John Stuart, Senior Vice President of Global Education at PTC (our team’s sponsor), agrees. “The way you’re going to separate yourself now and in the future is through innovation. There’s a lot of competition in the world out there for innovation,” Stuart said. “One way to be able to innovate is to have solid math skills and solid science skills.”

Despite meetings and interventions with his teacher, and even the school’s Dean, Justin fell further behind in his work. His acting out continued, but on the rare occasions that he would permit me to speak to him he often spoke of his inability to do the work and doubted he would never be able to catch up.

After a particularly difficult week, during which not a single student completed an assigned task, the teacher struck a deal with her students: if they could pass the next quiz she would excuse their missed assignments from the week.  If not, they would have to complete their missing work after school with either her or me.  The students—Justin especially—jumped at the deal, hoping to earn that “get out of jail free card” for all their incomplete homework.

When Justin failed the quiz, he begrudgingly signed a contract stipulating that he would meet with me twice a week after school to work on math homework.

The first week was spent hunting Justin down. By week three, however, I started to see a change. Justin completed six homework assignments and finally passed a quiz—his first of the year. He started to stay after school one extra day a week and joined a tutoring program at another local organization.

“City Year compels them to become better students and to have higher achievement. That’s good for us, because even if they don’t go to work for PTC, they could still go to work for our customers, or go work in the industry and have a higher level of skills.” Stuart said.

Whether Justin will go into a STEM profession, it’s difficult to say. One thing I do know is he’s gaining skills that are valuable to his future, regardless of his profession. After a full month of afterschool support, Justin not only reached an overall passing grade for the class, he consistently completed his homework, passed three tests in a row and continued to honor the contract, despite no longer being required to.  His confidence increased leaps and bounds and his classroom behavior has done a complete 180.

Most surprisingly, however, he no longer wanted my help.  He wanted to complete the math by himself and only seeks me out in extreme cases, typically after having tried a problem five or six time. I have never been happier to have a student refuse to work with me.

On Saturday, PTC employees will join City Year Boston in painting murals and landscaping at The English High School. Check back next week to see photos of their service projects. 

* name changed to protect student privacy.

History Basketball League

By Mackenson Charles
Mackenson Charles is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team at The English High School in Jamaica Plain.

photo by Jillian Martin

photo by Jillian Martin

When I was in high school, history was my favorite subject. I was overjoyed when I was assigned to serve in Mr. Swabodda’s History II class. Not all of the students are as enthusiastic about history as I am. Stu*, Wes*, Gerald*, and Trent* are seated at the same table in class. They exemplify their lack of interest through constantly having side conversation, not completing their assignments, or using the class period to catch up on sleep.

Mid-way through the second term, I got to know the boys on a personal level and realized their common interest in basketball. I pondered ways to correlate their interest of basketball with history class.

I invented a game called History Basketball League. Here’s how the game works: I tally the boy’s individual performance in class using a basketball forum. Their actions and in-class participation is weighted, with positive behavior earning the players more points, and disruptive or off-task behavior costing them points:

3-point field goal:

  • Provides an answer to a question in class discussion (evidence and analysis).

2-point field goal:

  • Answers or asks a question in class discussion.
  • Notes completed.
  • On-task during class.

1-point (assist):

  • Gives a partial answer in class discussion
  • Helps a teammate stay on-task

-1 point (turnover):

  • Off-task or disruptive.
  • Uses inappropriate or disrespectful language.

The purpose of the game is to accumulate as many points during class as possible. Once class concludes, I reveal the results to the players.

The students instantly fell in love with the History Basketball League and their performance in class improved dramatically. Each player boosted his grade at least a half-letter grade. One student even raised his grade from an “F” to a “C.”

Stu, Wes, Gerald, and Trent are now having fun and learning simultaneously. They challenge each other to see who can earn the most points. I keep track of their stats from day to day and calculate their averages on a weekly basis. To add a level of math into the game, I’ve asked the players to help calculate their weekly total points and averages.

The History Basketball League doesn’t unlock special powers within students to get them to perform better. The League provides instant gratification and encourages studious behavior. It makes history class more fun, competitive, and interesting.

Carving Motivation from Trust

By Christina Jaramillo
Christina Jaramillo is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team serving at The English High School in Jamaica Plain.

A student and crops member working one-on-one.

A student and crops member working one-on-one.

I still remember that September morning walking into my new first period U.S. History II class. After a three-week observation period, my final classroom placement was assigned and I was excited to realize that these classes would be my classes for the next 10 months. While I started getting to know some students at The English, I was eager to finally be a consistent presence in their day-to-day lives and form the types of relationships that would really challenge their perspectives on education and their own self-worth.

Sebastian* was one of the first students I encountered. He was standing in front of the class as the teacher took roll, rapping his heart out with a matching dance. When I asked his name, he stared at me blankly, shook his head and walked past me as if I didn’t exist. Suddenly, my excitement shifted to concern as I realized that forming these bonds was going to be much harder than I expected.

Three weeks later after much perseverance and much rejection I finally got a, “What’s your name again, miss?” from Sebastian. I took that as my in.

While I knew Sebastian and I needed to work on improving his attendance and course work, I needed to first address his behavior. The performance I witnessed my first day turned out to be very common; Sebastian was constantly out of his seat, rapping profane lyrics, dancing, tapping, and indulging in arguments with his peers and teachers that often left him storming (or being escorted) out of the classroom. On worse days, he would get so stuck in his own disappointment in himself that he would become completely unresponsive, shutting down even to me. When Sebastian was focused, I realized he was a very strong writer who wrote with clarity, insight, and creativity. His algebra was flawless and his vocabulary was college-level.

When I started addressing him about his outbursts and anger, he asked why the school kept sending letters home implying that he was “special ed” because he felt like he was smart…and he is, he just didn’t understand that those fancy codes just meant he had trouble focusing. As he began to trust me, we were able to brainstorm ways to set him up for success during class. I recommended doodling in the margins of his papers rather than singing when he needed to do something with himself. He recommended taking a two-minute walk in the hall when he felt his anger escalating. As he gained more and more control during class, his work completion, grades, and most importantly confidence soon followed.

I was so proud when he passed not one, but all his classes in order to earn credit recovery and get back on track to graduate in four years. But, I think I am even more proud of his growth as an individual. “Miss, I could get B’s if I tried a little harder.”

Sure, we still have random rap battles and dance parties in class sometimes. We still go on walks to help him calm down and I have at least five of his elaborate doodles on my desk right now—but he wouldn’t be Sebastian without those things.

Sebastian has shown me that success lies in the power of perseverance, love, and undoubtedly—trust.  I am proud of everything he has accomplished and so grateful for everything he has taught me about flourishing while still staying true to yourself.

Wordless Wednesday: A “Day On”

By Mackenson Charles
Makenson Charles is a 2012-2013 corps member serving on the PTC team at The English High School in Jamaica Plain.

On the third Monday of January, volunteers from across the country dedicate their time to serve their communities in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While some individuals may view MLK Day as a day off from work or school, City Year views MLK Day as a “day on” where we care able to engage and serve the communities we love. This year the City Year Boston corps, staff and volunteers visited the Washington Irvin K-8 school.

Five Art Institutions in Boston to Visit on a Budget

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

Not only is Boston known as a college town, but it is a city where you can visit some of the most amazing museums and cultural institutions. After finishing your year of service, and before you leave Boston, make sure to discover all the city has to offer. Especially this coming holiday weekend. For us AmeriCorps members on a stipend, here are five museums worth checking out on a tight budget:

1) Institute of Contemporary Art
The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located in Boston’s up-and-coming Seaport neighborhood, has free admission every Thursday night from 5-9pm where you can view the permanent collection and ever-rotating exhibitions.  Come for the art, stay for the gorgeous view on the waterfront. 

The Museum of Bad Art, photo courtesy of Chris Devers

2) Museum of Bad Art
Located in Somerville, admission to the Museum of Bad Art is free with the purchase of a movie or concert ticket.  Perhaps the world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration of bad art in all its forms, it is also “located in a theatre basement, convenient to the rest rooms.”  In tune with the museum’s wry sense of humor, its membership page points out that one of the benefits of a free membership at the MOBA is that you “get into our free exhibitions for free.” Now who could turn down a deal like that?

[Diana’s Interview with her student: Peter Explains Earning and Spending CY Bux]

3) Museum of African American History
The Museum of African American History (formerly the Museum of Afro-American History) is New England’s largest African American history museum. Admission to the museum is always free (though there is a suggested donation of $5). This museum is housed in a historic meeting house where people of color gathered for Continue reading

Interview: High Fives, Homework Help and Spending ‘CY Bux’

By Diana Mai, City Year AmeriCorps Member serving at the Holland Elementary on the Harvard Pilgrim/PTC Team.

After almost eight months of service, most of us know all of our “Starfish” after-school students pretty well. However, there is one student in my homework room who I felt I could stand to know a little more about. During my conversation with Peter*, not only did I hear him gush about Minecraft, but I watched as he fell off his chair in total excitement! Read the interview below.

What’s your name and who’s your City Year corps member?

My name’s Peter and Mr. McCabe is my City Year corps member in class.

Peter, what’s one of your favorite things right now? (a book, video game, movie, etc.)

Minecraft! It’s a game where everything in the world is made of blocks and you use the blocks to build sandboxes or anything else you want! Monsters come out at night so you have to build something to protect yourself before that happens.

So what do you like about City Year?

That you guys help us in class every day, and that you give us high-fives every morning before school starts!

[Rewind: Diana Shares a Personal Connection with her Students]

What’s one thing City Year has helped you to accomplish?

I get all my homework done in after-school so I don’t have to worry about it when I get home.

That’s great! What’s your favorite part of the Starfish after-school program? And what makes it special to you? Continue reading

Empowerment Through Education: A Personal Connection to My Student

By Diana Mai, City Year AmeriCorps Member serving at the Holland Elementary on the Harvard Pilgrim/PTC Team.

I serve as a corps member in a 4th grade SEI (Secondary English Immersion) classroom at the Holland Elementary. It has only been six months, but I already feel at home and integrated in the sense of pride and community instilled in the small classroom of the twelve students I work with.

[Rewind: Watch Diana’s Video Recap of City Year Boston Serving at Project 351]

One of the students I work with closely, Cameron*, immigrated with her family to the United States from Haiti less than a year ago. Early on, she lived in and out of shelters with her mother. After going through many hurdles and social obstacles growing up, she now has some semblance of stability in her life. Reserved and quiet, she reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age.

Similar to Cameron, I was born and raised in an urban environment (New York City’s Lower East Side) to a working-class immigrant family. Early on, I watched my parents confront the problems of classism and xenophobia. As a young teen, I struggled to deal with my own insecurities, having less than most kids my age. My mother worked full-time as a waitress in a restaurant to make ends meet. Usually this meant standing on her feet all day. When she became sick and subsequently disabled by severe rheumatoid arthritis, my father was left to struggle as the sole income-provider while raising my older brother and I. I look back and I realize that many factors, on top of race, class, and gender, have influenced me to be the individual I am today.

ImageCameron and Miguel*, two students I work with

I immerse myself in my work every day because I want to highlight and give voice to marginalized and historically disenfranchised groups of people as a way to empower, and to make those who are invisible, visible. The fusing of lived experience mediated with my perspectives of society is crucial to my standpoint in life and how I negotiate my decision to participate in my community, and one of the reasons why I believe in Continue reading