Written by Alex Gribler, AmeriCorps Member serving on the New Schools for Baton Rouge team at Claiborne Elementary School

During the course of my year as a City Year AmeriCorps member, I was introduced to the concept of founding stories. These stories were both insightful and inspirational; as they touched on different elements and challenges we would face throughout the year. As my year comes to an end, there is one founding story that sticks out to me. The “Starfish” founding story tells us about a child on a beach full of washed up starfish. He was seen tossing them back into the ocean one by one. The child was asked why he was bothering to throw them back in, as he would never finish. He explained that he at least made a difference to that starfish. This story resonates with me, because there has been one student who has been my own starfish this year. He made my year of service challenging and rewarding at the same time. While there are plenty of lessons I have taught him this year, he has taught me more than I ever could’ve imagined. I have been extremely humbled working with this special student. He taught me to celebrate small victories and the value of patience.

I remember walking into Claiborne Elementary my first week of school and hearing this student’s name echoing through the halls. As the days progressed, I learned this student would be in my second block class. Notorious for his reckless behavior and occasional stubbornness, I knew this student might be a challenge for me. To say I was nervous to work with him one-on-one is an understatement, but I’ll never forget the first few times we worked together. While a normal classroom setting was challenging for him, the behavior I saw one-on-one was night and day. Whether we were working through a math problem, eating lunch together or just talking about life, working with this student became the highlight of my day.  We shared a mutual love for dogs, and I taught him all there is to know about my home state, Ohio. He was soon referred to as my “shadow” by most of the faculty and staff. He made me laugh until my stomach hurt, and brought me immeasurable joy, even on my toughest days. As much as I’ve learned the importance of helping a student read and write, I’ve learned that in order to make better happen, we have to start from the inside. I can only hope the relationship I’ve built with this student has made a difference for him, but I can say with certainty it has changed me for the better. 

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