By Samantha Ruthazer, City Year Boston AmeriCorps member serving with the Fidelity team at the Higginson-Lewis K-8 School in Roxbury.
I’m originally from Andover, Massachusetts, just 25 minutes north of Boston. My passion for service started early. Growing up, I was always curious and asking questions. I wanted to know why inequity existed and why some people had more than others. At the time, my mom was a family lawyer. She was always telling me, “Sammy, you'd be a great lawyer.” Back then, I fought against it. I really loved working with children. I taught kids in Sunday school and dance classes, and I wanted a future teaching kids.
But I started to change my mind about law in college. There, I had the opportunity to learn about systems of inequity, like the school to prison pipeline, and how they impact our education system and youth development. My senior year, I conducted a research project where I interviewed my peers who had incarcerated family members and asked them about their experience with education. What stuck out to me, were the stories they shared about their mentors. For each of them, there was someone in their life who had encouraged them and believed in their academic success. Hearing that really inspired me and reminded me how much I loved working with youth.
That’s why I joined City Year. I wanted to be a mentor who could share my students’ success and support their emotional growth. I wanted to be part of a community making change for our students. Ultimately, I plan on becoming a juvenile law advocate, so I can use my platform to ensure all students can fulfill their potential.
Today, I’m serving in a 3rd-grade classroom with my partner teacher, Ms. Steinberg and the experience has been amazing. I’m on a team of six and we are in school all day, focusing on the ABCs: attendance, behavior, and coursework. City Year chooses those 3 areas because studies show if a student is behind in any of the ABCs they are less likely to graduate high school on time.
Every day, my team greets our students in the morning with cheers and songs to get them excited for school. We check if students are absent, and then we head to class where we provide 1:1 or whole class support. When Ms. Steinberg teaches a lesson, I walk around the room and check on them. If she is teaching poetry, I’ll sit next to my students and write a poem too, so they know that we’re in it together. After class ends, I head to our afterschool program where we provide fun enrichment activities and homework help.
He was a great student but needed help with his reading comprehension.
When he didn’t understand his material, he’d get discouraged and put his head down.
My 3rd graders need support with their academics and building strong habits for 4th grade. My partner teacher is amazing and she encourages them to take positive risks, like asking a question or raising their hand. Some students need encouragement so we set goals around positive risk-taking. But before we can set goals, I make sure to check in and ask about their interests. They love showing me dances from Fortnite or their favorite Youtubers. And every day, they make me laugh. Whether they’re asking me about Santa or laughing at my dancing during our stretch breaks. Those moments help me connect with students and push them academically. They know I care about them and want them to do well.
That’s how I started working with my student, *Cole. He was a great student but needed help with his reading comprehension. When he didn’t understand his material, he’d get discouraged and put his head down.
One day I noticed Cole was doing his work and getting a little frustrated. He looked at me and said, “Ms. R It’s so hard, I can’t find the answer.” I asked him, “Cole, what do you do at school?” He said, "to learn." So I asked him if learning is easy. And he said sometimes. I told Cole that learning isn’t easy all the time. It can be hard but that’s okay.
After that, I decided to pair Cole with another student who also struggled in the same area. Together they're working on taking one positive risk in English and one positive risk during math. They lean on each other and remind each other about their goals. They each have a chart to track their progress, and every week we check in. If they reach their goal, they can earn lunch in the City Year room.
Since then I’ve really seen an improvement in coursework and positive risk-taking. Cole takes his time doing his work and breaking down problems into steps. And he’s more willing to answer questions or raise his hand. A few weeks ago, Cole reached his goal. He was so proud of himself and excited to have his “lunch party” in the City Year room.
Even though my students are in 3rd grade, they’re really motivated to set goals and want to achieve them. But every student learns differently, so I have to adapt to their needs, like my student Devin. He’s a really energetic kid and when he sits too long, he can get antsy. So I let him get his energy out in the hallways so he can refocus. He was also new to the school this year and had a hard time making friends and working with others. When he needed help, he tended to leave class instead of raising his hand. I started working with Devin 1:1 and introduced color cards he could use to express himself.
A red card on his desk means he’s overwhelmed and needs to go to the calm down corner for a break. If he’s struggling or needs to talk, he shows me a yellow card and I’ll come to check on him. And green means he’s good to go. It’s a new practice in our classroom but it’s been really successful.
Usually, Devin just needs a little guidance or to talk about what’s on his mind. Sometimes I have him sit with a small group, so he knows that if he works with me, he also has to work with his classmates. That’s really helped him learn collaboration. And I’ve started seeing changes in his behavior. He’s been helping his classmates with their work and making friends. And lately, I’ve seen him take out his yellow card, look at it, then put it back. I’m proud to see he’s growing more confident in his ability to work on his own. Even, Ms. Steinberg has noticed the changes in him.
“Ms. R, I want to be a City Year when I grow up.”
I knew Devin was on track, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized working with him was making an impact. Our class was working on an assignment about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was circulating around the room, and Devin was working on his own with his green card out. When I got to his desk, he told me, “Ms. R, I want to be a City Year when I grow up.” I was really touched, and so proud of all the work he’s done. He and all my students have grown so much this year.
As an AmeriCorps member, I’ve realized all students benefit from having a mentor. For my students that are on track, I praise what they’re doing well. For students that need a challenge, I like to teach them something new. Recently, I taught one of my 3rd graders, algebra and she understood it! She even corrected my math. I love knowing my students are growing and learning and I can be part of their success. When I started at City Year, I didn’t know how much I would grow by working with my students. After this year, I want to come back to City Year as a Team Leader and lead another group of AmeriCorps members through service. Eventually, I plan to take what I’ve learned from my students and City Year to become a juvenile law advocate.
This year has shown me what can be accomplished when we become active participants in our community. I’m here today because I believe civic engagement can transform education in Boston.
For each of us, there was someone who inspired us, who believed in our potential to be where we are today. Our Boston students need that same community of believers to rally behind them. Their imagination, passion, and creativity are changing our city and everyone in our community benefits when we invest in their potential.
As leaders, each of us heard the call to be a civic agent long before today. We heard it in our classrooms, we heard it on the field, we heard it at the dinner table. And we answered. We answered because we believe in a better future for our city and our youth. Every day, we have an opportunity to put those values to work, and propel the fight for equitable education.