2016-05-09

By Drew Wilcox, AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal team with Jeremiah E. Burke High School

I was nervous.

It was my first day with the students of Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, MA. My training had prepared me to greet students warmly and enthusiastically, but my jitters were clearly showing. Would the students like me? Or would it be really awkward?

“Welcome City Year!” glowed a friendly 10th grader walking into the front entrance of the school.

“Hi there! Welcome to school!” Encouraged by her smile and eye contact, I continued the conversation by asking her if she had City Year in any of her classes last year.

“Yes! Of course I had City Year last year! I had a City Year in my Algebra class, and in my English class, oh and in my Physics class too! I love City Year! I’m so glad you all are back!”

I was floored. It was my job to be welcoming, but this student had singlehandedly made me feel accepted on the very first day in the school.

A few minutes later, the school principal Dr. McIntyre walked by and excitedly announced, “Over the summer I missed being greeted each morning! I wish I could take you all around with me, I’d be in the best mood all the time!”

Then the freshman administrator Mr. Bishop passed through: “City Year is back! Woo hoo! I missed you all!”

Then teacher Mrs. Pires: “Oh how I love City Year!”

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The beauty of the Burke is how accepting it is.

On my very first day at the school, I felt at home. Many students and virtually all of the staff members welcomed me into their community with open arms. They gave me permission to be myself.

Because I was immediately accepted as a community member, I was much better able to extend genuine acceptance to the new 9th-grade students who were equally as unfamiliar with the Burke as I was at the time. It is this self-perpetuating cycle that may be the Burke’s biggest asset: a community marked with acceptance is one that validates each one of its members.

From my first day of service, the Burke has taught me valuable lessons about community that I hope to carry forward with me for the rest of my life.

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