By Jake Walters, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Comcast | NBC Universal Team with Burke High School
City Year is an organization built on community. How AmeriCorps members view each other reflects on how we view the world and how others view us, how we treat our students, and how our students see us. To this extent, City Year has developed many cultural tools, encompassing both abstract value structures and concrete actions/habits/routines to guide us during our day, and to guide the students as well.
Among our most integral tools are daily team “First Circles,” where the team members gather together in a circle to start the morning, discuss events and hopes for the day and successes from the past days, as well to ensure we are all prepared for the day ahead of us. Above all, the First Circle is a tool of commitment to community and equality. Even the geometry of the shape itself speaks to the sense of community and equality. Circles are designed specifically because they have no jagged edges to disrupt the flow from person to person. Everyone occupies the same side, and thus there is no formal inequality to the geometry. Whenever a team member stands outside of the circle, literally contorting the equality of the circle, a team leader is quick to explain why it is important that we all approach each other with equal commitment and care. Thus, the First Circle, down to its core geometry, is a physical reflection of the egalitarian spirit of City Year.
More importantly, students actively recognize this sense of empathy and involvement. Several times throughout the year students have, with the un-tamable curiosity of a young learner, wandered into the Burke's BARK Room - where the City Year team holds after-school homework help and meets in the morning to begin our day – during our morning First Circle. Inquisitive and insightful, they ask questions about what we are doing, and frequently display a much appreciated interest in physically joining our circle. In the circle, we sometimes allow students to participate in our “Readiness Check,” when we collectively announce everything we need to be prepared for the day and help remind each other if we aren't prepared. This not only allows the students who occasionally join in to mentally check to see if they are prepared, but it involves them in the spirit of City Year and imparts on them a sense that we care about treating each other, as a team, with the same comraderie and care we give to students.
We also make sure to ask the students to participate in morning joys and appreciations, invoking their memories from the previous day or the current morning. This is an integral part of the First Circle and it allows us to start our day on a positive note. Involving students in the process allows them to do the same, reflecting on their morning and previous day and preparing them for a difficult but enlightening day of learning. It also lets them know that they are part of the City Year community, and we are invested in their opinions. Here, and elsewhere, City Year's cultural toolkit provides team members with an opportunity to construct their day with care, concern, and community. Furthermore, when we involve students, as we strive to do in every action, it allows students the same opportunity to engage and ripple these values to others.