On Friday, June 16, 2017, AmeriCorps member Izzy da Rosa of the Comcast/NBCUniversal team with Jeremiah E. Burke High School delivered the keynote address at City Year Boston's 2017 Graduation. Below, please find the highlights.
Izzy da Rosa: One of my favorite pieces of City Year culture is the Starfish Story; a story of growth displayed by our students. While we each have dozens of starfish stories, there's always the few that stand out. At the beginning of the year, I began working with a student named Adam. He was tough. My initial attempts to interact with him usually didn’t end well but being Ms. Aggy Izzy, I persisted. After realizing that he had a very direct way of communicating, I said "I know you hate me, but I am just trying to help. I'll come back when you need my help." Adam quickly responded and said, "Miss.... I don't hate you. We just don't get along. I thought," Alright, I can work with that. "
Adam and I began to bond over a similar sense of humor and our shared Cape Verdean culture. We realized that we were very similar; our families were from the same island, we were both incredibly sarcastic, and we were both driven by competition. Adam would always want to be the first to finish in math competitions and games – especially on days where we would end the class with a few rounds of Uno! While he initially preferred to work alone, he eventually began to appreciate the importance of collaborating with his peers and working with them in and out of the classroom. Adam is an incredibly hard worker and loves learning, and that was evident in his grades and his growing class participation throughout the year. We worked on various behavioral goals, like using "Mr." or "Ms." before a teacher's last name, working in pairs, and coming in on Mondays even though that was his "day off" - in addition to Saturday and Sunday, might I add.
Over the course of the school year, Adam showed great strides in his interpersonal relationship skills. We had many conversations about the importance of working with his classmates, especially since he wouldn't have a City Year in the classroom after this year.
One day when I was returning from a math pullout with a few students, I found Adam working closely with a classmate and walking her through the steps of a problem. He was patient, clear in his direction, and he even checked for understanding, a skill that is not easy to grasp. I was visibly pleased, as I stood there with my hand over my heart and a smile spread across my face, which prompted his usual groan and sarcastic remark.
Today, Adam has become very collaborative and even helps other students work through various math problems, offers to assist his teachers with classroom tasks, and takes on additional assignments and challenges to better himself. I'm proud of Adam's growth and I am confident, just as he is, that he will continue to do well with his coursework and his classmates.
Another starfish story we can all leave with is that of our own. Whether or not this year of service is directly related to work we plan to do after City Year, we've all grown over the last ten months. City Year has strengthened skills like patience, flexibility, and budgeting. We've learned to work with others and adapt to the always-changing nature of education and the schools we serve in. Through collaboration and clear communication, we've been able to get our teams to meet goals that were too big to tackle alone. We've faced unique challenges and learned to problem solve in ways that we never realized we could – who knew how many posters you could make in an hour? Personally, this year I learned to embrace and practice collaboration more than I had ever before. I was fortunate enough to have 11 teammates that worked with me and, in some ways, served as my City Years as well.
My teammates helped me adapt to different working styles, strengthened my ability to work with others, challenged me to be more aware of perspectives other than my own, and even helped me better manage my time. No matter how small or large the task, I could not have done it without my team. Without the collaboration, patience, and shared commitment of my teammates and leadership, my City Year might not have been one to remember.