By Summer Starling, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain & Company team with John F. Kennedy STEM Innovation School

Student: City Year, do you have a [insert social media outlet]?
AmeriCorps Member: Umm…[insert appropriate, professional response]

This timeless interaction between mentors and mentees has evolved from the era of MySpace to Snapchat. Regardless of the outlet, the prevalence of social media in our lives and our student’s lives remains resolute. But why is this always the default method of students attempting to connect with their AmeriCorps Members? The answer is simple--they are at the forefront of the social media revolution.

To many of us (older) millennials, social media is the key manifestation of popular culture. I’ve connected with my students by capitalizing on their familiarity with this--a culture that they are largely a part of.

I relate classroom topics to the latest (appropriate) sports, music, television or meme references, e.g., my math groups are divided into Celtics and Patriots. My Starfish Extended Day program theme is popular music with our reward system featuring students as starfish on the Hollywood/Grammy Walk of Fame. And because pop culture, by definition, grows every day, the possibilities of connecting with students over popular culture are rewardingly endless.

Here are three ways you can get to know and connect with students:

  • Choose a student of the week and interview them with the class or small group. Don’t forget the microphone and “press” tag!
  • In a similar vein, explore games and chants that allow students be the focal point. Most young people love to be in the middle of a circle with their peers cheering them on. Also take note of students who are more shy, and adapt to their needs.
  • Just talk about things you like, and I’m sure that you'll be able to find common ground. Honesty is key.

Regardless of whether your student is a bookworm, a social butterfly, or something in between, I hope you can explore the aforementioned avenues as tactics of building substantial and long-lasting connections with these amazing young people!

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