by Danielle Doolittle, AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal team with Jeremiah E. Burke High School

Doolittle wrote this piece in October, at the start of her year of service.

Basic Training Academy (BTA) was a six-week program designed to prepare first-year City Year AmeriCorps members for a year of national service within Boston Public Schools. I walked into Excel High School on August 10, excited, nervous, and slightly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic greetings we received from senior AmeriCorps members. I figured the next six weeks would include training sessions about coursework, how to tutor students, and the overall structure of City Year; I didn’t quite expect idealism to fit into the mix.

The culture, strong values, and impressive legacy of City Year all contribute to the organization’s message of idealism, a message promoting the power of the mind and imagination to dream and think ideals into reality. Our service directly addresses the gap in opportunities and access in education; however, this service is not possible unless we approach it as idealists. Realism is not always enough in our service because on those tough days, idealism will motivate us to smile bigger, inspire us to cheer louder at morning greeting, and remind us to keep our expectations high for our students. The goals we set for ourselves, our teams, and our students will only be accomplished with idealist mindsets that are not fixed, but rather, grow with each experience.

One of the most intriguing training sessions of BTA examined fixed and growth mindsets, a concept pioneered by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist. Essentially, a fixed mindset operates with the phrase “I can’t do it,” whereas a growth mindset argues, “I can’t do it—yet”. City Year endorses a growth mindset approach to our service so that we learn to value the process more than just the outcome. I saw the message of this training in action when one of my partner teachers told our students their minds are like plastic, not concrete. As I saw the concept click for the students, it became clearer to me as well that our minds are moldable and, through idealism, we can grow them however we choose.

During the six weeks of BTA I learned about City Year’s mission and how to implement it through my service in the next ten months. One of the most valuable takeaways from the training was that idealism is necessary for becoming a lifelong leader. Civil Rights Activist Marian Wright Edelman wrote, “It’s a time for idealism--not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action.” Edelman’s words remind me that in order to pursue change in the world, we have to maintain optimistic mindsets that have the ability to imagine and actively create a better world. I am committed to using the tools provided to me through BTA to serve with perspective, compassion, and idealism so I can take part in making better happen.


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