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By Samantha Johnson, 2012-2013 AmeriCorps member serving on the National Grid team with the Blackstone Elementary School

“Simon says, ‘Touch your toes!’” This is the sound of Coach Jay Arnold, our Playworks coach and one of our many mentors at the Blackstone Elementary school. Every Friday, Coach Jay Arnold speaks over the school’s intercom to get kids excited for the day and to start their day actively. After a few more minutes of Simon Says, he wishes everyone a happy Friday. This is a great way that we keep our students active and energized for a great day of learning.

Playworks takes their mentoring to a whole new place: the playground. Playwork’s mission, Coach Jay explained, is to “provide inner city students from low income families an opportunity to engage healthy play in activities and games in a caring environment where students feel safe to play. Playworks does this by placing a highly trained coach in each Playworks school, where we are able to accomplish our mission by organizing games during recess, take classes out during class games time, having a before/after school program, and also organizing a girls’ basketball league and co-ed volleyball league.”

For National Mentor Month, I interviewed Coach Jay on why he mentors and why the students at the Blackstone are important to him.

City Year Boston (CYB): What was it about Playworks that made you decide to become a part of their mission?

Jay Arnold (JA): What attracted me to Playworks was the opportunity it offered me to gain experience working in an elementary school, as well as to provide a community service to the city of Boston. Another reason why I was attracted to Playworks was that its main goal is to help young people understand the importance of healthy play and the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle.

CYB: What is your main goal at Playworks?

JA: My main goal at Playworks is to be a positive influence throughout the school community whom students and faculty feel comfortable coming up to if there is anything that they need from me.

CYB: What is your favorite part of being a mentor?

JA: Knowing that students feel comfortable coming up to me if anything is wrong, or if they are having a bad day, that they can come talk to me about it. What is also extremely rewarding is seeing the students faces light up when they see me and put their hand up in the hallway to give me a high five.

CYB: Have other mentors inspired you in your service?

JA: I have seen the work that goes into teaching and managing hundreds of elementary, middle and high school students in numerous schools and all of those people who are involved in that are mentors [who] inspire me every day.

CYB: Is there a specific moment you’re proud of so far this year at the Blackstone?

JA: It would be difficult for me to identify one specific moment that I am most proud of, but what has made me proud is see the change in many students from their behavior at the beginning of the year to where it is now. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but everyday it is clear that many students in each grade understand the importance of being respectful of each other, and that it is possible to play a game with each other without it ending in a fight or shouting match.

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