By: Em White, Livingston Elementary AmeriCorps Member

As the kind of people that go into the business of helping children in need, we go into our work on the premise of a hero complex. ‘I will make a change in a child’s life.’ ‘I am the one whose job it is to help this child succeed at reading.’ Or math. Or in behavior. City Year is predicated on the idea that we can revolutionize education. That we are the ones who make the change.

We may not understand it until our first day of school—or the second—or the third—but eventually, we all face the same realization. A child turns to us with tears in their eyes or with clenched fists and tells us to our face that they want to talk to someone else. That they want their teacher. Or their teacher from last year. That they would rather go to PEAK, or to the office, and get written up in order to talk to somebody that they actually know and trust. Someone who isn’t us. It doesn’t matter how many times we assure them we’re there to help. It doesn’t matter if we remind them that they’re safe. They don’t feel safe, because no matter how on fire we are for education reform or how much we love working with kids or how much we know about kids, we do not know this child.

I have begun to see Livingston Elementary not simply as an institution of learning, but as a constellation of familiar people with whom a child can feel safe. That is how our children see school, especially when in crisis. City Year builds on that—our uniform alone links us into that constellation of the familiar. We are, however, just that—links. Beyond our association with last year’s tutor, or the breakfast friend from kindergarten, we must earn our way into our children’s hearts and minds. We do that by working with kids alongside those trusted adults, letting their credibility rub off and taking the opportunity to let the child open themselves up to us. We learn their triggers and why they act out. We learn what works. By becoming a part of the village, we can raise up our children.

And when we see them choosing us over the substitute teacher or other new adults, we can extend out a hand to those adults and lend them some credibility. We let them into the village, and pave the way for next year’s corps to run it.

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