By: Mia Karam
It has been nearly three months since I started my job as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Columbus, and I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like I have in these past three months. Being an AmeriCorps member for City Year has been one of the most challenging- yet rewarding- things I have ever done. There have been days when I have come home feeling defeated by the stresses and happenings of the day. In the same sense, there have been days when I would come home so on fire and full of joy from what the day had brought me that I could not wait to see my students the next morning. Every day brings new joys and new conversations.
One of the things I love about City Year is the culture and tradition. Different aspects of the City Year culture include calls and responses, circling up as a team at the start and end of each day, and of course PITWs (Putting Idealism to Work)—184 pieces of wisdom that motivate us along the way. One of the most fundamental parts of City Year culture is our founding stories, which explain the values that guide us each day.
One of these stories is the Starfish Story. In this story, a little girl comes across the seashore where hundreds of starfish have washed up. She tries to save the starfish and starts throwing them back into the ocean when an old man tells her she should stop, because she will never be able to save them all. However, the girl just looks at the man and tells him that even helping one starfish is still making an immense difference to that one.
We use the phrase “Starfish Story” here at City Year when we talk about students we have greatly influenced or have a deep connection to. Starfish stories give AmeriCorps members perspective and remind them that they really are changing the lives of children when things get difficult.
My Starfish Story started all the way back on day one:
There was a student who I met the very first day of school. Before I even knew I would be placed in his class, this student stuck out to me. He was labeled as “complicated” and “difficult to deal with” because of regular anger outbursts he would have that often left him leaving the room slamming the door, screaming that he did not care about what anyone else thought. After being placed in his class, I knew he would be someone I would keep my eye on. There would be times when I thought I would never get him to care about his actions and how they affected others. However, that definitely has changed with time.
Throughout the first several weeks of school, I would constantly ask this student how he was feeling and ask if he wanted to talk. At first he would just tell me to leave him alone, but as time went on, I found him coming up to me to initiate conversations. There would even be times that he would just come to me and ask for a hug.
One day, a different student in the class ran to the back of the room screaming and crying as the majority of the class laughed and pointed at him. It was not a fun occurrence to watch play out, and just as I was feeling extremely disappointed in my class, the student mentioned previously came over to me, tugged at my red jacket and motioned for me to come closer. As I bent down he said, “I’m going to be friends with him!” He was pointing across the room at the student whom the rest of the class had been making fun of all morning. “I don’t like that people make fun of him,” he continued, “I want to be his friend.” In that moment, I was more proud of my students than ever before.
I have seen this student make leaps and bounds in empathy. Certain people may see him as a 3rd grader with anger management issues, but I see him as a sweet and sensitive child who cares for others. In the time since then I have seen this student apologize to classmates whom he has hurt, and express true remorse for his actions in several ways. Sure, he still gets mad at times, but I have seen true growth in him, and that is such a beautiful thing.
Making a difference to just one child is still making a difference, and that is why I am here. There will never be a day when I am not willing to listen to one of my students or be there for them. Helping our students care for each other starts with us showing we care for them. I can honestly say I have never been surrounded by as many people that genuinely care for one another as I have been working for City Year. I would not trade my time with City Year for the world.