Say hello to KeyVonna Taylor! Her story of service with City Year Detroit gives us a personal view of what it’s like to show up every day for students in our partner public schools.
My name is KeyVonna Taylor and I am a 23-year-old from Saginaw, Michigan. As a child, I grew up coming to Detroit and its surrounding neighborhoods to visit family and attend various events on weekends. I graduated from Oakland University in April of 2017, with a Bachelors Degree in Journalism and a minor in communication.
Growing up in a household with a younger sibling, I was constantly around someone a few years younger than myself. I always felt the importance of being a positive role model for my sister, and ever since I can remember I was drawn to helping others. My parents also expressed the value of education and being involved in extracurricular activities to my sister and me.
Between elementary and high school, I attended both private and public schools. Overall, I had a great educational experience, but I struggled in math. We often hear people say, “I’m a math person” or “I’m an English person” and I am an English person by all means. English and reading came naturally to me and were always the subjects that I did the best in. I avoided math whenever I could. Even when I attended college, math was still a challenge - numbers scared me and in all honesty, they still do.
After graduating from Oakland University, I decided to join City Year and become an AmeriCorps member. I now proudly serve as a team leader at Noble Elementary-Middle School, which means I support a team of 7 other corps members as we work with our 3rd-8th grade students academically, socially and emotionally. With City Year, I have had the opportunity to not only utilize my strengths but also challenge myself to improve upon my weaknesses.
During my first day of school at Noble, I felt a lot like the new students. I was filled with excitement about the new experiences that I would have during the school year like being a part of a team and building relationships with students and coworkers. I was also nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Above all, I was afraid of being placed with an older grade level and having to help them with math.
At the beginning of September, my team and I received our classroom assignments. I was placed in 8th grade with a class of 50 students. You can imagine how difficult it is to learn or teach with that many students in one room, especially without adequate academic resources. I was excited to meet my students and have the chance to serve them yet scared because I didn’t want to fail them.
Stepping into math class, taught by my partner teacher Mrs. Jefferson, brought back memories of fear, doubt and anxiety. Although, I wasn’t a student or getting graded for my work, I felt like I was. But I knew that I had responsibility to show up for my students in spite of my own insecurities.
I met a student in 8th grade named Danielle (name changed) who in some ways reminds me of myself. She had good grades overall but math is one of the subjects she struggled in. I later learned Danielle had what is called math anxiety: the feeling of fear, tension and uneasiness due to mathematics.
As Danielle and I continued to interact in class and meet over the course of the year for one-on-one math and English interventions, I noticed that our relationship grew stronger. She would come into the City Year room just to give me hug or to talk if she was having a difficult time. There were moments during the first part of the year when I would get discouraged because I was unable to help a student with a math problem, or tired because I was working long hours. I would think about Danielle and remember why I wanted to join City Year. I’m serving for a cause greater than myself. I believe all students deserve the opportunity to pursue an equal education, reach their full potential and create better futures for themselves and their communities.
I have had the privilege to see Danielle be a natural leader and hard worker. English and reading are her strongest subjects; in fact, she is one of the top NWEA test scores in her class. Danielle also challenges herself in math by asking to work on harder problems, which encourages me to push myself in spite of difficulty and be okay with feeling uncomfortable.
Not only have I been able to be a positive role model for Danielle but I have also learned a lot from her. I often find myself saying, “We’re going to figure this out together” or asking one of my team members to assist me with a problem. Danielle reminds me that it’s okay to ask for help and be vulnerable (because it isn’t about me in the first place). We’re going to make mistakes.
I recently had the opportunity to help Danielle write a high school admissions essay, which was a highlight of my City Year experience. We were able to work together and use a strength we both share – writing. It was inspiring to see Danielle’s trajectory change from not wanting to apply to high school to finishing her admissions essay. Danielle was recently accepted to high school, and this fall she will be attending Cass Technical.
Picture a world where every student has a mentor or role model. That is my hope because support can be a powerful vehicle for change for kids like Danielle. I’m thankful that I get the opportunity to positively impact the youth of Detroit. Although working in the field of journalism and communication or within the nonprofit sector interests me, I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to do after City Year graduation in June. Regardless of my career path, I will continue to make it a priority to positively impact youth in some way after my service year with City Year.