“Wow, I am so lucky.” Those are words I never thought I’d hear from my precious starfish. From day one I knew he was on my short list for starfish potentials. He was always late, quick tempered, and frustrated. However, below the surface he was tender hearted, observant, and compassionate. At the beginning, if he did not feel like he was getting a concept as fast as the other kids, he’d shred paper, flip off teachers, and/or storm out of class. Security was often called to escort him out. But I still loved him. When situations allowed, I would take him out and try to understand what was going on in his head, often to no avail. My starfish often took part in both in and out of school suspension. At the end of our first quarter, we passed out progress reports and that day he lost it. He threw a tantrum, flipped tables and chairs, and shredded his report, throwing the pieces across the room then refused to leave for the day. But after that, there was a change.

My partner teacher and I changed the groups to have my starfish in a mixed group of high grades and low grades so that he wouldn’t realize he was in the low group. During groups I was able to play on his big heart and let him take some leadership roles. I also stayed consistent with being overly excited that he made it in each day, asking him about his day, and trying to give him a hug. He and I even have some casual side conversations whenever time allowed. Watching him transform in front of my eyes has been a blessing to see. My starfish diligently works on reading achieve articles and always shouts his scores to me and we air high five cross the room. Now he’s more likely to patiently help other students, rarely argues over small things, stays awake through centers and actively takes notes. What I love about my starfish is that he doesn’t give up as easily anymore either and he has started to speak more positively about himself!

The second time progress reports were given out, he walked up to my partner teacher and I and calmly asked to see it and promised he wouldn’t cry or get angry and you know what? He didn’t! He looked it over, sat back, and said ok. Then he came to me and somberly told me he didn’t do well on his reports and requested that I look over them with him. That stunned me. Once we looked at it together we were able to notice that even though his grades weren’t as good as they could get, they had gotten better and we were seeing so much improvement in everything he does.

In class he once turned to me as said “Wow, I am so lucky”. I asked why he said that and he told me it was because he had a City Year in his class who is there for him. Even though it may sound cheesy, I didn’t know what to say. Moments like these remind me of why I love serving with City Year. Students like my starfish, who were destined to be kicked out and forgotten are now thriving. From a boy who would shut down and break pencils to a boy who asks questions and tries again with a smile on his face, my starfish now let’s me know that he is excited to do better and that he is always going to be working to being his absolute best. 

Blog post written by Mesha Russell serving on the Rice Family Foundation Team as S.P Livingston Elementary School

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