Before Aiden* joined Ms. E’s sixth grade classroom, he was a student in a classroom across the hall. Aiden was struggling with his peers in that classroom and often when things got too hectic, he was sent to sit in Ms. E’s room to cool off. When the situation escalated in his own classroom, Ms. E suggested he be switched to her room. He was given a permanent desk and a folder, his name was added to the homework chart by the door, and, beaming, he got to put his name on his water bottle in slanted cursive that wrapped around the neck of the bottle that said his name and classroom.
Aiden was added to my roster in late October, just in time for me to advocate for his spot on my social emotional learning (SEL) intervention list. One day, last month his temper got the best of him and a fight started. Safety officers de-escalated the situation and allowed him to sit in the City Year room until he was ready to return to class. He told Alexander Mitchell’s Impact Manager, Ms. Kayla, what had happened—that he was having a thumbs down day because he had been in a fight outside, but that I was his best friend. To hear students say things like that is always a great reminder of the importance of the work we do. City Year has given them a support system in school, a helping hand academically, or a safe space in the building for some recovery time.
Aiden has an incredible capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection. When I check-in with him throughout the day, he is always ready to tell me if he is having a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” day and expresses his feelings in a thoughtful and polite way. When I get a thumbs down, he tells me that he needs some space and that we can talk later, but when his day is especially thumbs up, he will stand on his tip toes, throw one arm around my shoulder and show me that his planner is signed and his homework, unevenly folded into a jagged square, is completed and ready to be stamped and turned in.
Recently, Aiden came running up to me at recess. He grabbed my hand and instead of swinging back at the students who were following him, he pulled me to his spot in line. While he still struggles with bullying, he tells me every week that the goals he has set for himself, the goals we worked on, are very important to him. He wants to be successful—he wants to pass the sixth grade and go to college after high school.
I have overheard him, laying on the floor doing small group work, using City Year strategies to help his classmates resolve problems. He offers creative solutions that remind me that even on the most thumbs down of days, our students truly take our words to heart and ripple outwards to others around them.
*Name changed for the privacy of the student.