2015-03-06

By Yessica Garcia, AmeriCorps Member, Harvard Pilgrim and Riverstone Co-Sponsored Team,
Serving at Beech Street Elementary School 

City Year is a national non-profit that aims to reduce the dropout rate by focusing on attendance, behavior, and course failure. As a corps member not only will you make a perceptible impact on the lives of students and their communities, but you will also grow as an individual. During a corps member’s year of service City Year helps build a toolkit that can not only be used during service in schools, but a corps member can also develop leadership and professional skills that will help in their career after City Year.  Alumna, Nicole Mayotte, shared a couple of her stories as corps member.

Why did you decide to apply to City Year and what did you value most about your experience?

“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to become a teacher.  When I attended Keene State College, I was required to pick a second major in addition to Education.  This stipulation took me by surprise, as I had not previously considered any other field.  I ended up choosing Sociology and falling in love with the program.  I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Sociology, along with my certification to teach grades K-8.  Although my dream was finally coming true and I was qualified to take on my own classroom, I did not feel 100% confident that I would be ready to be on my own for an entire year, as my student teaching was only 4 months long.  I also decided that I wanted to work in a situation that would require me to utilize my sociological studies.  During the spring of my senior year at Keene, I discovered City Year at a job fair my college was holding.  After meeting Katie Floyd and hearing what City Year was all about, I decided it was exactly what I was looking for: an entire year of service in a classroom of low socio-economic status.  What I valued most about my City Year experience was that it helped me to recognize what kind of teacher I want to become.”

How have your experiences at City Year and your position as a long term substitute impacted your long term goals? Can you pinpoint new skills/abilities you can attribute to the City Year/teaching experience?

“I learned an incredible amount from City Year outside of my school service.  The culture aspect of the organization was very important to me; from the PITWs to the ripples and joys.  The culture helped me to organize my thoughts and reflect upon why I wanted to become a teacher.  When I became a long term substitute, I always kept a bit of City Year culture in my back pocket.  I truly believe in City Year’s core values, which made it tremendously difficult for me to leave the organization.  It has been incredibly refreshing to still be involved with the City Year alumni community, as well as having the opportunity to work with a corps member in my classroom. I have found that reflection is very important for progress.  I greatly appreciate feedback, and treat every experience as a learning experience.  I enjoy the way that City Year values feedback and have even found that I subconsciously use it in my daily life.  PITW #83 (bing!) “Give immediate feedback (whenever possible). Timely, balanced feedback (both positive and negative) is critical for growth.”  It is important for people to be aware of areas they are strong in, as well as areas they need to work on.”

How did your experience at CityYear impact your decision in accepting the long term substitute teacher job at Beech St. School?

“The relationship that I established with my partner teacher was vital.  It is what came first in any decision that I made throughout my corps year.  Each lesson that I watched Mrs. Boulanger teach influenced each session I led with my focus students.  The way she interacted with her students influenced the way I interacted with them.  Together, we built a rapport of trust, respect, and understanding as we also established a fluid and consistent environment for the students in our classroom.  Upon learning that Mrs. Boulanger would be gone on maternity leave for the beginning of the school year, she was thrilled by the prospect that I could take over her position until she came back.  I knew her rituals and routines and she knew that she could trust me with her materials.  It was the strong rapport we had built during my corps year that would create a smooth transition of me taking over Mrs. Boulanger’s classroom in the fall, and then her returning to school four months later.”

Can you share a snap shot of one of your favorite moments/memories at City Year?

“Every Thursday morning, my team of eight arrived at Beech Street School at about 7:45, dropped our backpacks and bombers off in our classrooms and reconvened in the library.  We would spend the next 15 minutes doing various team-building activities.  One of my favorite memories was that during this time in the morning before a big event (i.e. Literacy Night, Starfish Opening Day, Bobcat Rally, etc.), our “team-building activity” would be a dance party.  We would find a cheesy playlist on someone’s phone, create two lines, and dance down the middle one-by-one.  Admittedly, none of us were great dancers, but that was the best part.  This was a time when we would take all of our pent up stress and just let it out.  Subsequently, at our team community meeting, we used our background of dance to inspire our transitions.  In between each section, we played a song, invited the corps to get up and dance to a new seat.  This was a great way to express the fun-loving dynamic of the Beech team to the rest of the corps.”

Nicole’s humbling experience as a corps member allowed her to reinforce her passion for teaching. Her advice to corps members is to remember that each relationship built is a stepping stone to who they become. “Think of ubuntu; everyone is connected, but it is up to you to keep those connections positive.” Though a day in the life of a corps member can be very exhausting the rewards are endless. The phrase give a year. change the world. not only applies to the impact we make on the students but the impact the students make on us. 

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