By Veronica Joyce, Service Leader serving on the McDonough Elementary School Team.
“So wait, are you back in school already?” is the question I've been getting every time I tell people I'm back to work at City Year for the summer. 'Well no... But...' Is the answer I've been giving. We're not back with the kids yet but it feels like I'm back in school.
The Senior Corps team has been in service since July and the new AmeriCorps members started their City Year experience on August 1st with Basic Training Academy (BTA), a month-long comprehensive training program preparing them for service and schools. As a Service Leader, I now have a small group of wide-eyed first years that I'm guiding through trainings. It's almost like I have a new focus list - I'm teaching them games, helping them navigate new spaces, and quelling their fears over what's to come. Our Founding Teams, the teams our AmeriCorps members are placed in before being assigned to schools, have been focused on identity work - who are we? How do we fit into the bigger picture? How do we fit together as a site?
Before we can ready ourselves to enter the schools, we have to ready ourselves to be a cohesive team for the upcoming year. We start out on these small Founding Teams before we find out our school teams so we have the time and space to get to know everyone at the site. Focusing our days on Diversity, Belonging, Inclusion, and Equity work, we are getting to know the essence of the people around us - connecting beyond the traditional name/hometown/fun fact ice breakers. The new AmeriCorps members happily share details about their lives as well as their hopes and fears with the large group. At the end of the day when we break into our Founding Teams, we unpack the lessons of the day, share our thoughts and questions, and prepare ourselves for the next day of training.
Front loading the year with trainings helps our AmeriCorps members get comfortable sharing their identities with each other will allow them to bring that into the classroom as well. By the time we get to our Basic Training Retreat where we hide away in the woods together at Camp Berea for a few days, we really know each other and are ready to learn about the schools which we will be entering. All of BTA is geared towards readying the new City Years to work the long days in the schools come September. It is during this time that they get to step outside of the demands of learning how to be Student Success Coaches and focus on themselves. Here they can find out who they want to be in the classroom and how they want to show up their first day.
From mandatory sessions on student safety to cheat sheets for how to live on the stipend, BTA is a crash course on the year to come. While staff is teaching them new acronyms and tools every day, Senior Corps members are working to find their missing name tags and quelling their fears about kids not liking them. Toward the end of Founding Team days during a teambuilder, one of my AmeriCorps members realized “oh my goodness, you've been teaching us games to play with the kids this whole time!”
Going through BTA together is a bonding experience like no other. You laugh together, you cry together, you share your lunches with your friends who forget to meal prep, and more. It's what makes being at City Year New Hampshire so special - you really get to know the whole corps before entering your individual classrooms. Even though we will be with our school teams every day in service, we still benefit from the ideas and stories of everyone at the site. I am looking forward to when we get back together for our Learning and Development days already. I want to know how my Founding Team members are adjusting to their new surroundings, who is already building great relationships with their teachers, and which of my fellow Service Leaders are feeling as optimistic about their teams as I am. If Basic Training Academy is any indication for the rest of the year, this is a group that is ready to take on any challenge and make big changes wherever they go.