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The power of lunch time

In 2017, Brad Montague, creator of the popular YouTube series Kid President, gave a talk on how to be a better grownup. His hallmark piece of advice was, “be who you needed when you were younger.” That phrase guides all my interactions with students, but it rings especially true when I think of my relationship with Chloe.

Last year, I started a behavior incentive system for a group of middle schoolers who were often sent out of class. When students behaved appropriately in class, they could eat lunch with me. In the library over cafeteria food, I developed one of my most meaningful student relationships.

Chloe and I have a lot in common. Early on, we bonded over pushing through similar experiences. Chloe’s stories remind me how difficult it is to navigate emotions and self-control in middle school. Some days over lunch, Chloe would tell me she’s proud of herself for controlling her emotional reactions. Other days, we would have to discuss what she did to get sent out of class. I could tell Chloe trusted me, so I tried my best to support her in a way that would have made a difference for me when I was younger.

Over the course of the year, supporting Chloe became a team effort. The other City Year AmeriCorps members on my team would check in with her throughout the day. Chloe could see she had a support system that wasn’t giving up on her. And that support made a huge difference.

Now I’m a Senior AmeriCorps member, and I’m working with Chloe for a second year. We have a new set of behavior goals. I don’t need to ask a series of questions to figure out how her behavior has been—she tells me. She runs to fill me in when she’s had a great day. And when she struggles with her behavior, she comes to me with an idea of how she could handle the situation differently next time.

That’s what I enjoy most about my position as an AmeriCorps member. I have so many opportunities to know my students outside of their academics or negative behaviors. I get to laugh at how much they love the cafeteria’s gumbo. We have silly debates and dance offs. I get to know them and support them. And, I hope, I get to be what they need.

Written by Rosie Garland

*Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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