2016-02-02

Today’s guest blogger is Lexi Echelman. Lexi is 23 years old, a graduate of Bard College. This year he is serving on the City Year team at PS 130 in the South Bronx.

At P.S. 130X, we use the time before the school day begins to lead interactive games and events that improve student attendance and course performance. Working with Ms. Velasquez-Peay, the school principal, we created the “Before School” program. This program is 10-15 minute lesson plans that encourage our 3rd-5th grade students to interact with math and literacy activities in a fun environment, outside of the classroom. The “Before School” space has become very popular with our students, and is beginning to help improve their attendance and performance in the classroom.

 A highlight of the “Before-School” program is an activity called Bringing Books to Life (BBL). Every Friday, my teammates and I dress up in costumes and act out famous books for our students. Some of our past BBLs were the Lion King, Where the Wild Things Are, The Little Engine that Could, and The Cat in the Hat. Although the students initially saw the “Before School” space as an excuse to talk to their friends, almost all of them now sit still and attentively listen to the BBL stories.

It’s really amazing to see the power that stories have with children. After each performance, our students actively participate in discussion questions. They describe the characters in the story and say why they like them. These BBL productions show students that the stories in a book can have a deep meaning and impact on our lives. 

“Before-School” is a space where students learn about books and math without the pressure of receiving a grade, and it is ultimately a program that inspires our elementary schoolers to see learning as something that can be personally meaningful for them. One of City Year’s guiding quotes comes from Putting Idealism to Work (PITW) #15 (Bing!): “We must never lose the human aspect of what we are doing. It is always important to keep this in mind as we get busy with all the ‘important’ things we have to do.” 

It’s really amazing to see the power that stories have with children.

In addition to the BBLs and math activities, we also teach our students City Year cheers. Recently, we showed them “Foot Fires,” which is a cheer that allows students to stand up and get their energy out before the school day starts. In a school environment that is heavily structured, these energizers are important for each child’s development. “Before-School” gives them a break from the stresses of school while showing them that reading books and playing math games can be fun.         

I believe that this time with my students has had a deep impact, even though I may not see it in my everyday work. When I walk in the hallway, students occasionally stop me and do the Foot Fires cheer. My teammates have also told me that our students sing other City Year cheers on the buses to and from field trips. I have been asked the names of our BBL books from my students more than once. 

These are the small ripples that show the influence that “Before School” is having on them. It may not make all of them become avid readers or mathematicians overnight, but it does give them the confidence and curiosity to try reading new books or engaging in math concepts. And our work at City Year is ultimately about inspiring confidence amongst our students. If they have the drive to learn about new books or math games, then their positive outlook can eventually help them overcome each difficult test question or stress-factors that are all too common throughout their school day. Our work at P.S. 130X focuses on the small joys of learning and sometimes, it is these mini-lessons from “Before School” that can change our students’ outlook on school. 

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