AmeriCorps Member Spotlight: Meet Mid-Year AmeriCorps Member Anthony Smith
For City Year “Mid-Year” AmeriCorps members, the City Year experience can be tough. Joining in the middle of the service year doesn’t come without challenges. Students have been in classes for months, other AmeriCorps members have already developed relationships within the schoolhouse, and there are just the normal nerves that come with starting something new.
For Anthony Smith, a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member serving at Grover Washington Middle School, he can identify with it all. Yet, none of the above has stopped him from bringing new and positive energy to his AmeriCorps team and even being acknowledged by a teacher for having made an early impact on students.
How did you find out about City Year?
As a child, I had a City Year team at my school, Thomas M. Peirce School, and that was my earliest memory of the program. But my reintroduction to City Year was when my little brother, who attended Grover Washington Middle School, was selected to be a featured speaker at City Year’s gala in 2017 (Fact checking this with Chelsea). My little brother was considered to be a “bad kid” and this led to him not being able to walk in graduation. That same year, my mother passed away, so honestly, the stage that he was able to step on due to City Year was a big deal and a special moment for us all. Before then, I always thought of City Year as kids with red jackets in schools. Afterward, I realized that they created much more of an impact. They impacted me.
Why did you decide to serve with City Year Philadelphia?
I lost my mother, so I took some time off from school. I just needed an opportunity to get everything back together. My grandmother, who works at the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building, was assisting some volunteers who were doing AmeriCorps work with VISTA. She told me about the general AmeriCorps program and how it gives kids between the ages of 18 and 25 the chance to serve while, in some cases, getting paid. I was interested, but this was during the fall.
The only program of interest that was taking applications for serving immediately (or soon) was City Year. City Year was taking applications for Mid-Year Corps members and I was very familiar with the program, so I applied. The program intrigued me because it would give me the opportunity to work with kids in a school environment. My goal is to open a school one day and the experience that I am receiving with City Year is needed for me to reach it.
The service year has been going on for over six months now, and you started your service at the midpoint of the year. How have you been able to get acclimated to your team members and students?
Honestly, serving at Grover was the perfect match for me. My little brother and sister went to the school, I used to live in the neighborhood, and I already had pre-established relationships with some of the teachers prior to serving. I never felt like I had to get adjusted to the environment seeing as though I am from it. I come from the same background as some of the students and this allows me to able to relate to situations that they are going through and communicate with them from a place of understanding. In some ways you can say that I came in with an advantage.
There are a bunch of great leaders and great members on my team at Grover, so getting adjusted with this group was not hard at all. It is cool to see how much respect that the students and teachers have for the City Year team at the school. On my first day, I saw students run up to AmeriCorps members with excitement and they were constantly asking me if I was a new corps member. This made it even easier to build trust within the schoolhouse.
What do you believe are some of the pros and challenges of being a mid-year AmeriCorps member?
When you are a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member you come in with high spirits. You can uplift and provide positive/new energy to a team that may need it. Fighting the issue of educational inequity is not easy at all and sometimes it may be tough to realize that we do not have all the answers. Therefore, I believe new perspectives, new energy, and new outlooks can naturally uplift a team, which is a pro.
One challenge to coming in as a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member is the fact that you must develop relationships with students and teachers at the mid-year point. It may be hard for some people to build relationships in an environment where connections and norms have already been developed. But this is a part of the work we signed up for, so it must get done. In my opinion, coming in with high spirits and optimism will make this process seamless.
Another pro of being a Mid-Year Ameri-Corps member is that you do not come into this process alone. The group of Mid-Years that I was a part of was special. We became close and all seemed to be dedicated to the work that City Year is doing. The energy that our group came in with carried into the service year and that helped me a lot.
You’ve been an AmeriCorps member for three months now, what has been your most memorable moment or interaction so far?
Again, being a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member, you come into your school environment with positive and new energy. One of the students I work with was viewed as a problem child. He would be disruptive in class and not do his work. I naturally gravitated towards him. Through mentorship and conversation, I was able to help him get on track and improve his behavior. A teacher approached me and told me that she appreciated the work that I did with the student and noticed a positive shift since I became present. This is only one of a few instances where I find myself being a person that some of my students lean on. Being able to make a positive impact and develop such a presence within Grover has been meaningful and inspiring to me.
What are your LACY (Leadership After City Year) plans?
I plan to serve another year with City Year or another AmeriCorps program. My long-term plan is to open a school. I am a history major, so understanding the importance of education throughout the history of America has intrigued me. Throughout my life, I was able to make the best of things, given my circumstances, but this is not the same for other students with similar backgrounds. When I got to college, I realized that there were a lot of things that I wasn’t taught that my peers were. I want to open a school so that I can level the playing field for the next generation of kids within my community.
For any prospective AmeriCorps members, what advice would you give them?
Some days you lose and some days you win. But try to always keep a positive attitude. Having a positive attitude and understanding that you are serving the students is probably one of the best things that you can carry during your service year. When you serve, all days will not be good days. The work that we are doing serves a cause greater than self and realizing this will make the hard days worth it.
To anyone planning to serve as a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member, what advice would you give them?
Get ready for the long trainings and realize that they are super important for how you will navigate throughout the service year. Take notes, ask questions, and make sure that you are digesting all the information given because how you interpret it all may impact the students. Also, for anyone planning to serve as a Mid-Year AmeriCorps member, you should understand the importance of developing and maintaining relationships. I said prior that the Mid-Year team I started this process with was a great group. We continue to communicate to this day. We talk about our struggles, our accomplishments, and ask one another questions related to service. This helps a lot.
Finally, just be ready for this experience. There is a lot that goes into serving and some can find it to be hard, but it will all be worth it in the end.
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