This story is co-authored by two teammates on the Diplomas Now team at Denny International Middle School - Second Year AmeriCorps member, Nina Montoya, and AmeriCorps Team Leader, Riley Butterfield. The student name in the story has been changed to protect privacy.
From left: Team Leader Riley Butterfield; Riley works on Leyla's nametag; Second Year AmeriCorps member Nina Montoya
Leyla is confident, bold, good-hearted, and sometimes a little bit sassy. It is not uncommon to hear "Hey, City Year!" from the other side of the long Denny hallway and know that it's Leyla, rushing from one class to the next, but taking a second to smile and say hello.
One day during lunch, Nina noticed that Leyla was not as bubbly and talkative as usual. Instead, her eyes were fixed on her shoes and she sat alone tugging at a string on her backpack. When Nina approached her and asked what was wrong, Leyla offered, "Ms. Nina can I ask you something? Do you think I'm a terrorist, because somebody called me that today?" Although saddened by the prospect of this student being bullied, Nina knew that she needed to do something to bring back Leyla's smile, at least for the day. Nina asked Leyla how she wished she was feeling and Leyla responded, unsurprisingly, with the word "confident." Nina explained to Leyla that if she showed people how confident she was, no one would be able to take that away from her. Together, they created a nametag for Leyla to wear. It read: My name is Leyla and today I feel CONFIDENT. For the rest of the day, Leyla walked around Denny with her head held high, a huge smile, and wearing her confidence.
That evening, Nina shared this anecdote at final circle. She explained that she felt heartbroken to see Leyla so down, but that it was awesome to see her able to take on her bullies in a positive manner. The next day, when Riley saw Leyla in the hallway, she was surprised to see that she looked fragile and solemn. Riley asked Leyla where her nametag that she made with Ms. Nina was, to which she replied, "someone poured apple juice on it and ruined it." In a rush between classes, Riley promised Leyla that they could talk more about it and make a new nametag after school. Leyla sighed and agreed, though clearly disheartened, and went to science.
While Leyla was in science class, Riley brainstormed ways in which Leyla's confidence could be boosted again, perhaps more permanently. Inspired by Nina's powerful idea the day before, Riley created an almost identical nametag to the first, except where the first one read CONFIDENT, Riley wrote a blank underline. She tossed the new nametag in the laminator, punched a hole in the top, and hung it from a lanyard. After school, Riley gave the nametag to Leyla and explained that each day she could use an expo marker to write in whatever feeling she wanted to exude and display to her peers that day. Right away, Leyla grabbed the pink marker, wrote in "HAPPY," hung the lanyard around her neck, and skipped out the front door of Denny to a group of 7th grade girls. The nametag gave Leyla the power to label herself instead of accepting the labels that others tried to give her.
In creating these nametags, we didn't make Leyla confident or happy; she had those feelings inside of her all along. Instead, we gave Leyla a tiny vehicle that served to help her understand positive socio-emotional behavior and her own innate resilience in standing up to bullies. Since that week, Leyla has been smiley and bubbly as ever, and we are happy to watch her grow as a student and an advocate for herself and her emotions.