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Successfully Closing Out Student Relationships

Building and maintaining strong, trusting and consistent relationships with the students we serve (also called developmental relationships) is a cornerstone of the City Year AmeriCorps member experience. While nurturing these positive and mutually beneficial relationships can, at times, prove challenging, they’re well worth the effort.

What happens when your service year comes to an end? Well, at City Year, we don’t like to frame closing out student relationships as a “loss” or something negative. AmeriCorps members are just one key part of a network of caring adults who support students and young people. Students can navigate this transition, particularly if we help them think about how to seek support from their peers, teachers, guardians and others in their community.

So how do AmeriCorps members close out student relationships with the thought and intentionality they deserve, then?

We talked to Dan Hodgman, an impact manager (IM) at City Year Chicago, to learn more about how corps members can thoughtfully close out student relationships. As an IM, Dan’s job is to support his team in keeping students on track to graduation, establish positive relationships with school partners and provide leadership development to their team of AmeriCorps members.

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Learn more about how Impact Managers work to support their corps members.

Dan Hodgman’s remarks have been edited and condensed for clarity:

Why closing out student relationships is so important

AmeriCorps members work really hard throughout the school year to build consistent and trusting relationships with their students. Those relationships should be treated with as much care and thought as you would any other relationship. Additionally, the relationship between City Year AmeriCorps members and their students is unique because there is a concrete end. Your service is about ten months or the length of a school year (plus Basic Training Academy in the summer).

When an AmeriCorps member chooses to return for a second year of service as a Team Leader, they’re likely not returning to direct service in the classroom. They may even complete their second year in a different school community. So, it has always been important to help corps members plan to close out relationships with the students they have served all year just like they would plan any other aspect of their service.

What are developmental relationships?

Search Institute describes developmental relationships as helping young people “be and become their best selves.” These relationships are positive, authentic and evolve over time.

Because City Year AmeriCorps members, who serve as student success coaches—near-peer tutors, mentors and role models—they are powerfully positioned in schools to cultivate these kind of connections with students and help meet not only their academic needs but also help to build students’ social-emotional skills.

The five elements of developmental relationships are:

  1. Express care – Show me that I matter to you
  2. Challenge growth – Push me to keep getting better
  3. Provide support – Help me complete tasks and achieve goals
  4. Share power – Treat me with respect and give me a say
  5. Expand possibilities – Connect me with people and places that broaden my world

Things to keep in mind when closing out student relationships

Get Creative

First, I would encourage AmeriCorps members to feel empowered and creative when closing out student relationships. So, let the ideas flow! Think and plan around those ideas but also know and recognize your capacity. Closing relationships can be heavy emotional work, and so you should allow space for that. It’s important to know when you’re feeling overwhelmed with those emotions or with the actual planning.

That said, and speaking from a manager’s point of view, know that you’ll have the full support of your IM to what you feel is best for yourself and your students.

Personalize end-of-year conversations with students

Second, corps members should take the time to individualize this process for each student. This can be an emotional process, and every student is unique in their needs and the way they process their feelings.  And if you don’t know how you can best support the student through this, you can ask!

A simple question like, “Hey, do you want to close out the year today or another day?” goes a long way. Being transparent with the student about the end of the service year can be extremely helpful. So, talk to them and get to know what they want to do.

Learn from your AmeriCorps member team

Third, I think it’s important to remember that even though each student needs individualized attention, closing out student relationships is a whole team effort. Each City Year AmeriCorps member in the school community should be thinking about this aspect of service. And I think it’s important to know what your other teammates are doing—not just for the sake of creativity, which is fantastic, but also for best practice sharing.

Working on a team will also allow you to think about closing out relationships with the whole school. Because throughout your service, you will inevitably build relationships with students who are not on your focus list or afterschool programs. This kind of collaborative thinking and work will allow you to serve those students best, as well

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Learn more about building positive relationships with students.


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