By Ms. Coleman
School Librarian at Ketcham Elementary School
Before working at Ketcham Elementary, someone could have asked me what City Year is and I would have responded with:
The thing about City Year is, you may not see them unless you know when and where to look.
Try this quiz on the average person:
- When you leave for work, has the sun fully risen in the sky? If yes, then you probably haven’t seen a City Year AmeriCorps Member.
- Do you spend your weekends
a) at the mall (movies, museum, etc.) or b) at neighborhood grassroots events?
If the answer is “a,” then you probably still haven’t seen an AmeriCorps Member, at least not in uniform!
- Have you ever spotted groups of young people sporting red jackets in random corners of the city and thought you were seeing either a flash mob or a glee club, and just shrugged it off? You were mistaken! Although AmeriCorps members are certainly some of the most gleeful people in the public school system.
City Year AmeriCorps members are stealthy to a fault. They get in early—which means they leave home super early, usually to walk to a bus stop, to get to a Metro station, to catch a train, to walk to their school—and leave late. They give their after-hours and weekends, their time and their talent, in the name of uplifting kids and helping teachers. It’s their humility and their dedication to serve that makes them shun the spotlight. But when the spotlight is on them, get ready for some serious cheering and motivation.
Take my experience with City Year at Ketcham Elementary School in Washington, DC’s Ward 8:
1. When I first started working at Ketcham, I was in a frame of mind like:
I was going to ROCK this school year and TRANSFORM the school through the sheer power of words!
(Did I mention that this was my first time being a school librarian?)
2. I was soon introduced to the City Year Corps, who were full of spirit, optimism and enthusiasm:
In reality there was much less pelvic thrusting (we are at an elementary school, after all) and more gleeful clapping, stomping and shouting.
But my point is, their energy was contagious as they greeted students on the first day of school. I was nearly brought to tears as I witnessed them, along with members of 100 Black Men of Greater Washington DC, shout words of encouragement to our young scholars as they entered the building.
As the School Librarian, I’m part of the Specials Teachers team that includes Music, Dramatic Arts, and Physical Education. We each had big hopes about having a City Year Corp to work with on a regular basis.
3. And then we learned that none of us would have our own City Year Corp.
I soon realized that CYs were in high demand, with a couple of grade levels sharing just one City Year, and some classes going without. It wasn’t until I attended the Idealism in Action Gala and heard Jeff Franco explain that schools had to apply for CYs that I understood how lucky we are to have our Ketcham crew.
4. The bright side: As a specials teacher I get to know all grade levels, and by default end up working with most if not all of the CY Corps at some point.
I saw how efficient and calm Ms. Maya was as she simultaneously cared for a student with autism and helped me manage some of the more eager and rambunctious children in her Kindergarten class.
I witnessed Ms. Darlene do paperwork at the same time that she firmly yet lovingly reminded the 4th graders who was boss.
Thanks to Ms. Maddie I did some fun projects with 1st grade that I couldn’t have accomplished single-handedly.
(The cleanup from that homemade pumpkin playdough was fun, right Ms. Maddie?)
5. Some days were rough. There was the occasional technology fail that would send a whole lesson plan off track,
...and times when student behavior made you want to do this
6. But in the end there were so many moments of greatness that made me feel like this
Because when a child connected with a book, or completed a fun science project, they’d get this look in their eyes that told me their spirit was doing this.
(Or they’d just really dance.)
7. To the Ketcham City Year Corps: Everything you touched, you made better. Your intelligence, kind words, tough love, creativity, and willingness to listen and collaborate have been integral to our daily functioning. Your presence means so much to the well-being of students and staff. I salute you (and all City Years) and I will miss you!
Especially that first morning the kids come up the stairs knowing you aren’t in the building:
Have a splendid, relaxing summer…
...and all the best for your future endeavors.