In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.
On my first morning of City Year New York's Basic Training Academy, a line of City Year staff members—all decked out in a uniform of white shirts, khaki pants, and Timberland boots—waited to greet me and 294 other corps members outside Manhattan’s P.S. 171. I quickly learned that with City Year, every greeting is a power greeting: "You have to high-five, you have to high-five to get by!" they chanted as we entered the building, high-fiving each of us as we awkwardly blushed and walked past. I couldn't believe how confident and enthusiastic they all seemed, but mostly I couldn't believe how much energy they had at 9:00 AM in the middle of August.
During BTA, we were taught by men and women who have either served as a City Year corps member or who have worked as teachers in the New York City school system. Since one of the most important aspects of our service is ensuring that we function effectively as a unit to help our students, the days were comprised of both informational sessions and team building activities.
Three weeks later, we had our Opening Day ceremony at the 92nd Street YMCA. Erica Hamilton, the vice president and executive director of City Year New York, shared a quote from Isaac Newton. "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The quote was meant to remind us of the thousands of corps members who have come before us and made vast and important changes in the public schools of New York City. I realized that every senior corps and staff member I'd interacted with during BTA is also one of these giants.
Her words also made me think about the impact I will have at my City Year placement, P.S. 154 in the South Bronx. Indeed, on the first day of school, I, and the other corps members at my school greeted the students as they entered the building with the same enthusiasm City Year had shown me. The welcome I got from City Year made me want to show up for training every day, and it helped me understand that creating a welcoming environment on campus makes kids want to show up, too. As I held the door open for each elementary school student, one young girl stopped when she saw me and, with a wide smile, exclaimed, "Are you the new City Year?" When I said yes she threw her arms around me, hugged my waist, and then darted off to her brand new class.
During my team's first morning of power greeting, we danced and clapped with confidence as our students high-fived each of us before walking into school. It's only been one month since I first timidly entered the doors of P.S. 171 to begin my journey as a City Year New York corps member, but I can already feel my legs stretching out of my Timberland boots and reaching for the sky as I become my own giant here at P.S. 154.
Photo courtesy of City Year New York