City Year: Time Travel

Posted by Jenelle Thomson

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles write about their experiences.

I often wish I could time travel. Not so much to visit distant lands in time and space, but to visit different times in my own life.

I frequently think about my relationships with people and how first impressions can be misleading. They matter a great deal in certain circumstances—job interviews, for example. But in my experience, once I get to know people, I often find my first impressions were not altogether accurate. This makes me want to travel back in time to when I first met someone to see what that person was really like.

A good example would be the first day of school this past September. As a City Year corps member, I knew I would be tutoring students at risk of dropping out, but I didn’t exactly know what that would mean.  

On my first day, I found myself in a classroom with 37 6th-graders, wide-eyed and visibly overwhelmed by their first day of middle school. They sat in silence as their teacher explained the rules and expectations. I had my hypotheses as to who would fill typical class roles—for instance, who would become the teacher's pet, the class clown.

One of the class clowns turned out to be Antonio. Antonio has a mohawk and something smart to say in response to just about everything. In the beginning of the year, he never turned in his homework. When I asked him why that was, he would usually say he forgot to write down the assignment. So I created a homework log and taped it to the inside of his math notebook so that he would have someplace to write down his assignments. Every day, I would remind him to write down the homework and he would. Soon, he was turning in most of his homework.

I started sitting next to Antonio during class to support his positive behavior. I quickly learned he did not need to be tutored, as he quickly grasped the concepts. Despite all of his clowning around, he understood the material. He just needed some encouragement to focus on his work. He now asks me to sit with him, and in between math problems, he and I talk and joke around a little. I think it’s important for him to still be able to express himself in a constructive manner. As long as he does his work and doesn’t disrupt the class, I don’t see a problem with him being a bit of a comedian.

In the past few months, Antonio has made quite a turnaround. At the first five-week grade report, he had a D in math and an F in English. At the 20-week mark, he had improved two letter grades and is even helping other students with their work. I always congratulate him when he does well and tell him how smart he is. He smiles and acts bashful, looks down and turns bright red.

Antonio is still having a little trouble in English, but with my coaching, he initiated a conference with his teacher and asked what he could do to improve his grade. He has become more confident in himself and his academic abilities and is a much different version of himself than the Antonio I met at the beginning of the year. 

Although being able to time travel would be fun, I have to say, I would be glad to return to the present day and the students I now know so well.

Jenelle Thomson is a team leader for City Year in Los Angeles.