By Chris D'Agostino, AmeriCorps member serving with the Condon Elementary School team
“Your job as City Year AmeriCorps members is multifaceted. You will never be bored.”
My team would often hear this during our first week of service. At the time, I thought I fully understood its implications; not only do we tutor children in math and English language arts, but we also reinforce positive behavior and good attendance. However, I never thought—in a thousand years—that this meant DJing a party.
That’s right. For our school’s Halloween dance party, I was assigned the role of disc jockey. At first, I did not know what to think of the gig; I loved the idea, but I was skeptical. I wondered what DJing had to do with City Year’s mission of serving students.
It turned out that DJing was more than just a fun and silly way of immersing myself in the school culture. It was an exercise in “moccasining.”
We talked a great deal about “moccasining” during our six weeks of training, the practice of walking in another’s shoes (or moccasins, citing the adapted Cherokee prayer). As a DJ, I had to walk (or dance) in the shoes of the attendees, and consistently ask myself, “What kind of music would they want to dance to?”
I struggled to empathize at first. Admittedly, I have a snobby tendency to think everyone will enjoy my music taste. But bands like Queen and ABBA are too outdated and out-of-place to play for 9-year-olds. So, I started to think of songs my students would sing to themselves in class.
Songs like “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen came to mind. Also, with the help a school dance playlist, I choose other popular songs such as the “Cha-Cha Slide” and “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”. And what’s a 2015 elementary school dance without One Direction and Taylor Swift?
The event was a great success. My students danced their hearts out, and my relationship with them strengthened. “It was nice to see you!” I heard many of them say during the next time I saw them in class. Some were even more open to my help during learning time.
A recurring theme from our six-week training was the importance of ripples--energy waves that travel, sometimes to places unknown and unexpected. In the case of the Halloween party, ripples travelled from the stage (where I was DJing), to the dance floor, and finally, to the classroom. But my students weren’t the only ones who benefited from this experience…
I now know how to DJ! Who knows, maybe I can DJ the next school-wide event, or, after City Year, I can bring it to the clubs of Boston. But only one thing is for certain for now—I ask my students to call me DJ Mr. Chris.
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