William Gurr is the Assistant Principal at Virgil Middle School in Westlake/Koreatown.

How does City Year help build a positive school culture and climate? City Year brings a positive spirit. We all work hard. We are all here 10-12 hours a day. And City Year is tireless in their commitment to creating positive interactions both with students and with each other. They model how adults can be positive with each other. They have sort of ritualized protocols that they do, but I think generally that sense of spirit and service permeates everything they do.

The work is very, very difficult and so it takes a particular kind of commitment to remind us, why are we all here, why do we come through the doors every day. And this group of young people, who work for practically nothing, sometimes are the first people on campus and the last ones to leave. Students notice that. Students notice consistency. Students notice when adults are willing to listen to them. 

This is not to say that our teachers are not willing to listen to our students, but City Year’s primary orientation is one in which they understand . . . the importance of humanity. I mean a guiding principle for them is “Ubuntu:” My humanity is connected to your humanity.

And those connections – the minutiae of interactions that occur not only just in the classroom, but between classes, during lunch, after school, before school – remind kids that it’s not “us” and “them.” It’s all of us together. And I think that’s one of the things City Year does particularly well.  

How does having a City Year mentor in a student’s life make a difference? Because the AmeriCorps members are younger than most teachers and are perceived in a different way . . . there is a type of interaction that students can begin to have with AmeriCorps members that is more open. Students begin to think that they can speak their minds, in their own language, to AmeriCorps members and feel understood, and that the AmeriCorps member might not be quick to point out that the behavior is right or wrong, and be in the position to understand what the student has on their mind. 

And that, of course, builds trust. Once you build trust, then you build the belief that this person, in fact, can help you – where perhaps you have never had that relationship ever before in your life. And so it’s profound. 

What is your favorite uniform part? The smile.


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