by Yi He, City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps member proudly serving on the Parker-Varney Elementary School team
The Governor’s Conference on Volunteerism is an annual conference that City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps members attend as a means of connecting to the bigger picture of national service. At the conference, attendees are able to participate in a multitude of sessions about different topics relating to volunteering and service, from fundraising basics to managing burnout. City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps members are joined in attendance by volunteers and professionals from across the state, including members of other New Hampshire AmeriCorps programs. This year the conference was held on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at the New Hampshire Technology Institute in Concord, NH.
This year’s conference started off with a keynote speech given by Alex Freid, the founder of PLAN, the Post-Landfill Action Network. PLAN is an organization that inspires and supports student-led zero-waste initiatives on college campuses. Freid described PLAN’s beginnings as Trash 2 Treasure at the University of New Hampshire, where Freid and his team collected items students couldn’t bring home with them at the school year’s end, and sold them at the next school year’s beginning, so that items could be reused instead of thrown out and wasted. Today, PLAN supports its member campuses across the country, gives interested students the resources, skills and social networks they need to develop their own zero-waste movements and organizes its own annual conference, the Students for Zero Waste Conference which is being held this year at UPenn.
What stuck out to me in particular in Freid’s presentation is his discussion of “pivots.” In his presentation, Freid defines a pivot as “A change in strategy without a change in vision.” His discussion of various pivots over since PLAN’s beginnings made me see my own work with City Year New Hampshire (CYNH) in a new way. I realized that I was part of a CYNH “pivot,” one that has deeply influenced my day to day work. This pivot is CYNH’s new leadership lunch curriculum.
Leadership lunches are when AmeriCorps members work with students on different aspects of behavior and interpersonal interaction. AmeriCorps members meet twice a week with students during lunch, giving lessons that help students to improve one of the eight SEL skills (self-awareness, relationship skills, optimistic thinking, social awareness, decision making, personal responsibility, goal-directed behavior and self-management.) Three main changes in the new leadership lunch curriculum are that AmeriCorps members are given a social-emotional learning (SEL) skill to focus on for the month, provided with engaging activities that correspond to that skill and receive a framework of levels for students to reach different depths in the monthly skill.
Before we implemented the new curriculum, AmeriCorps members generally decided for themselves what lessons to give students; we chose what SEL skill to focus on and how to teach it. The new curriculum changes our work in several ways. For one thing, we get a skill to focus on for each month, so each leadership lunch lesson is about this skill; for April the skill is relationship skills and for May it is optimistic thinking. We also get engaging activities to teach this skill, ones that are fun and relevant for students. Finally, we get three levels we can use to see where our students are, a beginning, or “mild” level, a “medium” level, and a “spicy” level.
In my opinion, this leadership lunch “pivot” helps AmeriCorps members conduct more effective leadership lunches with their students. Having one competency for the entire month takes lots of stress out of the planning, and it unifies AmeriCorps members’ teaching in one school. In focusing on a competency for the month, we and our students can dig deeper into one competency. Sharing our leadership lunch work with our team members can be more helpful if we have one skill we focus on since what we share is more relevant to each other.
One example of an engaging activity we are provided in the new curriculum with is the “Nametag Swap.” In this activity, students get nametags that they then trade to other students while exchanging three facts about themselves; the students then have new names and the task of sharing their new “facts” with another person. Students switch nametags three times and then introduce themselves to the group as their new identity. The activity gave students the chance to talk about themselves, socialize and pretend to be someone else. My students had a lot of fun and got to practice talking to each other.
The three levels that we are given in the new curriculum help us to see to see how SEL competency can be expressed on a spectrum. For example, the “spicy” level for relationship skills indicates that students will be able to resolve conflicts, but the “mild” level does not include such a relatively complex skill. A “mild” level for relationship skills indicates that there is knowledge of how to build positive relationships, which is relatively easier to have for children. The spectrum that we are given help us understand how the SEL competency is expressed in our students in different ways.
The new leadership lunch curriculum is a “pivot” that CYNH has made in order to create more structure, guidance, and consistency in AmeriCorps members’ leadership lunches. An example of a pivot Freid shared in his work at PLAN is the internship program that he and his team implemented. The internship program started by accident, but in implementing it, Freid realized how it could be important for his organization. The internship provides opportunities for student leaders to manage their own sustainability projects. Other pivots Freid shared included charging the appropriate amount for services and creating a “Points of Intervention” event in which speakers discuss points along the consumption process at which to act in order to prevent waste production.
Through hearing about these different “pivots,” albeit at an organization with different aims from City Year, I realized one “pivot” that has happened in my own life. It’s the new leadership lunch curriculum, which impacts my thinking and planning each day at school. I am grateful for hearing about the pivots that have occurred with PLAN, because they show me the excitement of growth that can occur in a non-profit. Through Freid’s keynote speech at the Governor’s Conference on Volunteerism, I learned that I am part of this excitement, too.