Today’s guest blogger is Bobby-Ann Campbell. Bobby-Ann is a second year AmeriCorps member serving at PS 130 in the South Bronx.
When I graduated from SUNY at Albany I went looking for an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to contribute my talents to helping others. I found City Year - a program where I could directly serve the students from my same neighborhood.
Growing up in the Bronx, I saw that there was an unfair burden placed on young people. So many of the kids I went to school with faced issues that children shouldn’t have to deal with. Adult issues, which caused them to grow up too fast and become distracted from their goals. Children are just expected to find their own way in life, but all of us need a helping hand at some point - especially during our childhoods. I serve because students in my community need guidance, passion, love and understanding.
What I have found is that there are people that come into your life who push you out of your comfort zone and help you succeed. For me, it was Nicole, the social worker from the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP). Through this program, Nicole helped me express myself in new ways and taught me how I can impact others. As a member of RAPP, I got out of the Bronx, saw new areas in the city and experienced new things. It was amazing to stand in front of a classroom as a high school senior and have the opportunity to teach and empower the freshmen class. This was the first time in my life that I felt like a leader in my community.
RAPP was the right opportunity for me as a high school student. It helped me understand that I could achieve more than I even knew. By providing that same opportunity for my students, I am working to mold them into the best people they can be.
My team starts our day by welcoming our students to school. I greet each of my students by name and we have our first conversations of the day. When the whole group arrives, I find ways to get them excited for a day of learning. I lead math games or dramatic readings of the books we are covering in class. Arriving at school each morning at 7AM ready for service is not a problem because I know how important it is for my students to see me. Being present every morning is a promise to my students that I am their City Year and that I am there for them.
Partnering with Ms. Montes in her 3rd grade classroom, I am able to help the students who are behind, so that the whole class can achieve their greatest work. I am able to float around the classroom, answer questions and assiststudents with their work when they are struggling.
Every day we have “Power Hour” where we split the class into groups so we can give students the individualized attention they need. I lead a small group of students in a mini lesson to provide them with the differentiated leaning that will help them get back on track.
When the school day ends, City Year's after school program begins. We gather students for snack time and then an hour of homework help. After homework, we run Enrichment Clubs. City Year’s Enrichment Clubs give students the opportunity to have fun and unwind in a productive and freeing way. The club that I run is “Lights, Camera, Action.” We do fun acting exercises and improv games that push my students out their comfort zone and allow them to think creatively together.
From breakfast through after school, I make and fulfill my promise to my students that I will be fully present for them, and help them find the fun in learning.
Serving this year has shown me how hard it is to be a teacher. It can be very difficult to get to know 30 students who each have different learning styles and who are all at different levels of achievement.
Having City Year in the classroom gives my teacher the freedom to provide great instruction to the whole class, while I help the students who are behind. One of the students that I provide extra support for is Will.
Will is behind in Math and English but his behavior is his major issue in the classroom. I know he can do well in class, but right now, he struggles with consistency and poor decision making. When we talk about his actions in the classroom he knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he falls short in the moment. His lack of attention span gets in the way of his learning and his ability to keep up with lessons in class.
I realized just how far behind Will was when we were preparing for parent teacher conferences. Every student in the class had completed assignments to show their parents, but Will had not saved a single piece of his work. We created organization systems for him but if he didn’t like his grades or was embarrassed by his work, he would throw it out.
When he and I sat down that night with his mother to talk about why he was falling behind, he realized that he needed to start asking for help. He started to see that there are people in his life who want him to succeed. Now, when I meet with him to go over his homework or help him with his challenges, we also talk about accountability. He now understands that when he acts out in the classroom it causes him to fall further behind. It is my hope that this newfound self-awareness and commitment to accountability is going to help him get on track in school.
So much of what City Year does consists of changing students’ perceptions and attitudes about what they can achieve. It is my job to inspire my students to set and achieve goals that they thought were out of their reach.
One goal that Will is working toward is being invited to his first DoJo Party. The DoJo system is a school-wide initiative where we pass out DoJo Dollars for completing your homework or showing positive behavior in school. Every two weeks, City Year throws a party for the students with the most DoJo Dollars.
Will has not been invited to a DoJo party yet because he hasn’t shown consistent positive behavior in class nor has he completed all of his work for two weeks straight. At the beginning of the year he would have been frustrated that he has not been invited. But now he feels proud of his progress, even if he is not there yet. He is actually owning up to his behavior and reflecting on how he can improve. I believe in Will, and am really looking forward to the day that I can invite him to the party and celebrate together.
It is also important for me to set my own goals. The first half of the year I was focused on building relationships with my students and learning about their interests. Once you know your students better you can really understand what they need. In the second half of this school year I know that I need to make every day count. Lucky for me, my students inspire me every day.
One of the best parts of my day is when I enter the classroom in the morning. Ms. Montes stops instruction, and in unison, the whole class says, “Good morning Ms. Bobby-Ann”. There is no better validation that my work is important than the look on their faces when they greet me. I am thrilled that I get to be with them as they grow this year both as students and as people.