City Year: Life Lessons Through Service
City Year corps members based in Los Angeles write about their experiences.
Coming back to City Year for a second year has been an amazing and unique learning experience. It’s unique in the sense that I’ve learned several lessons from the first year, drew on them at the beginning of this year, and then learned even more on top of that. And although this City Year has been a unique experience, these lessons apply to life in general. For this, I am grateful.
Two of the greatest lessons I’ve learned are the value of patience and diversity.
One cannot survive as a City Year corps member without a great deal of patience. This applies to the work I’ve done with “at-risk” middle school students at Markham Middle School. First of all, these students are labeled “at-risk,” meaning that they are deemed to be in danger of becoming future high school drop-outs based on a combination of poor attendance, behavior, and performance in math and English. These are all deep-seated problems that are often based on years of bad habits. It takes a lot of patience to break these habits and instill better ones. Students inevitably stumble and backtrack. It can be more than a little frustrating. The only way that I made it through was to have faith not only in my students, but also myself.
On top of all of these issues, they’re middle school students. For a minute, think back to what middle school was like. We’re talking social anxiety, cliques, puberty, hormones, confusion, and a general sense that no one understands you at all. Oh, and school. For many of these students, school is the last thing that they are thinking about. They’re dealing with life and the last thing they want is someone bugging them during math class telling them to carry the one.
Things that students have said to me on a fairly regular basis: "You ugly!” “You got a big head!” “Leave me alone!” “Mind your business!”
On some days, I really need to rely on my tough skin. It’s hurtful and frustrating, but I always remember that they are just kids and I’m here to help them. I get past the frustrations. I stay the course.
Other things that students have said to me on a fairly regular basis: “Thank you.” “This is my first A.” “What are we learning about tomorrow?” “I can’t wait until college.”
With great patience, come great rewards.
Another lesson that I learned through City Year is the value of working on a diverse team of people. I’ve worked with diverse groups of people before, but never in such an intense way. I work 50 hours a week, five days a week, with the same nine corps members.
They’re all from different backgrounds ranging from Ivy League-educated to straight out of high school. One is from the neighborhood we work in and another is from Germany. The cultural differences are huge and it can be intimidating to work with as a leader. However, my experience in City Year has taught me not to be intimidated by diversity, but rather to embrace it.
Because of the different backgrounds and cultures of my corps members, we have really had an enriching year. We have learned so much about each other and through this, we have taught so much to the kids. I’ll never forget the great experiences I’ve had with my team and I look forward to working with diverse groups of people in the future.
City Year has really prepared me for the future. When I started at City Year, I always understood the value of service and education, but I never realized how much I would learn about life in general. I feel ready for whatever the future holds and I carry with me the lessons of my service years.
Arthur Shtern is a team leader for City Year in Los Angeles.