A City Education: A Second Year of Service Brings New Challenges

Serving as a team leader gives Chicago's Meghann Estrada a new set of challenges.

From a young age, I was taught the importance of service and giving to others. After graduating from Indiana University I knew I wanted to work some place that not only provided me fulfillment but also provided the opportunity for me to empower others. I applied to City Year, was accepted, and during the 2011-2012 school year, I served as a City Year corps member at Kelvyn Park High School in Chicago.

It was a liberating experience that allowed me to make an immediate impact by helping put students on track academically and also fostered my development as a leader. I decided to serve a second year in Chicago because I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of City Year and there is still more work to be done.

This year I'm the team leader at a high school in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. As a team leader in a first year partnership school, my team and I have to introduce the community, staff, and students to not only who we are as a team but also encourage them to buy into City Year as an organization. Since we serve in low performing schools we are normally in areas that society has already given up on, so when our organization comes in hoping to make a positive change we are met with anything from skepticism to optimism.

In the beginning, that balance of information and relationship building can be challenging to navigate through. However, the corps members at my school build relationships with the teachers on campus through staff appreciations and a meet and greet event. We get to know the students and their families by attending extra curricular events outside of school, and engaging with the community.

As a team leader, I'm also responsible for a group of eight adults ranging in age from 21 to 24 years old. I must navigate my team through 10 months of student engagement, teacher engagement, professional development, personal development, team dynamics, challenges, successes, and much more.

Currently, I'm learning how to lead them through their individual leadership development while I also continue to develop as a leader. Since City Year values diversity, each team is made up of individuals who come from various different walks of life. It's my responsibility to get to know and understand where corps members are personally and professionally, help them grow, and challenge them to continue to develop their personal strengths.

Although ensuring the corps members at my school are able to be effective is critical, I'm not providing instructional classroom support like I did last year, so my interactions with students have drastically decreased. Last year, my engagement, relationships, and commitment I made with my students helped me remain focused even when my service grew challenging. Not having students of my own and a consistent interaction with young people is really difficult. In order to stay connected I'm trying to converse with as many students as possible during the day and during after-school hours I'm trying to get involved with activities that will facilitate that personal engagement.

Despite the challenges, the rewards greatly outweigh any difficulties. It's been refreshing to see the growth of City Year Chicago from a corps of 145 last year to 188 this year. Similarly, I find it a privilege and an honor to be able to still be a part of an organization that forces me to confront my weakness and challenges me to always strive for excellence. In spite of the beginning of the year "growing pains," I'm excited for what’s in store for the remainder of this journey.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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