A City Year Los Angeles corps member kicks off her year working as a tutor and mentor.
"Why did you join City Year?"
From the moment I became a City Year corps member, I began hearing this question on a daily basis. I heard it from professors at the University of Southern California, family members in Palo Alto, California and friends from all over.
At first I loved answering, "I joined because I'm passionate about education policy and I believe the best policies come from on-the-ground experience." I shared City Year’s focus on fighting the national dropout crisis by having young people like me serving as tutors, mentors, and role models in schools. But the more I explained my decision to join, the more I realized how little I knew about what I’d really be doing during my year serving in Los Angeles. I was eager to stop talking and start acting.
Imagine my surprise when I heard the question—"Why did you join City Year?"—again at our summer training. The City Year staff asked each corps member to write a personal statement—a declaration of why we serve. I quickly saw why we needed to revisit our answers.
Some of us want to become teachers or attend medical school while others want to give back to our hometowns. All 275 City Year corps members serving in Los Angeles have chosen this path for 275 different reasons. We are also diverse in ways that go beyond categories like income and race.
I’m serving at Normandie Avenue Elementary with six other corps members. A few of us grew up in Los Angeles, while others come from places like Arizona and Oregon. I spent my childhood in Canada and Israel. Some might argue that our diversity makes it hard to be consistent. But what I learned in training and during our first four weeks of service at Normandie is that our diversity gives us power. We bring different qualities to this path, but as we walk it, we’re united by a greater cause. No matter why we became corps members, we’re here to do the same thing—to help reduce the dropout rate and make sure thousands of students have the opportunity to succeed.
We're so united and calm as a team that I've nicknamed us Team Kumbaya. The way we work together sets a powerful example for our students, who come from diverse backgrounds as well. I'm also learning that conflict isn't limited to cultural or social differences. When my students struggle in class, part of me wants to befriend them or give them answers. I have to remind myself to put those instincts aside. I’m not here just to feel good about myself—I'm here to prepare them for success beyond my time as a corps member.
I know there's plenty of hard work ahead this school year. But, after only a few weeks, City Year has already shown me that putting my ego aside and doing what's best to help my students learn is not an impossible task. Corps members before me have done it and corps members after me will do it, too. Next time someone asks me why I joined City Year, I might talk about my passion for education policy, but I'll add that why I joined is less important than what I’m doing right now to serve my students.
Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles