A City Education: Let Students Create an Environment That Fosters Learning

Time spent with students in small groups provides an excellent opportunity for our corps members to activate each student's leadership potential.

Through A City Education, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.

As we close out October, and our third month of serving with City Year, National Bullying Prevention Awareness month also comes to an end. Here at the Dulles School of Excellence, however, staff and City Year continue to work hard, encouraging our students to develop appropriate social and emotional skills than can not only help them handle cases of bullying throughout the year, but handle stressful situation as they arise.

With the influx of new faces this year, there have been some severe instances of students being bullied by those who've already been attending Dulles. One such student on our eighth grade focus list, DJ, said that when she came to Dulles this year, she felt excluded from her peers. She also felt as though she was being treated poorly and being punished because she was new. DJ's corps member, Ms. Watts, has been able to help DJ better understand why other students act the way they do and how she can shift her mindset in order to resist acting out or retaliating against other students. Ms. Watts is also working with DJ to encourage her not to take things personally. Since starting City Year's behavior initiative, DJ has had no write-ups or referrals for behavior from school staff.

As part of City Year's Whole School, Whole Child service model, corps members have lunch with their students twice a week. As they eat, they address student behavior by focusing on social emotional learning skills through our curriculum, 50 Acts of Leadership. In this program, students set goals for how they can grow as leaders in their school, family and community and log various good deeds they perform for others. This time spent with students in small groups provides an excellent opportunity for our corps members to serve as role models, forge deeper connections to their students' emotional well being, and activate each student's leadership potential. We are also able to help students identify the best way to deal with difficult situations in school and with others in a setting they feel comfortable in.

While 50 Acts of Leadership is a huge part of our social emotional learning initiative, I also encourage my corps members to always celebrate the small personal victories they achieve with individual students as well.

One corps member, Mr. Gitta, had a fifth grader named Mary who struggled voicing her frustrations and concentrating on her work when she became agitated. She is generally soft spoken, but she often shows frustration when others ignore or dismiss her opinions. As a result, she often distracted others students in class. Mr. G, as Mary like to call him, began building a relationship with her and they were able to work together to create a plan to help her manage stress within the classroom.

"I said, 'How can we create an environment that works for you?' " Mr. Gitta said. "Mary said she needed a separate place to refocus. Now she just gives me a look when she needs to sit alone at another table for a while."

If a student is being bullied and doesn't know how to handle the situation, she may not be able to focus on what is being taught in class, and in return her schoolwork suffers. In the New York Times article, "Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?," Marc Bracket, from Yale University, states that "emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn… If you're very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what's being taught?"

In Mary's case, Mr. Gitta was all smiles when he reflected on her higher grades since they worked out a plan to find a table where she could sit quietly and refocus. "She took charge of her own improvement," he said.

At City Year, our priority is to improve overall student success. Many people think that this can be achieved through tutoring alone, but we know that only through developing individual connections with students and building strong social and emotional skills can we help them succeed academically.

Ending bullying begins with you so click here to commit to learning more about how to prevent it.

Photo courtesy of City Year Chicago

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