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A City Education: Youth Have the Power to Change a School Culture

Even though they're young, City Year corps members are positively influencing the culture of their schools.

In our A City Education series, 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.

During the holiday season, many people take the time to reflect on the previous year and think about what—or who—means a lot to them. Gratitude for my family, friends, and health remain on my list, however, I'm also thankful that I get to serve a second year with City Year Chicago as a team leader. Thinking about how important City Year is to me caused me to reflect on the 10 organizational values that represent its deepest beliefs and highest aspirations. Since last summer when I was first introduced to the values during senior corps training, value number three—"Belief in the Power of Young People"—has been my favorite.

From growing up with a single mother who taught me the importance of letting your voice be heard to being part of a leadership development camp as a child that challenged cadets to do, be, and have something positive, I not only completely believe in the power of young people, but I've seen that power firsthand. And at the high school in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood where I have the honor of serving this year, I'm witnessing how influential the power of young people can be.

Even though we're young, we're influencing the culture of the school. One of the ways we—and all other City Year teams across the country—do this is by leading energetic morning greetings everyday as students enter school. Morning greeting includes everything from chants and cheers to dancing in order to get students excited and pumped for a new day of school. For example, at my school in one of the student's favorite cheers we say: "Pump! Pump! Pump it up! Pump that Wildcat Spirit Up!" No, the chants aren't groundbreaking—what students are most impacted by is that a group of adults consistently welcome them in the building in a cheerful way, no matter what the weather may be.

Back in August, when my team was first introduced to this part of service, many of them were skeptical whether high school students would respond positively to the chants. They were worried that students would laugh or even be irritated by the upbeat cheering. Although I shared my examples from last year when I served at Kelvyn Park High School of how positive the students reacted to the morning greeting, the majority of the team was not sold. Still they trusted me and agreed to give the chants a try.

Since this is City Year's first year at my school, morning greeting was something new for the students, too. On the first day of school in September when we started doing the morning greeting, I could sense my team's uncertainty and uneasiness about how they would be perceived and how this part of our service would be accepted. On that first day many of the students laughed in confusion over what we were doing and wondered who were these people in red City Year jackets. However, after a month of consistent greetings one student started coming early every morning just so that he could stand outside and cheer with us. On the first day that he stayed, my team thanked him for joining us in morning greeting.

Three months later, the spirit and energy of my team has grown during morning greeting and we've worked hard to build relationships with students. Our work has paid off. That one student has now become a large fan club of students eager to cheer and chant with us.

As time passes and student relationships develop, I see how the students buy into City Year. The corps members at my school joined City Year to serve students and make an impact, but our value of "Belief in the Power of Young People" isn't just about service. My team is also becoming more confident and proud. Yes, we're influencing the school culture, but the students are changing us, too.

Photo courtesy of City Year Chicago

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