By: Hilary Scheppers The month is April. Spring break is over. Students and corps members prepare for the long and final stretch ahead. We have two more months of service left and I can feel the light coming through in … Continue reading →
It is April, which brings the beginning of spring. Along with the month of April, also brings many different celebrations and awareness. It is National Humor Month, Keep America Beautiful Month, National Poetry Month and many more unique holidays. This gives opportunity for many of us to CELEBRATE! I chose to celebrate by identifying one of my own favorite poems and honoring one of my student poems. I believe that we all can celebrate National Poetry Month by identifying one of our own favorite authors or sharing some personal poetry. Share your favorite poem with a friend, family member, or with the public!
P.S. If you share on social media use these hashtags, #NationalPoetryMonth, #CYMileHIgh, #makebetterhappen.
“Kidnap Poem” -Nikki
ever been kidnapped,
by a poet
if I were a poet
i’d kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter
you to jones beach
or maybe coney island
or maybe just to my house
lyric you in lilacs
dash you in the rain
lend into the beach
to complement my see
play the lyre for you
ode you with my love song
anything to win you
wrap you in the red, black, green
show you off to mama
yeah if i were a poet i’d kid
During a brief stint in college, I was studying to be a paramedic. My teacher told us the first rule of being an EMT was to secure the scene for your safety before you attempt to save someone else. She use to say, “You are no good to the person you are trying to help and to the other paramedics when you are incapacitated so make sure you look out for yourself first”. This made sense to me in the realm of emergency medical service. But I have also come to see this motto applies to how we perform service in our schools too. Don’t get me wrong, corps members aren’t encountering dangerous physical emergencies daily. But serving in under-resourced schools can be emotionally and mentally draining work. If servers don’t take care of themselves they run the risk of becoming cynical, frustrated and uncompassionate. This mentality is not only a detrimental to the server but to their team and the students they are trying to help.
Self-care has always been on the back burner for me during my two years of service with City Year. I was here to serve the kids I dedicated those years of my life to, not to serve myself. I was the corps member that worked through her lunches to finish that one assignment. However I started noticing I was losing focus half way through tasks and it took longer than usual to finish them. I wasn’t doing a lot of work with high quality. I was doing a lot of work, slower and carelessly. Burn out was creeping up on me and my students were noticing. I wasn’t as fun, I smiled less and they frequently asked me if I had forgotten to drink my coffee that morning. I started to realize just how important taking time for you is to being an effective leader.
I can’t say I have become an expert at self-care or that I have completely turned some of my bad habits around. However, I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and when I need it, to ask for it. I’ve learned to schedule out my personal time just as intentionally as my professional time. I make it a point to take my lunches as just lunches or not take work home with me. I fill that time with hobbies that I love like photography, writing and reading. I make sure to hold myself accountable to doing them just as seriously as I would my work assignments. This has not only made me a more compassionate and effective leader but a much better time manager.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself as well as for others.
For weeks, my team leaders prepared my team and I for the looming doom of Colorado statewide testing. We heard terror stories about previous corps members finding any and all means to pass the time while proctoring TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program). As a proctor, we are not allowed to assist the students in any way, we must be present and observing the students at all times, and we cannot sit down for more than a few minutes at a time.
Up until last Tuesday morning, I was in denial. As a City Year corps member, productivity, communication and efficiency are now ingrained in and an integral part of my lifestyle. I just couldn’t accept that I was going to spend 4 hours a day using very minimal brain activity and walking in circles around my students. I dreaded and hated the idea of this.
But of course, when one expects the worst, the best always seems to reveal itself. The morning TCAP began, I begrudgingly entered my partner teacher’s room with a foul attitude. As I was really settling into the idea of myself as TCAP proctor, my partner teacher, Mr. Sanchez, and I began speaking. Just like normal, the wisdom of Mr. Sanchez set me right – I will never forget him saying to me, in a heavy Mexican accent, “Why be anything but happy? Life is too short to ruin your own happiness.
That set the tone for the rest of the week! Not only did I happily dance in circles around my students like a proud mama bear, but TCAP actually gave me the chance to spend some time with myself, and really figure out what makes me happy. I had ample time to daydream, to reflect on the incredibly unique qualities of every student I’ve worked with, and to fully appreciate every member of my team. What I had previously apprehended so strongly blossomed into a really joyful experience.
I know that playing a part in someone else’s happiness makes me happy. I did not become a part of City Year for myself, and so I should not have made TCAP a personal problem. As soon as I re-understood my purpose as a City Year corps member, TCAP became a way for me to support my students. Remembering that I play a part in lifting others up actually lifted myself up! It is truly amazing what can come from the wisdom of others and a simple attitude adjustment.
Burnout. It’s a word that has become so commonplace in our vocabulary that it’s rare to make it through a day without using it. We use it to describe student mindset around this time of year and to excuse any missteps or misbehaviors. We use it to describe ourselves – to validate our sluggish feet, haggard appearances, and the exhaustion that, collectively, we have welcomed as a part of our daily routine. We arrive early and leave late, and, although we’ve all become quite immune to rising with the sun, this time of year unfortunately brings about a sense of disillusionment towards our work. Thankfully, an integral part of City Year is reflection – with your team, your leaders, and yourself. It gives us peace of mind as we battle through the mid-year slump that has begun to plague our team and our students.
In the beginning of the year, as we eased into our service, I found reflection to be a negligible part of my City Year experience. I was overconfident in my ability to self-reflect, and I thought that the time we set aside for reflection was unnecessary. Barely weeks into our service, as I realized just how taxing our work was, I began to see reflection as a support – it became a fundamental part of my service and why I continue to serve. While the students give me most of my energy, they also have the unique ability to drain it completely, and reflecting with my team at the week’s end provides me with the restoration I need to put my jacket on every morning. With reflection, we gain the full benefits of having a team working together every day. Being able to share our joys and struggles allows us to properly overcome any burnout that we or our students face.
As we enter the last few months of our service, reflection is key in our continual strive for improvement. Our school and our students deserve our best efforts, and we should use such reflection to guide each other through our most difficult times and our students to reach their goals.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
We’re talking about TCAP! It’s that time of the year again and state standardized testing begins next week. TCAP or the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program is in its last year in Colorado. The test was intended to be used for two years and next year many states, Colorado included, will move on to the PARCC or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (say that five times fast!).
All acronyms aside these tests are an important aspect of how our schools are categorized on an effectiveness scale. What’s interesting is that students don’t often know what their scores could mean for their community.
This past week in my 7th teacher hosted several Q & As to demystify TCAP for our students. It was amazing to watch her break down what their scores would mean for the school and why it was important for them to try their best every day of testing. The data is dense, and not many students would take the time to examine the numbers even if they did have access to them, so it’s amazing to see the students going through each category with her guiding them. Now my students know where they tested last year, how many points they would need to improve their score, and what their scores would mean for the whole school. She’s even broken it down to show them concrete examples of what would happen if our schools scores were to consistently improve: a shortened school day! The message here: give your students legitimate reasons and explanations around why mandatory tests or rules are important and you’ll most likely see a vast improvement in their attitude!
I can’t wait to see how this transparency will affect their attitudes towards the test come next week; I know students are going into the test with a much better understanding of why they’re taking it- sometimes that makes all the difference!
At the beginning of my year of service, I was so excited to find out which school I would be serving in, but more so, I was ecstatic to find out who would be on my team while serving everyday. Once the announcements arrived and the school teams were revealed, I was thrilled with the idea that we were going to have each other to lean on and support one another throughout this stressful, yet rewarding year of service.
My West team has become my lifeline this year. And as I use the word “lifeline”, I do not use it lightly. There have been so many up’s and down’s throughout this past year- so many stressful days, but also so many joyful ones. Each corps member on my team has influenced my service year in a positive way. The amount of frustration that we’ve encountered could have easily broken each and every one of us. However, I am never in doubt for too long before one or more of my teammates recognize my negativity and boost my spirits. The laughter that fills up our team room is never-ending. Whatever mood we are in, we know that the struggles and the accomplishments that we have are all shared; that we are all in this together- and, in my opinion, that’s a major part of what makes this year such a valuable experience.
Inside of school and during work hours, my teammates are supportive and always willing to lend a hand to get every task done efficiently and effectively. Outside of school and during off hours, my teammates have become my closest friends. I’ve had a few jobs before joining City Year, and I can honestly say that I’ve never become as close with or cared as much for any of my previous work colleagues as I have with my West team members.
City Year attracts a certain type of person. Yes, the people I work with come from a variety of different backgrounds, but what I mean is that, to be involved with this organization and to do what we do on a daily basis, each person needs to embody a certain characteristic. The characteristic that I’m referring to is drive. Every day, in every classroom, and with every student that we help, each corps member is exemplifying just how driven they are to make a difference in the lives of our students and to the communities we serve in, as well. I could not be prouder to be a part of such a wonderful team, and I am overjoyed that I have found lifelong friends through this organization.
Service. Simply put, it’s not what you think it is.
Over the past few months I’ve had many of my college classmates ask me “Why are you doing City Year?” To me City Year is not something you just “do,” it’s a conscious decision of committing to public service to pour into the lives of others, often others who could never repay me and I’m fine with that. Being apart of City Year we have the privilege of deciding what service looks like to our students, their parents, teachers, administration, and the cities we serve.
Maybe you’re considering a year of service, veering away from exactly what you’ve gone to school for, or changing careers but you’re not yet sure why you would do such a thing. When I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin last year I, like many others, had the question “what’s next?” For me the answer was simple, I would spend my time giving back because I wouldn’t have made it this far in life without the family, friends, and mentors who looked after me and made sure I stayed on my path to success.
Throughout my service year I’ve reflected on exactly why I serve and here are my three reasons:
1. I serve because on my route to success someone served me.
2. I serve for my ancestors who paved the way for me to be free, who were denied the education they deserved. I owe it to them.
3. I serve because if I don’t do it who will? Rather, if you don’t then who will?
It’s basketball season and Special Olympics Unified Sports is once again under way! North High school has begun a Unified basketball team and the students are excited! (Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.) Last week we were offered a unique opportunity to take our Unified team to the Pepsi Center to participate in a Unified Tournament hosted by the Denver Nuggets and Comfort Dental. (Let’s just say my players were beyond excited! The coaches, not so much, as we would be working a 16 hour workday but anything for the kids.)
My team won both of the games they played and even got to stay for a Nuggets game afterwards. We took the kids out to eat and they got to play in the arcade until the game started. The Nuggets even recognized each team during halftime of the game. After the game the students were exhausted and so were all of the coaches, including me! We all were so happy to have had the opportunity and experience! I even got a thank you from one of my students:
“Ms. Jaz, Thank you for everything today!”
- One of my ALL-STAR students!
This experience has opened my heart to students I would not otherwise have contact with and has made me closer to students I already knew. I don’t think the kids know how much their grit and integrity inspires me everyday and makes me work as I hard as I do for all my students.
Me (in the blue scarf in the front row) with my City Year friends just before the break.
As the holiday season has passed and schools are becoming filled with students, I can’t help but remain excited. I am excited for a new semester, excited to have finished a strong semester, and excited for the future. I came back from seeing family and friends refreshed, relaxed, and FIRED UP!
The holiday break could not have come at a better time, students were tired, faculty were tired, and we as Corps members were tired. This past semester had been challenging and exhausting but every bit rewarding and inspiring. We have built strong lasting relationships with students, we have grown professionally with faculty, and we have bonded as a team.
As I enjoyed this much deserved break I thought of my team, my partner teachers, and my students and especially missed them. I contemplated how I can be a better Corps member in the new year and came back recharged, reenergized, and excited for a new semester.
With the holidays in the past and a new year beginning take the time to reflect on your experiences these last few months. Take the time to reflect on your purpose, the people you touch, and the impact you make everyday and use that experience to recharge, become ready and be excited! Warm wishes and Happy New Years!