Belief in the Power of Young People

By: Allie Broas
Trevista Corps Member

11.20.13 photo

One of City Year’s ten core values is the belief in the power of young people. Before a few weeks ago, I attributed that power solely to corps members and the power we have as young and idealistic movers and shakers. What I have realized, however, is that such power lies equally in the hands of the students we work with every day. The power they wield is unlike any we corps members seem to have. They can effortlessly transform me back into a twelve-year-old girl as I stand in the hallway desperately seeking their approval in the form of head nods and high fives. They can, for a moment, make me forget my red jacket as I engage in a woodchip-throwing war with a group of sixth grade boys. They can surprise me, infuriate me, and tug on my heartstrings in a way I never thought any person could. When I look at the faces of fellow corps members, I see a group of beautiful, motivated, extraordinarily talented young people who find themselves regularly engaged in conversations about next steps, career paths, and the ways in which we can better the world. But, when I look at my kids, I see the untapped desire to overcome the barriers and obstacles that have so unfairly been placed before them.

One student in particular comes to mind as symbol of this desire – we’ll call him Tom. Tom is in eighth grade, although he acts as if he’s older than me, and he has an incredible amount of power and influence at our school. With the nod of his head, he can send younger girls into hysteria, and he routinely laments over the challenge of monogamy at his age. He breaks the rules often but apologizes with such grace that you forget the rule he broke in the first place. Because of his behavior, it’s can be easy to forget you’re dealing with a thirteen-year-old.

When Tom first sat down at my table for our afternoon language instruction group, I thought I smelled trouble. And perhaps there was a lingering scent of mischief that sat down that day with Tom, but what I soon came to realize was that, despite his protests, Tom is one of those students who wants to use his power for good. He all but refuses to do his work, and he makes it his job to get everyone else to do their work. He’s a regular in detention but will do whatever he can to ensure that his younger cousin stays out of trouble. He’s modest about his successes but is the first to champion the success of those around him.

Tom says he doesn’t want to and will not graduate from high school, no matter what I say or do. And although I work every day to make sure that he does, I don’t devalue Tom or his power because of his decisions. His plan to dropout has gone long uncontested, and I realize that it isn’t within my power to change something overnight that is so established. What I can do instead is gradually change the culture of expectations for Tom and his classmates.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned that my power as a young person is not simply to better the world but to better the world through nurturing the power of the students I work with. In six months, my fellow corps member and I will have graduated from City Year and most of us will move on to exciting, new adventures. Our transience at these schools forces us to work hard to leave our students with the belief that they can not only overcome these barriers but serve as leaders to others to fundamentally change the world in which they live.

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