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Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world

On Fridays, the group of South Los Angeles schools City Year serves in (also know as a “pueblo”) gets together for training. Every time a corps member from a different school reads a “never doubt statement”, which is based off the Margaret Meade quote that our pueblo is founded upon.

Never doubt that small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Meade

My roommate and teammate Daniel presented. His statement gave me the chills. NOTHING is better than hearing an amazing story!

Never Doubt
By Daniel Pierson

Trying to impact my students this year has often felt like trying to break through a brick wall by slamming my head into it repeatedly. My ups and downs have been enough to put any roller coaster to shame. Keeping calm and level-headed just isn’t possible all the time in a world of lockdowns, fights and chaos that are part of Markham’s environment. During the past seven months I’ve cried in the bathroom between class, done shadow boxing in the mirror to calm myself down and also felt like the most fortunate person alive to get a chance to serve.

Over the last several months I’ve listened to other’s starfish stories and heard of the amazing connections corps members have formed with their students. I’ve heard about other corps member’s students drastically improving their grades and CST scores. Of course I like my kids, but I have just never felt that special connection other corps members seemed to be forming.

Obviously, test scores are not everything but when my class’ average on a periodic assessment test made no improvement after five months, I was seriously discouraged. I questioned my purpose at City Year and whether my presence in the classroom was even putting a drop in the bucket. I felt waves of cynicism overtaking me. I struggled to fight the apathy that seemed to be winning the battle against my normally optimistic attitude.

If my kids have absolutely no care in the world, then why should I?

Not long after, a stroke of luck occurred right when I needed it the most. Never Doubt statements are supposed to be positive, right? Out of the blue, an 8th grade student joined my after-school group. He told me he was going to start attending frequently because he had Fs in four of his classes.

The student needs constant attention, so I often work exclusively with him for for the duration of our program.

“I can’t read that good, Mister,” he confessed one day.

We had only worked on math up to this point, so I was taken aback.

“You’re learning to read,” I told him.

“I want you to delete can’t from your vocabulary.”

The student also confided to me that he was in special ed. classes – without a hint of shame in his voice. One time another boy was teasing him and called him stupid for hanging out with City Year.

“They’re the ones who are stupid because they never do their homework,” the student said. All I could do was laugh.

Even though we have 20 minutes of sports activities before homework time in our after-school program, he insists we go inside early and get started on his assignments. Two weeks ago, he would bug me daily about coming to Saturday school. When I showed up, he spotted me from 50 yards away.

“Mistrrur!” he called and ran across the field to give me a bear hug. When we saw some other kids from his class, he introduced me as his best friend. I’ll never forget that moment.

Although the progress was slow everyday, I couldn’t wait until after-school so I could work with the student. If I suggested to take a break, he’d say we don’t have time for that. Once, when we were working through a multiplication problem, he asked me if he got on my nerves. That sad the first time a student ever asked me that (of course, I responded “no”). His social awareness and ability to make me laugh were unmatched.

I really thought things were going well until out of the blue he said to me, “I’m going to stop in the 9th.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, prepared for the worst.

“I mean, after 9th grade I’m not going to school anymore,” he explained.

We had a conversation about what he wants to do with his life and how school is the only thing that will open these doors for him.

I wasn’t sure if he had taken it to heart, but three days later I found out. We started working early as usual. The student had two new assignments from that day and three previous ones to make-up. He told me he had to leave after-school early to sweep a shopkeeper’s store and make a little money. As the end of ASP approached, we still had a ton to do.

“Mister, can you stay later and help me? I’m going to skip work today. This is more important,” he asked me.

My heart glowed when I heard these words. He waited twenty minutes for me to finish meeting with my team and then we resumed his homework. I would have stayed until midnight if I had to.

If I can impact this student in a fraction of the way he impacted me, I’ll know I’ve done great work this year. When I attend his graduation in June, no one will be more proud of him than me. NEVER DOUBT.

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