Back to Where it Began

Last night, I went back to the elementary school I served in last year for their Math Night. Walking through the front doors always takes me back to when I would get off the bus and relax on the chair in the lobby for a few minutes before our 7:30am circle. This time, I was greeted by their current City Year team. I walked happily down the stairs to the cafeteria and immediately saw a student from last year who told his City Year to tell me to come to Math Night so he could see me. He was being lectured by his mom and a teacher as I walked up toward them and that was humorous to me. I quickly decided to not interrupt their conversation and then heard a chiming of “MS. NHOELL!!!” Three of my students from last year ran up for hugs. It was so nice seeing familiar faces and getting free pizza 🙂 I was so busy looking for students and being approached by students and staff. It was so crazy to think that this was the community I was a part of before the one that I’m currently in. My cup was being filled with so much joy! Before I knew it, I was reminded that I was a volunteer and that I had to go to my station for the night.

Math is definitely not my biggest strength, but luckily I knew how to measure the diameter of a cookie! Students had to pick a cookie and measure its diameter with a mini ruler. Once they had their measurement, I’d give them a sticker and say, “You measured the diameter of your Oreo! NOW you can eat it!”

It was great seeing so many students and their families excited about math together. So many students swarmed my table. You could say it was because I had free cookies, but I’d like to think it was because good ol’ Ms. Nhoell was back.

Leading Leaders

Around this time last year, I applied to be a Team Leader for City Year Seattle/King County. I remember thinking about how much I had grown in just 8 months of service already and how I could grow even more staying with the organization and working with others who already knew my strengths and also areas of growth. I also knew that I wasn’t sure what was next for my career path and that I wanted to stay in Seattle. I applied and thought I knew what the Team Leader role entailed.

It’s now 9 months into my service year as a Team Leader and I can say that it hasn’t been what I expected because I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m in a different school, working with a different team and a different Program Manager. My Team Leader role also looks different from the other Team Leaders at other schools. This year, I’ve grown as a leader and coach and it’s been challenging.

With that being said, Corps Members currently in their first year are starting to think about applying for the Team Leader position. In January, the position is publicized and people start talking about their interest in applying. Staff even host two open house events where they inform Corps Members more about the role and what it entails. I attended two of those last year and found them more beneficial hearing from the Team Leaders I knew and not just the staff. I found that the few present Team Leaders were more open and honest in how they spoke about their varying roles. I wanted Corps Members of this year to feel the same from our Team Leader team.

So I thought what if our TL team hosted our own event where we provided that open and honest conversation to the Corps Members interested in being a Team Leader? No staff. Just Team Leaders and Corps Members.

I pitched the idea to my Program Director with a simple text: What do you think about an Open House hosted just by the TLs? Just an idea!

She replied with: I love it! Keep me updated with the details you work out.

And the rest was truly history because it had never been done before at our site.

I pitched it to our Team Leader team and all 9 of them were on board. Because everyone was enthusiastic about the project, it wasn’t hard getting support in planning the different components of the event.

Long story, short: The event came together so easily! It was at my house with food and all 10 Team Leaders were present, which I thought was important! It was well-structured and thought out. The Team Leaders felt great about it and the Corps Members all left with smiles! I kept getting ‘thank you’s and ‘great job’s at the end of the night! With our saved planning, this is now an event that can be done for years to come with other Team Leader teams. With all of this, I felt successful in not only the event, but my leadership.

Through the planning process, I felt reflective, innovative, and collaborative. Being fueled by my own enthusiasm and passion for the event, I think I was able to have the same carry on to my fellow Team Leaders and even the Corps Members. The number one thing I made sure to share with the prospective TLs was that your role is truly what you make of it and I used the event, itself, as an example. I took an idea and made it come alive with some thoughtfulness, dedication, and work. From this, I am definitely valuing this experience as a leader.

Who can brighten your day?

As I mentioned previously, City Year is a unique experience. It’s challenging and rewarding. At times, it’s easy to think that it’s just challenging. When I need to be reminded that it’s also rewarding, I know that I can count on others who are going through this unique City Year experience as well. Particularly a Team Leader and particularly a good friend of mine – Deanna.

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Taking a moment from power greeting to take a little selfie together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

When I first met Deanna back in August of 2015 and found out she was also from North Carolina, I was excited to have that connection, being that I moved across the country not knowing anyone. It was even cooler finding out that our hometowns were just 25 minutes apart from each other. As Corps Members were assigned their school teams, oddly enough, the two of us were assigned to the same school team and were both assigned to work with the third grade team in English Language Arts. Out of the 84 other Corps Members, it was about as close as two people could work together in City Year. Same City Year site, school team, grade level, and down to the same subject to tutor. With this, we were given opportunities to collaborate, considering that our work was similarly aligned.

As the year progressed, I learned more about Deanna. I learned about what she was interested in, how she spent her time outside of work, and who she was a person through quality time and collaboration. We ran our after-school group together. We were responsible for a program, catering to our 10 third graders, with high quality and effectiveness. We did this by making sure they understood not just the ELA lesson, but also some social and emotional skills along the way. It went without saying that we had high expectations for ourselves and our students and working together was not only easy, but enjoyable.

Deanna and I both serve as Team Leaders this year and I still find it easy and enjoyable to collaborate with her. We may not be on the same school team, working with the same students, but I love that we both make time to self-care with each other by spending quality time with together. I’ve always admired her patience, integrity, empathy, and ability to provide perspective. There have been countless times where she makes me think about another way to think about a situation with care and authenticity. Not many people have this ability and I consider myself lucky to call someone like Deanna a close friend. She helps me be my best self and I really can’t thank her enough for just simply being her. So when time’s get a little challenging, you bet I can count on Ms. Deanna to brighten up my day with her light. Who can brighten your day with their light? Let them know.

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Deanna, I’m so grateful that City Year has brought the two of us together because knowing that I have a lifelong friend is pretty freaking cool. Thank you for being you.

February Reflection

This month’s reflection is largely themed on City Year’s PITW # 158:

“It’s a privilege for all of us to serve at City Year.”

Last week, my gratitude for the work we do and the opportunities that are available for us to take advantage of was renewed. I mean it’s pretty awesome to have such a unique role in a school and in education – someone who isn’t a teacher, but can still have the opportunities to teach planned lessons to students. Someone who doesn’t have to discipline students, but can still hold them to high expectations. We can also develop relationships in a way that other school “adults” cannot. The red jacket distinguishes us, physically, but it also means that our role is different. Sometimes the role isn’t all too clear, but I can say that I’m grateful to be able to work in a school every day and have students ask questions and express themselves to me in ways that they might not be able to do with other adults. The near-peer relationship truly makes a difference.

The opportunities are certainly what you make of it at City Year. Professionally, I have developed by just working on and with a diverse team. A team that is made up of different backgrounds, experiences, and varying styles of learning and communication. Being able go through the process of navigating and understanding the unique individuals I work with has been so rewarding and worthwhile. Individualizing and adapting has made me more aware of others and myself. I’ve gained and developed skills that I once thought I was proficient at, but realized I wasn’t until I found myself working with others who were completely different than myself. Intellectually, my mind has explored different ideas and perspectives. Ideas and perspectives of other people who come with rich knowledge on various passions. With this, most times I just choose to just stop, listen, and admire what others have to share. I may not completely understand, but when I hear others speak so passionately, it’s special. I’ve also become more reflective in my service about myself in different contexts. I’ve thought about who I am when I’m at work, when I’m at home. Who I am as a friend, a leader, a daughter, a sister. Who I am as an Asian female who is a first-generation college student and has moved so far away from her family. I’ve learned that things can be complicated, but I’m also learning what things I should simplify and what things I should really think more into.

As I’m approaching my 18 months of service with City Year, I can 100% say that it’s tested me in all kinds of ways. It’s challenged my emotions, my resilience, my confidence, and many other vital components of my being. I can also 100% say that I don’t regret my decision in choosing to commit a year of service and also a second year of service. This unique experience has offered me so much and luckily I’ve taken learning opportunities to grow and persevere. I don’t think I could have gained what I have from anything other than City Year, considering what point I’m at in life. It truly is a privilege to serve at City Year.