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.

Changing the world, one pun at a time.

Recess is a time where I can be as silly as possible with students. The added physical activity is a bonus too. One of my team members joked that by the end of the year, I would become “a jock” because I’ve been getting into any game I can with students. Soccer, four-square, football, tag, jump rope…you name it!

Today, I decided to approach the cool guys of 3rd grade and one 2nd grader in their 2 on 2 game of basketball. I confidently announced, “Alright! Ms. Cara and I are in!” I can do that on rare occasions when I’m taller than the students. We shocked them at first because we interrupted their game, but I think they were more excited to defeat us. So they thought. Unsurprisingly, they put the 2nd grade boy with the two City Years.

If I’m playing any game with the “cool kids,” I make sure to act as crazy and goofy as possible. That’s just what I did, incorporating some exaggerated movements in my defense and offense. There was also some dabbing. “COME ON, LEBRON! WHATCHA GOT?!” was repeatedly asked as I was embarrassingly defending one student that insisted “Lebron” over his real name. It really was all fun and games as it was a close competition!

Recently, I’ve also gotten into embodying the role of a commentator, even when I’m playing in the game. Willie, one of boys on the opposing team, had possession of the ball and as he was about to shoot, I asked, “Will he make it?!” Because my brain functions through puns and play on words most times, I then shouted, “WILLIE, MAKE IT!” Instantly, a burst of laughter was released…from just me.

From then on, each time Willie had possession of the ball and went for a shot, you bet I repeated my newfound line of brilliance. One of his teammates, out of nowhere, gleefully said to me, “HA! I get it!” My eyes lit up. “YOU DO?! ISN’T IT FUNNY?!” He laughed and said, “yeah.”

Right then, the bell to end recess rang.

“I don’t get it,” admitted Willie. As I was explaining to Ms. Cara about how proud I was that the 3rd grader got my pun, I glanced over to see him with his arm over Willie’s shoulder as they were walking, explaining the pun to him. “Will he make it? WILL, get it?! Willie. Will he…”

It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

Ms. Cara: “Changing the world…”

Me: “One pun at a time.”

On Time and Here Every day!

It’s Tuesday and at our school that means that it’s “No Tardy Tuesday!”

Attendance is a focus that is important to the school and also City Year because we know that when students are at school, that’s when they have the opportunity to learn. When they’re not at school, they’re missing out on learning.

Every Tuesday, at 7:55am, our Attendance Coordinator goes on the intercom and congratulates everyone that is in their classroom on time. He then plays a song that has been requested by a student and for about a minute, the song is played for students to freely dance and get their energy out, all in celebration of being on time to class.

This morning, the song was requested by a student who LOVES John Cena. I’m talking about LOVES him so much that his nickname is John Cena and he embodies John Cena’s personality with his super serious face and overall demeanor. With all that said, the song he requested was John Cena’s theme song (the infamous song he walks out to before he starts his wrestling match). When I heard the song he requested, I cracked up because I was imagining the student’s reaction to the song playing and how serious he would take it! Don’t know what the song sounds like? Click here:

This gave me lots of joy this morning and made me realize what great effort is going into our attendance work at our school. Even when students are late, we take the time to write each student a pass to class and ask them what color they’re feeling on the mood meter. After they’ve identified their emotion, they’re sent to class with their teacher now knowing how to adjust their communication and teaching based on how that particular student is feeling.

I’d say our goal is not to have every single student with perfect attendance, but for every single student to feel like their presence is valued and that their voices are being heard when they are at school.


Too Cool for School?

Today I was texting a teammate from last year who I served with on the same school team. We both worked with the same 3rd grade students with her supporting in Math and myself, supporting in English Language Arts.


She had just visited our school from last year and sent me this message:



After taking one guess, being wrong, and giving up, she then told me the name of the student. I was both surprised and not surprised. He was a student on my focus list. So I tutored and mentored him, meeting with him twice a week in a small group. He was in my homeroom class. We also interacted at lunch and recess. He was the kid who thought he was “too cool for school” and especially too cool for a City Year. Every morning, I would jokingly force a high-five with him. It was always a game to see how embarrassing I could be as his City Year.


There were moments, almost every day, where he told me he didn’t need help and that he understood the lesson, but when I would check in with him later, his work didn’t match his claim. Eventually, toward the end of the year, his walls were coming down and he wasn’t all about being right. I would catch him at recess being a total goofball with his dance moves and giant buck-toothed grin. He would raise his hand to ask a question and when I prompted him to give a little more to his answer, he did – after a little sigh and smirk. He always wanted to be the first one done and I remember always telling him, “Let’s see your best answer. You don’t have to rush. You’ve got plenty of time.”


With all of that being said, this student wasn’t the easiest to work with, but I knew he was capable of more than what he was delivering and what others may have limited him to because of his “cool guy” attitude. I don’t think I treated him in a special manner. I think I just made sure to hold him to high expectations just like I tried to with every student. I’m sure if I would’ve asked him last year,”DO YOU WANT ME TO COME VISIT YOU NEXT YEAR??”


The “cool kid” would’ve answered: Nope!


The 3rd grade goofball, deep inside, would’ve answered: YEAH!!

Hide and Seek

Today at 2nd and 3rd grade recess, a student comes up and says, “let’s play hide and seek!”

At recess, I’m supposed to be supervising students making sure everyone is being safe and respectful. I wasn’t sure if I could simultaneously play a game of hide and seek and fulfill my duty as a responsible adult at recess.

With that being said I responded to the student with, “OKAY, what number do I count to?!” Luckily it was only 10. So I counted.


With the speed I was counting at, I knew she wouldn’t be able to get very far.


I opened my eyes and carefully scanned the playground for the little second grader in a black dress and hot pink hijab. Then I stopped and realized wait, I’m playing a game of hide and seek with just one other person. Then I stopped again and realized I was on an important mission: seeking.

It took about 7 seconds after opening my eyes when I spotted her head pop out from the side of the bushes. She immediately retreated back to hiding and I slowly made my way to her secret spot.


She let out a little scream and then laughed because of how excited I was about finding her. I might have let out a “muahaha!!”

She was a good sport and began counting to 10.

I knew I didn’t have much time to hide, so I did my best with the limited hiding spots. I did what any other adult would have done in this situation.

I hid behind a narrow tether ball pole.

I watched her open her eyes and scan the playground just how I did and her eyes went right past me!

I thought I would be found on the spot, but that wasn’t the case. I was laughing as each second passed because where I was hiding seemed so ridiculous to me.

Finally, she spotted me and sprinted my way! I couldn’t retreat to my hiding spot the way she did because I was so much wider than this pole, so I jumped out and we were both laughing at how silly my hiding spot was.

Sometimes you seek out the joy.

Other times the joy seeks you out.