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Perspectives from a first year AmeriCorps member

Harrison Evers is a first year AmeriCorps member serving with City Year Buffalo as a student success coach, where he partners with classroom teachers to provide students additional support with their academics and their social skills. Having lived in Memphis, Tennessee his entire life, he says the move to Western New York was a big shift. But in just a few short months, Harrison is learning to love his new community and finding meaning in working with his students in a local middle school.

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City Year AmeriCorps members are student success coaches.

Know what motivates your students.

I work with sixth and eighth graders and one thing I’ve noticed is how these age groups are motivated by different things. For example, my sixth graders, who are still very young, tend to respond to positive encouragement and words of affirmation from adults. Saying, “You’re doing great!” while they’re working on something generally goes a long way, and you can tell that it motivates them. They smile and their eyes light up.

On the other hand, eighth graders generally like to work more independently. So, I tend to be a bit more hands-off with them because I think it helps them build confidence about approaching their work.

As a student success coach, it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Though there’s only a two-to-three-year age gap between sixth and eighth graders, there’s a noticeable difference between an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old. They require different forms of support, understanding, and communication. And, of course, within that, each student deserves personalized care. I interact with my students, hoping they understand that I see them as individuals.

Build relationships with the person, not just “the student.”

I think an essential part of our role as AmeriCorps members is recognizing that our students are not “just students.” They’re people with a wide breadth of experiences, emotions, and points of view—they live full lives just like the rest of us.

City Year takes a unique, holistic approach to supporting students and schools.

Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to engage with my students outside of homework help and formal check-ins.

So, for example, I volunteered to help with our most recent school dance, and it was so much fun! Seeing my students outside of the classroom was a privilege, and I think it helped build trust. We weren’t there to talk about math or reading. I wasn’t asking them to put away their phones during the lesson. I was there alongside many others to ensure they had fun.

Then, there are times when students just aren’t feeling their best. I realize many students come in for and, various reasons,they haven’t gotten enough sleep or might be having a bad day. And I treat them like anyone who needs compassion, grace, and empathy. When I sense that they’re having a bad day, I try to balance giving them the space they need to process their emotions while letting them know that I’m there for them if they want to talk.

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Developmental relationships help young people “be and become their best selves, according to the Search Institute. Read about the key components of building a developmental relationship with your students.

A simple “I sense there’s something wrong. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you and when you’re ready to start working again” goes a very long way. It lets them know you’re a safe space if they need to talk and respect their boundaries if they’d rather have time alone to decompress.

Plan things to look forward to

At this point in my service experience, mid-fall, I look forward to Thanksgiving break. I love my students and have found community within City Year, but I’m not from Buffalo. I’m from Memphis. I lived there my entire life and never had to travel more than thirty minutes to return home. All my friends and family live in the area, so I’m excited to go back and see them.

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City Year has 29 U.S. sites. Do you want to serve in your hometown or move someplace new? We offer relocation assistance and many other benefits!

I have grown to love Buffalo, but going home is like a form of self-care. It also helps to plan things you look forward to throughout the year. Being a corps member is challenging work. But it’s important to remember that, like our students, we live full lives outside of service and are more than just corps members!

Be inspired by your students and self-motivated.

One of the best things about being a [student success coach] is that my students inspire me daily.

Sometimes, they say the most insightful things or open my eyes to perspectives I never had before. Most times, they’re not even related to coursework. It’ll be about their lives, hopes, popular culture and current events.

They’re all little philosophers; I learn so much from simply being in their presence.

Finally, I think this work requires a significant amount of self-motivation. Our work isn’t always glamorous—it can be challenging and frustrating. When working with students, sometimes it can feel like you’re one step forward and three steps back. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll ever be able to see the full impact of your presence in that student’s life. You’re there to plant a seed, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be around to see it grow. It’s worthwhile, of course, but it’s tough.

So, my advice is to find things to keep you going when you need a bit of motivation. Take joy in the small wins and simple pleasures. For me, I take joy in my morning routine, where I sit quietly and drink my cup of coffee. There’s a park near my school where I walk to get fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. Little things like that go a long way and help me feel reenergized and motivated to continue.

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