Written by Aaron Mays, City Year Milwaukee Corps Member serving on the United Way of Greater Milwaukee Team at James Madison Academic Campus
A few times throughout the year, the entire City Year Milwaukee corps descends on a single partner school and we go over every single student’s report card with them in one day. In February we spent a Friday at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts.
One student I connected with, Janae*, refused to come out in the hall with me. After some cajoling and nearly making a phone call home, Janae followed me out into the hall and we sat down against some lockers to go over her grades. Her grades were far from the worst I’ve seen, but we both knew she could do better. I especially noticed that her attendance, one of the indicators City Year trains us to look for, was generally fairly poor. Interestingly enough, the number of absences was significantly different from class to class. So I decided to make an observation:
“Janae, it looks to me like you’re cutting class.” Bingo. She hung her head and nodded. The rest of our conversation was all about how she was going to do better and she finished by hugging me, signing her name on our contract, and promising not to skip class anymore.
At the end of the day I saw Janae in the hall, skipping class, so I called out. “Janae! Do you remember the conversation we had just a few hours ago?” I was expecting to get blown off, but she stopped running down the hall and looked at me.
“Come over here.” She did.
“Do you remember what you promised?”
“Of course, I just, just… I don’t know. Look, starting Monday never again, I swear on my life!”
“I believe you.”
At the time I didn’t realize it, but our conversations had a huge impact on Janae. I even got a note delivered from her and she explained how she had thought about our conversation and that me believing in her made her want to change and that she was going to class now.
Seeing my students’ scores improve dramatically at my own school and interactions like the one I had with Janae let me know what we do is so worth it.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the student.