Thursday, November 19, 2009

Starfish Corps Opening Day at Malcolm X

My morning began with my 6-year-old first grader telling me, “Ms. Sha…I’m nervous.” I looked at my normally confident Floyd* with a big smile. He warmed my heart. “What’s up, buddy?” I asked. As though I was absolutely clueless, he responded with, “Ms. Sha-a-a! Today is Starfish Opening Day! I’m nervous about being in front of everybody.”

Floyd was referring to his leadership role as part of PT or Physical Training. He was going to lead all the 1st through 5th graders in one of our signature City Year moves called Foot Fires! He had been selected to speak in front of an audience of parents, students, and teachers for Starfish, a mini-City Year for elementary students. I reviewed his lines with him a few more times and reassured him of the excellent job I knew he would do.

Floyd wasn’t the only student anxious about their big day. Excitement filled this Malcolm X cafeteria during breakfast and morning greeting. Student after student talked to City Year members about their anticipation for the afternoon program. After speaking with my kids, I realized that I had to do something big for them. They were very excited about the prospect of their parents coming to the program. After settling my students in their class, I turned to my supportive and outstanding first grade teacher and asked if I could call the parents of the students in Starfish to invite them to Opening Day. She loved the idea, and the next thing I knew, I had personally spoken to 16 parents about their child’s shining moment.

I cannot accurately describe how thrilled my students were when I told them that their parents were coming. My kids were energized and even our Principal made an announcement on the PA! The afternoon flew by, as my team members and I finalized logistics and technicalities for the event. It was finally 5 PM, and all of our students were perfectly lined up and ready. The moment had come. In nearly perfect synchrony, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders proudly clapped and sang “Spirit, discipline, purpose, and pride” until they found their place in the “cafetorium” or our cafeteria/auditorium. Parents were present, teachers were smiling, and our students stole the show. After some words from our principal, Floyd’s special moment had come. I whispered to him, “Are you ready?” And without missing a beat, he smiled and said, “Starfish are always ready!” I knew at that moment that he was ready. He was absolutely adorable!

The program continued with a special video that my teammates had created for our students performing PT integrated with City Year performing our PT. The students and parents loved it! Our Starfish Corps then had the opportunity to hear from a student that had been a Hero (our mini-City Year for middle school and high school students) for 7 years. She expressed how City Year had helped her become a better leader and why she kept returning year after year. Some kids found it very cool to know that they can continue with City Year even beyond elementary school. And just like City Year’s Opening Day, our Starfish were sworn in, and were then presented golden Starfish with their names on them.

The afternoon ended with one final PT move-the famous Starfish Jacks, followed by a spirit break, where we concluded the program on the phrase “Make a difference-huh!” Before they left with their beaming parents, I huddled with my 1st graders and told them how absolutely proud I was of them for representing their class and the program. I asked my kids what word they wanted to break on, and they said “1st grade rocks.” So we did. I saw Floyd once more before he left, and I winked at him. In the cutest and sweetest way he could he attempted a wink back, and that made my already great day, just a bit better.

Sometimes I think about the lives my kids lead and the realities that they live each day in southeast DC, and I am humbled. Many of my students are already adults at home, taking care of their siblings while their parents are gone. Then I think about how they come to school and have to become children again. I think about our Starfish program, and I realize that while we have helped instill some of our principles…spirit, discipline, purpose, and pride into our students, they have, more than anything, and especially when we need it most, reminded us of our purpose—that we live to serve another day, and that’s a beautiful thing!

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