by Kate Meskey (front row, second from left)
23 years old from Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Serving at McDonough Elementary School
City Year has a collection of inspiration stories, known as Founding Stories, which exemplify the organization’s values and remind us of key lessons to keep in mind during our service. These stories help us when we struggle with a roadblock or challenge, and help us see the value of our service at a personal level. The founding story that has resonated with me throughout my year of service so far is The Starfish Story.
In The Starfish Story, a girl finds thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. She starts throwing them back into the ocean one by one. When someone tells her she will never make a difference, she throws another starfish in the ocean and replies, “I made a difference to that one.” Eventually the whole town is inspired to help and all of the starfish are saved.
When we work in schools, it’s sometimes hard to tell if we’re making a difference through our day-to-day actions. However, when we make a breakthrough with a student-even just one-we refer to that as our Starfish Story, because that is how we know we have made a difference. My Starfish Story is about a girl in the third grade class in which I serve who I will refer to as P.
P was identified from day one as a student I would be working with closely for the year. P did not know a lot of English and said to me on the first day of school, “Miss Meskey, I don’t know how to read” with a frown on her face. I dedicated the first few weeks to just gaining her trust. Gradually, I showed P that she could complete simple literacy tasks, like sound out a small word on her own, or read full sentences in books on her level. Despite some successes, there were many days of working together when she would get frustrated, cry, or give up. Yet we both persisted. Little things started adding up: I began to recognize patterns in her spelling mistakes and was thrilled to help her learn tricks for spelling certain words.
Then came the morning about a month and a half ago when P said she had something to show me. I told her we could visit at snack time or recess. But the day was incredibly hectic and I never got a chance to see what P wanted to show me. At the end of the day, she ran over to me and tugged my shirt, a smile beaming from her face. She held up some papers and told me that she made something to share with the class. As I took the papers from her, I realized with amazement that the pile of papers was a book; P had written an entire story, illustrated it, created a title page, and bound it all together. By the time I finished reading the book, I was speechless. I spent the next few minutes celebrating with her-giving her high fives, side-hugs, dancing around-just so she realized how incredible this was, not only to me, but more importantly, to her.
Since that day, P has made several more books and she is the first to volunteer to read in our reading group. P is no longer the shy, sad little girl from the first day who had no confidence, but rather a smiling, funny, hard-working student.
During our year as corps members, it’s easy to get caught up in data and numbers, or get frustrated about not seeing immediate results in our work. Whenever that happens to me, I think back to P and her book. I may have helped P with her reading and writing, but she taught me the difference that one smile, one book, one child can have on my life.