By Cady Hickman, corps member serving at Parker-Varney Elementary School
“Miss Cady, when is Starfish starting?” That is the question I got asked most my first two weeks of school. Since those first weeks the ParkerVarney Elementary School team, supported by TJX Companies, has planned out an entire after school program with specific learning focused units built to supplement what is being learned in the school day.
It breaks down into multiple units; BTA, or Basic Training Academy (based off of the City Year training that corps members go through in August and September), Peace and Community, Wants and Needs, Environment, and Healthy Choices. By the end of each unit, students will gain insight on service, learn how to be the learners of the today and the leaders of tomorrow, and receive the tools necessary to create positive change in their school, their communities, and the world.
At first, even I didn’t know what to expect. Some kids asked me what it was, and I really didn’t know. “Oh, it’s an after school program.” However, referring to it as just an after school program was a huge understatement. For corps members, it means hours of planning and dedication. For ParkerVarney corps members, it meant shuffling back to the Beloved Community (what we call the City Year office) for weeks after the school day was over to plan. It required lots of brain power, creativity, coffee, pizza, french fries, and energy. For students it’s a chance to expand on what’s learned in the classroom in a safe and fun environment. It’s also a way for them to hang out with “the City Years”, but for us that is an opportunity to work more with our students and teach them things that are often not focused on within the classrooms.
We’ve had a few sessions now, and the moment that showed me how much of an impact we can have during after school occurred during one homework session, which lasts about an hour every day that we meet. A group of kids were getting rather frustrated at math, and hoping I would give them the answers. Instead of doing so, I guided them to find the answer, which takes longer than if someone just tells it to you. Frustrated, some students became a little resentful toward me for making them work hard when all they wanted was to be finished with their work. But after they were finished, the same kids and I worked together to create long trails of dominos and discussed strategies. We worked on how to get the most distance without using as many, and how to make different designs. We laughed when we knocked down entire trails, which happened a lot. I think it allowed the kids to see another side to me; a side that doesn’t just want to walk around the room and tell them what to fix on their homework. They saw the human side of me, and got to view me as a leader who had been a learner and still loves to learn.
One thing that made an impression on me was that I got to spend time with students and spend time working through something that they didn’t view as work or learning. It was dominos. With a quick glance, all we were doing was creating bigger and better trails. On a deeper level, we were using critical thinking together as a team to solve this mystery of “How can I get these dominoes to pass under that chair while still having enough dominoes to make a split at the end?”
This is the magic of Starfish Corps. It fosters a learning environment that the kids don’t view as work. They simply view it as fun. After BTA, we will begin our unit on wants and needs, and we are already planning out games and activities that will enforce our mindset of a fun learning environment. This unit, like all service units, will incorporate a service project which will allow our learners to begin acting as leaders as well.
I still don’t have a very strict definition of what Starfish Corps at Parker-Varney is. I can tell you what it involves, and how it operates. There’s also the impact on the kids, be it assisting with homework or providing after school programming. But my favorite parts are the small activities that we will continue to organize that will hopefully have a larger impact on how they view learning and the world around them.