Undergraduates decked out in their alma mater’s colors cheering for the home football team. High schoolers spending hours on decorations to make sure their prom is better than that of their cross-town rivals. Passionate chants and surging emotions as we insist that our school truly is the best.
Whether or not we consistently felt these sentiments, each of us has experienced school pride at one point in our life.
So, where do seven-year-olds painting panel murals fit into this picture?
The City Year afterschool program I serve for began its year with a bang, expanding upon the site’s current curriculum to pilot a new Starfish Corps unit during the first weeks of class. Starfish Corps, a City Year-wide service-learning program, instills students with the mindset and tools necessary to make positive change in their local and global communities.
As a corps member, I can understand how the concepts of service and school pride may seem to be completely unrelated. However, yelling at a morning rally may have more to do with a student’s transformation into a service superhero than it first appears.
I believe that school pride is inextricably intertwined with both a student’s and a school’s success. School spirit can breed a feeling of belonging, increase motivation to achieve goals, and garner a positive environment. Furthermore, when a student feels pride in something they or their school has done, we can increase their confidence and willingness to push themselves even further. This desire and encouraging attitude are just what service is built on.
Our school’s Starfish experience began with a day of arts and crafts. Students assembled and decorated journals that serve as the site of daily reflection. Over the past two weeks, we have asked our students to brainstorm and write about topics that range from being a peace-builder to the importance of teamwork.
In my class of first and second graders, these deep-thought questions materialized into countless crayon depictions of school buildings surrounded by hearts and stick-figure students holding hands. However, I was floored by some of the profound comments that accompanied these drawings. When a fellow corps member asked her class of first graders their purpose for being in school, one boy raised his hand.
“We want our brains to get bigger so we can learn…and then we can go to college!”
One of my students answered that her purpose was to be nice to other people. As someone who has now learned the entire peace-builder pledge, I give her answer two thumbs way up.
In addition to daily thought questions on pride, the students have also made tangible improvements in their school community. Our Cougar Champs, who are now in a first year transition to becoming a visual and performing arts school, spent last Thursday painting panel murals that proudly decorate the entrance to their school. The coming weeks will include a variety of activities from thank you letters to teachers and staff to a peace-builder art contest.
After watching the pride on my students’ faces as they share their daily journals and show off their panels to friends, there is just one thing left to say—Go Cougars!
Alex Mihalek, Corps Member CYSJ