Why I Serve

by: Neil Shah

My name is Neil Shah and I proudly serve at Clyde Fischer Middle School along side of 10 other corps members. Together, we support approximately 550 students during the daily school hours and provide 1-on-1 tutoring interventions for specific “Focus List” students to help them reach benchmark levels. Once the day has ended, we provide an academically-focused after school program for about 150 students reinforcing math and literacy skills learned during the school day and enrichment classes ranging from health to hip-hop.

I don’t personally have a story of struggle or pain that I have experienced that has led me down a path of service. Instead, I have a rational and whole-hearted belief in the power of education due to my upbringing. My grandfather, who was uneducated, saved every penny he ever earned in order to send his 5 children to the best school in Mumbai. He believed that it was necessary to make sacrifices in order to have faith in the results that followed. Today because of his sacrifices, all of his children are now physicians practicing in the United States. In such a competitive world, education is a priority because it allows one to control and leverage their futures while developing as competent and insightful people.

I am originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan where I attended the University of Michigan and received my Bachelor’s in Biopsychology and Medical Anthropology. I then went on to obtain my Master’s in Physiology and Biophysics. I hope to pursue a career in medicine in the near future. This year, I have decided to deviate from this “written” path and serve as an educator. The reason I have found success in my education is because of the teachers I’ve had that took an interest in me. They were able to pinpoint my strengths and push me down a focused and rigorous path because they understood my fascination with certain educational material. They provided structure, discipline, and true instruction that developed my character and cultivated my interest in science. I now hope to instill a sense of drive in the students we serve while also fostering a sensitive and caring environment so that struggling students feel safe to make mistakes and try. I tell my students that in order to succeed one must experience failure.

One of my intensive math students, David, was an 8th grader performing below 4th grade level and struggled with basic multiplication. He was known as a bad student last year; throwing cherry bombs in bathroom stalls, tipping desks over in class, and fighting with students. He was transferred to another math class because of an issue with his previous teacher. I told him before we entered a tutor session that I wanted him to work hard and do his best in order to truly see what he could accomplish. I encouraged him to be an independent thinker, make decisions, and voice his opinion about things. Now, whenever I walk into the classroom he gets up, pushes in his chair, and shakes my hand respectfully before each tutor session. He recently approached me and said, “I’m interested in art and architecture but don’t understand why math is important.” I responded by introducing the concept of the Cartesian plane and graphing points. Using just coordinates, he was able to generate his own blueprints. I am proud to say he has raised his failing grade to a C and is on his way to catching up with his classmates.

City Year provides the perfect avenue to have direct access to student potential and allow them to take chances, explore themselves, and give them space to dream. As a student, David has the ability to succeed locked inside of him. Now, he can take solace in the fact that the yellow jackets will always be there to push him to the limits and lend a hand, just in case his faith in his abilities ever waivers.

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