by Gerald Burns, Corps Member at Horace Cureton Elementary School
Monday morning, minutes after getting ready for school with the students at morning rally, my team leader, who is a second year corps members providing additional support for us during service, offers as he does with my team and I each week, “do you have time to walk and check in?” A chance to take a walk around campus on a one-on-one session with Ruben, Cureton’s team leader, is just what I need to help put Monday’s to-do list in perspective and get in a relaxed, positive space to dig into the day’s service. On today’s walk, I wanted to ask Ruben about how he came to be my team leader, the differences between serving as a first-year corps member (like myself) and returning for a second year at the same school as the team leader, and what lessons and pieces of advice from his first City Year affect him the most in his current position.
It turns out that this time last year, less than one month after our site’s Opening Day, Ruben was interested in applying for the role of team leader. Our Program Manager, during her first meeting with Ruben last year, suggested the opportunity of Senior Corps, and he took it seriously. Her faith in his capacity for leadership, and the challenge he knew would come from taking on that role, inspired him throughout his service last year and today. Ruben compared himself to our students when describing how the growth-mindset perspective our Program Manager had towards his future helped him believe that he had the potential to fill such an integral leadership role in all City Year teams. “Saying that I had that potential” said Ruben, “[made] me work harder…it’s liberating and inspiring.”
Ruben works to keep a growth-mindset toward our students’ development, even as the relationships he built with these students last year have changed. “You don’t get to work with students as much,” Ruben admits, whose student interactions this year are frequently over poor behavior choices. The silver lining: Ruben now enjoys “forming relationships with students he didn’t get as close to last year” and he believes that he continues to have an important, positive impact on student success in our after-school program. He reminds me of course that “it’s still early in the year,” and that these are just the early conversations in showing the students how much they can grow.
At this early stage in his second year of service at Cureton as our team leader, one piece of advice that has stuck with him came from a fellow corps member: “fake it until you make it.” Knowing Ruben’s sense of humor and gift for being genuine, I had an idea of what this meant to him: “the things we struggle with become habit, and an amazing transformation occurs,” he explained. “Because without even realizing it, you’ve developed so much by seeing challenging work as an opportunity to grow.” Hearing his positive approach to taking on daunting work what definitely what I needed to start my week of service.