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One Year Later

May 10, 2012

By Michael Cohn-Geltner, Proud Service Team Leader

On Valentine’s Day last year the third grade math teacher at Sci-Tech Academy had students write cards to each other.  Alice Carter, who was sitting in the back of the class after having thrown a temper tantrum, did not receive one.  I knew she had no friends in the class. She often felt isolated and alone.  When I was her age, I also had very few friends.  If I had been in that class, I would have not received a note.

I pulled out my notebook and wrote her a letter.  She smiled for a moment.

During my final day at school last year I took a portrait of my favorite students and wrote a note on the back.  When I gave Alice her card she was pouting in detention.  Her shirt was untucked and her hair was a mess.  She had been crying earlier in the day.  She could not understand some of the words I had used so I read the card out loud to her.  I don’t remember if she liked the note, but she liked the portrait.

I had hopes at the end of last year that a new team would work with my old class.  I soon discovered we would not be returning to my old school, Sci-Tech Academy.  We started a new partnership with a different ReNew Charter School, Reed Elementary. Perhaps a week after the team started at Reed Elementary I received a text from the Team Leader.

“One of the 4th grade girls is asking about you.”

“What is her name?”

“Alice Carter.”

Within a day I had a note on my desk. Here it is below. I pinned it up next to my computer screen.

I wrote her a note wishing her the best at her new school and telling her she should reach out to any of the City Year people at her school when she needed help.

I thought that would be it.  I kept my nose to the grindstone.  Reports on her progress trickled in. I learned she was playing football, but she quit after a while. I heard she was suspended for getting into a fist fight with a boy.  I heard that even though she did not have a corps member in her class she was earning good grades.

I forgot about her as I fell into my work.  One day, I found the following note on my desk below.  I received it during a busy time and did not respond quickly.  Corps Member Laura Slotkoff sent me a picture of Alice writing on a chalk board, “Come visit Reed Elementary!”

Notice the improved spelling, grammar, and penmanship

After Global Youth Service Day I was able to make it out to her school.  She seemed very happy, but not terribly surprised to see me in person.  Her shirt was tucked in, her hair looked sharp.  We talked about how her family was doing.  She moved into her Grandmother’s place in New Orleans East.  She smiled easily and often.  She helped me touch up a hopscotch board.

A friend of hers came out and I watched as the two of them played basketball.  They teased each other and told jokes.  She seemed much more peaceful than when I last saw her pouting in dentition.  It was a great moment to see that a student who had been troubled now seemed to have found peace.  All the forces in life, parents, schools, friends, and City Year had worked together to make a difference in the life of this one child.  It’s amazing the difference one year can make.

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