Unity and Diversity

By Julia Wolf

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day. Many people across the city took the time to volunteer in honor of King’s memory. Leading the volunteer effort in our area was City Year, an AmeriCorps group.

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City Year members do a dance during the kick-off to the volunteer event. (Photo credit: Julia Wolf)

Two things about the day really stuck out to me. The first was the sheer number of people from diverse backgrounds that came together to volunteer in the Washington DC school system. The second was the energy, attitudes and methods used by the City Year members.

I really enjoyed seeing the diversity of the volunteers today. In the place my class started alone, there were about 1,700 people donating their time and efforts. Many of them were college aged or adults and from all parts of the country. However, I saw children as young as seven or eight helping paint the picnic benches I was helping build for the local elementary school.

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Volunteers assemble a picnic table for elementary school students. (Photo credit: Julia Wolf)

It was nice to see all of the people from a myriad of places, ages and backgrounds working together to paint and build things that will benefit others in memory of someone who strove to bring people together, even if his work was not always popular at the time. It was also cool to think about the fact that many of us will never get to meet those we helped.

The second thing, and probably more meaningful thing for me, was seeing the way the City Year members interacted with the volunteers and each other. The AmeriCorps members, many of which were about the same age as my classmates, spoke about the volunteering they do over their 4 year-long stint with AmeriCorps. They said they spend a lot of their time working with underprivileged children in schools, including those who have behavioral issues. About 15 percent of the students in the DC district are considered to be special education.

As we walked up to the school in the morning, the City Year members were dancing and singing/rapping near the entryway. Their enthusiasm was unbelievable. And contagious. Judging by the way they tailored the materials to be interesting for us, they most likely do the same for the students they work with.

I thought it was great how the City Year volunteers used music and dance to bring energy to the room. It was engaging. I think engagement is something all schools need in some form or another, and I think that the way the students are engaged should depend on the personality of the student and the school culture as a whole.

City Year made me think of the importance of diversity in the classroom and other areas of leadership for students. Just a few weeks ago, PBS Newshour had a segment on African American teachers and how they feel limited in their ability to tailor the classroom experience to their students. Watching City Year at work made me realize how much more we could do if we put our minds to it. Diversity is important. However, I think bringing diversity together for a common goal is even better.

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