Derrick L. Coles, City Year Alumni Testimonial
I’m still determining the exact year I started serving with City Year, but I’m positive that I served for two years between 1995 and 1998. I finished my high school education at Northland and Fort Hayes High School in 1994 and then went to the University of Cincinnati for my first year of college. Subsequently, I returned home to Columbus and attended Columbus State Community College. It was in 1995-96 when my friends and I received information about City Year of Columbus, a new program called Americorps designed for young adults to serve their community by working in schools and on community service projects.In my first year, I was assigned to work at Windsor Elementary in a second-grade classroom. I worked with lower-level students on their assignments. I remember being to bubby-buddy with the students that first year, so when it came to them listening to my directive, they didn’t give me much respect. So the next year, I stepped into the school and took on a more stern and direct approach with the students, and that made all the difference in the world. The students followed my direction more and over the year I balanced being firm, with moments of being buddy-buddy. That was my first biggest lesson on how to work with students, and it’s still how I approach my classes today.
Working in City Year provided me with invaluable experience that has allowed me to continue working with students in the Columbus City Schools System as an Instructional assistant for the past 21 years. I have worked with students ranging from Pre-K and Kindergarten to Middle School students, and I am currently employed at Champion Middle School today. There is no doubt that my time in City Year played a significant and direct role in shaping my career path and my ability to make a positive impact on the lives of these students.
Throughout the years, I have had the honor of collaborating and conversing with new City Year team members. As we introduce ourselves, I take pride in letting them know that I am a City Year Alumni. This instantaneously forms a bond of mutual respect and understanding, creating a brother and sisterhood among us. As we begin to discuss our roles and responsibilities in the classroom, we share our unique experiences as corps members. I express what my experience was like saying with a laugh, “It was like the Wild West back then.” The selection and acceptance process was open to almost everyone, and if they were missing someone like you, you were in! During the diversity training sessions, there were passionate conversations on race, gender, and other social issues. Sometimes, these conversations resulted in a battle of beliefs, which ended with laughter and good vibes. Other times, it left participants shaking their heads and feeling disappointed. Nonetheless, the training allowed corps members to engage in thought-provoking discussions and learn from each other’s perspectives.
City Year at that time required Corps members to be highly visible around the city. To achieve this, we had to ride the COTA bus to and from all school and community work sites every day. However, before that, City Year wanted us to demonstrate physical strength and discipline. Each team had to gather at the State House downtown very early in the morning and perform a special type of Physical Training (P.T.). During this gathering, teams were required to perform a step show, similar to those performed by fraternities and sororities, yet with added movements of stretching, sit-ups, and push-ups. We hollered in unison, each step counted, sometimes regardless of the weather conditions. I’m nearing 50 years old, (laughing, in spite of myself) and now I am speaking in a grumbled voice to today’s City Year members, these young whipper-snappers that don’t know nothing! About how we didn’t have no cell phone– we talked in person, and we stood out in the elements as a team. We dealt with diversity, in person! We didn’t have No’ Zoom meetings! Everyone Zoomed to the office on a bus for diversity training, And Sure, the training wasn’t always pretty, sometimes feelings got hurt, and you saw it directly in their face, but we talked it out! We enjoyed the bond of our teams and the planning and execution of shoveling out hard work! We left our artistic smile on this community!
During the 90s, we were a group of young, inexperienced, and naive individuals who became City Year Members. We were overly confident, presumptuous, and unassuming, but we were always eager to learn and grow while wearing the classic tan khakis and Timberland boots. A bonus for us. And the super bright red coats and shell jackets with the AmeriCorps logo on the arm weren’t hard to miss, people would ask “What is City Year?” when they saw.
To which I would reply, “ City Year is an AmeriCorps program which offers 5,300– and some odd dollars for youth like myself to pay for college while earning a wage by serving our community.”
—Derrick L. Coles
P.S. I am thrilled to announce that I have finally completed my degree in Organizational Management and Graduated, 2023 from The Wilberforce University after years of believing in hard work and dedication to go back and finish. The journey has been challenging, but I am proud to have accomplished this important milestone. I have applied to start the process of earning an alternative education license in the Columbus City School system.
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