IS 302K: Cultivating Students into Young Leaders

Today’s guest blogger is Corps Member, Michelle Genao, from IS 302K in East New York. 

Rafael Cordero y Molina Intermediate School 302 is a middle school in Cypress Hills – East New York. The City Year team here consists of 9 corps members, including myself.  Student behavior is an ongoing challenge at our school. Due to this, our team has been working incredibly hard in order to provide students with some individualized attention. Through this, they are able to learn and discuss different components of behavior management and how these components can help build them into effective and powerful young leaders who have the potential to make a positive impact. Our past curriculum has examined topics such as respect, values, active listening, decision making, personal power, and overcoming obstacles.

At the start of the new marking period, the City Year team at I.S. 302K kicked off the new year with a dedication ceremony for our behavior focus list students. Organized and successfully executed by our very own Behavior Coordinator, Kristy Zhen, the purpose of this ceremony was to highlight the students for their efforts to improve their behavior, as well as to reaffirm their commitments to become valuable leaders.  

Prior to the ceremony, each of our behavior list students were asked to prepare a statement about who inspires them. This statement was to be shared with the group as we called them up individually. They were also asked to compose short “I am” poems to reflect on the progress they have made:

I am strong because I never back down

I was selfish because I never cared about other people

I can be a leader who helps the world

I will be a legendary football player who will beat Peyton Manning’s record touchdown passes

– Joshua 


I am a leader because when I tell the class something, they listen

I was a weak girl because I let people hurt me

I can be a smart girl because when I  want to do something I do it great

I will be successful because if you  put a challenge on the table, I’ll take it

– Abbigail 


I am fearful of new things

I was angry about a lot

I can overcome my fears

I will succeed

– Brianna 


This was a very ‘squishy’ moment ( it’s what we call stepping out of your comfort zone at City Year)  for many of our students, as they have not had much experience speaking in front of their peers, especially about something so personal. Despite this, all of our students overcame their fears and shared their inspirations. It was such a joy to witness and to honor them on their promise to dedicate the remainder of the year to being the best they can be. In addition to serving them breakfast and giving them a reason to miss second period class, our team was able to in-kind custom designed t-shirts from a local screen printing company. The design consisted of a tree silhouette shadowing the words power, perseverance and strength; power to represent the impact that youth can have on the world, perseverance to remind them to never give up, and strength to warrant the vigor needed to overcome any obstacle they may face. Below the image was an inspirational quote by Harriet Tubman:

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

I have to say, seeing our students wear these t-shirts sometimes to school  warms my heart. After putting together this ceremony, they feel like they are a part of something far greater than themselves. Our students feel powerful; this is the culture that we’ve aimed to create at our school and some of  the school staff have even seen the difference. As a team, our intention was to use our behavior sessions to empower our students by helping them to further understand and create themselves into the kind of people and leaders they aspired to be.

Behavior interventions at our school have been such a highlight to my overall service and I look forward to being a part of their development as they transform into young, and influential individuals.