The Door to Change
Neily Todd, a second-year teacher at Stratford High School, rolled up her sleeves and joined the students of CiViL Groups in their volunteer relief efforts after the devastating floods in Middle Tennessee in May 2010. She found that working side by side with students had some unexpected benefits. Here they are in her own words:
Why do our students act out? It is the most common question heard around the halls of Stratford High School. Last year, my first at Stratford, I would not have been able to thoroughly answer that question. Because they don’t value their education. Because they have parents who who have not taught them right from wrong. Because they are bad kids. All are common answers, but none seemed quite right. None of those answers seemed to fully sum up our problem. It was not until my involvement with CiViL Groups at Stratford that I felt like I found a satisfactory answer to this question. Our students act out because they do not feel valued. The key to changing student behavior is to help them realize how irreplaceable they are.
I heard this explanation countless times from Jim and Melony, as I worked with CiViL Groups, but it was not until last week that it truly became real to me. A new teacher at Stratford was struggling with his second block class and asked me to come observe and give feedback. As I walked into the class, I noticed one CiViL Groups student sitting in the back of the room. He was talking, distracting others, and not listening to the teacher. This was not at all the young man I had seen volunteering with CiViL Groups, and I was immediately struck by his submission to the temptation of his surroundings.
In response to his behavior, I leaned down at his desk and quietly whispered: “This isn’t like you. This isn’t the young man I know. What’s going on?” Our eyes met, and he knew what I knew. He knew he was allowing himself to be less than his best. We had worked side-by-side during the flood relief efforts and I knew who this young man really was. “Ok, I got you, Ms. Todd,” he replied. He immediately got on task, began answering questions, and setting an example of what a successful student should be. I followed up later with his teacher, and learned this exemplary behavior was now the norm, not the exception.
So what changed? Someone cared. I had seen what he had done to help the community after the flood. Someone reminded him that he is capable of great things. He rose to the expectations of relationship. When we offer students nothing relationally, they give us nothing. When we offer them our best relationally, they give us their best.
Relationship opens the door to change. What made the difference with Ms. Todd’s student was not just expectations but expectations in the context of a strengthened relationship. On our service project Ms. Todd came to know her student as a conscientious, hard-working young man. When she appealed to the boy she had come to know, he responded. Expectation without relationship means very little, but when you care about someone, you can challenge them to change. That’s what Ms. Todd did. That is what CiViL Groups is all about.
An Exciting New School Year!
During the 2009/2010 school year we served 150 students in 22 groups. This year, Jim, Melony, and Melissa Lashock will be joined by John Elam. John has years of experience and expertise working with urban students, and he plans to be with us two days a week. That will allow us to increase the number of students we serve by fifty or sixty students. This is a huge jump for us! And there are other options. With a growing team of group leaders, we can start thinking about launching CiViL Groups in a new school. Growth is exciting, and it can be a lot of work. Either way, this is an awesome season!
We love our Volunteers
Alesia Schulz is back for another great year with CiViL Groups at Stratford, and we are so grateful for her. Alesia, originally from Mobile, AL, is an Auburn University graduate which makes Melony very happy – WAR EAGLE! Not only is she proud now to call Tennessee home, Alesia is employed by our own Tennessee TITANS! Married to Ryan Schulz who works in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University, they are a part of the Rolling Hills Community Church family.
Alesia says – “I have a wonderful husband and great family and friends. Ryan and I love living in Nashville and traveling whenever we can. I have an awesome job and work with great people. God has blessed me with a good life!”
A Great Time to Jump In
If you have been thinking about taking part in our growing CiViL Groups work, there couldn’t be a better time. We would love to include you in our fall plans. Here are some ways you can take part:
Pray – This is first on the list so you will remember it. PLEASE PRAY for us as often as you can! Pray where you are or join us once a month to pray together. Email us at (firstname.lastname@example.org) office (at) tyrs (dot) org for more details.
Fund Raising – We love working with students. Some of you know how to raise money. If you do, we need your help. We’d love to meet, hear your ideas, and get the ball rolling!
Donate – Everyone knows this is a tough economy. Help us ride out the recession. Our financial need is great, but the need of our community is even greater. If you love what we do, please help us keep doing it!
CiViL Groups Assistant Leader: Sit in on groups. Get to know the students and the program. Learn the details of what and how we help build student character. Help keep in touch with one or more of our students by mail, email, or social networking. Remember their birthdays, send encouraging notes and reminders to them.
CiViL Service Project Adult Volunteers: Every month we will provide a service project for our students, typically on a Saturday. We will need drivers and adult supervisors. And you will love working along side of our students!
CiViL Service Event Volunteers: Lend us your cooking and shopping skills! Teenagers love to eat. So do the people they serve. Almost every service project needs snacks and drinks. Some of them need more than that. If you love to throw a party, please come show us your stuff!