"I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination."

This quote by country singer and entrepreneur Jimmy Dean has become the motto I try to instill in my students day after day. This year, as I start my second year serving with City Year Orlando, I’ve stepped into a leadership role as a City Year Orlando Team Leader on the Universal Orlando Foundation Team at Memorial Middle School.

I work in an eighth grade English Language Arts class, and my role in the classroom is to work with students who have shown potential but simply need extra encouragement or additional clarity on the class material.  As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I am able to show students their full potential while never allowing them to give up on themselves. The goal is to get students to walk across that graduation stage so in the future they will have the power to make positive choices, choices not limited—but empowered—by their education.

I serve  because I once was that student who was not on track to graduate. I do not serve just for me, but for the future generation that may not be as fortunate to realize they can "adjust their sails" to reach endless possibilities that await them.

On Friday, Sept. 19, I participated in my second City Year Orlando Opening Day. The event is sponsored by Comcast and NBCUniversal, the national sponsor of City Year Opening Day ceremonies in all 25 City Year locations across the nation.  When I heard John Sprouls, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Universal Parks & Resorts, speak about the commitment that my team sponsor has made across the country, I felt proud to be wearing the Universal Orlando Foundation logo on my jacket. When I think of the word "commitment," I think of what it means to be dedicated to a cause. My commitment to another year of service means just that – it’s  service to a cause greater than myself. I made a vow to help these kids stay on track and graduate. I won’t give up until I see that happen.

City Year Orlando’s impact at Memorial Middle School has been life-changing. Every day when City Year AmeriCorps members arrive on campus, it’s nothing but happiness. The kids look forward to seeing smiling faces, loving mentors, and amazing individuals every day.  Our students are constantly coming up to us asking, "Can you help me with my homework?" I know we are making an impact because City Year is changing lives on this campus, and we are helping our students march toward their academic success.

Last December, I had a new student transfer into my second period class. I wasn’t sure what to think of this student, but I knew he was going to need my guidance. When he arrived, I noticed he was being disrespectful, loud, disruptive, and out of control. After class, I looked up his behavior history and noticed he had 42 behavior infractions. I started to think of ways I could step in and mentor him. After multiple weeks of checking in with him, talking to him, and getting to know him, I started to see a change in his behavior. It took many lunches to build trust and get to know what was affecting him, and it took one-on-one coaching to get him to the place he needed to be. This wasn’t an easy task. It took months for this student to trust me and open up, to know I was going to be a stable influence in his life. Since he’s been at Memorial Middle School, he hasn’t had any school write-ups, and he says it's because of City Year. It’s clear that he’s working hard to change his behavior and improve his grades. He told me, "You have changed my life; I know I can trust you." As I write this, it reminds me why I choose to serve. I serve to impact students’ lives on a daily basis. My goal is to be the role model that today’s society is missing and to show every child that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.

My plan after my second year of service is to return to City Year as a staff member and to continue making a positive impact.  My ultimate goal is to become an effective principal within the Orange County Public Schools, making a difference in the lives of even more children in the city of Orlando. I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Memorial’s principal, Dr. Shelia Windom. She was recently announced as one of the top six principals in the state by Florida TaxWatch Center for Educational Performance & Accountability. Her recognition was based on student achievement gains in reading and math. We are so proud of our principal and what Memorial students have been able to accomplish, and as Universal Orlando Foundation team members, we’re eager to make this a year of even more learning and success!