Ben Levine is from New York, NY and attended the University of Rochester. He is a Chicago Corps member working as a Youth Leadership Corps Member at Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, which works to foster and promote revitalization of the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods of Auburn-Gresham, Englewood and West Chatham.
Throughout this year, I have had quite a few people ask me about my job. During the summer before I started AVODAH, I told my friends and family that I would be running an after-school program similar to a student government, but with a focus on youth advocacy and school development. I was hired by the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, a community based organization which helps redevelop the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood through a comprehensive development plan. Six months into the job though, when asked what it is that I do, I know to give a multi-faceted answer. The list usually includes: after-school leader, social worker, administrator, and earth science teacher. The list seems long, and when I think about it, it is. However, somehow I manage to squeeze it all in. While it might seem a little bit crazy, somehow it all makes sense. So here is a day in my life at work in my role as the Youth Development Coordinator at Perspectives Middle Academy.
When I first arrive at Perspectives Middle Academy, I begin my day by working on various projects for the Elev8 initiative. Elev8 seeks to redevelop schools throughout the country by turning the school into a community. Elev8 stands on three pillars: parent engagement, student health, and extended day. All of these contribute to the overall development of a student. This year I have helped to create a website, developed presentations, made movies, brought students to a dental clinic as well as a whole host of other seemingly random tasks, all of which help ensure that students are fully present for their school day. Before starting AVODAH, I knew I would most likely complete many different types of assignments working for a not-for-profit, but I never thought that one fourth of my job would be this varied. Participating in such activities has made me far more capable at juggling multiple tasks and has broadened my thinking.
After completing my work for Elev8, I begin to transition into a social worker’s role. Along with Michael Kristovic, the social worker at Perspectives, I co-run a group known in the school as Warrior Boys/Warrior Men. The group consists of seven sixth-grade boys, all of whom have had a difficult time adjusting to being in a middle school environment, which can be far less coddling than elementary school. Many of the Warrior Boys have also seen a large amount of violence, come from single parent homes, and have been or are the victims of bullies. In our tribe, as we are known, each Warrior Boy takes on a Warrior Name and throughout the semester earns his Warrior Shield, signifying his transition from being a Warrior Boy into a Warrior Man. In order to earn this shield, each Warrior Boy must partner with a positive male role model in his community and fulfill one of the “Disciplined Life Principals” (the code of ethics at Perspectives). This can include going to after school tutoring twice a week, running at least two miles a week, or helping clean the house once a week. The group helps to build confidence among the Warrior Boys, giving them a bond to share with one another while also serving as a safe space for the boys to talk about their feelings in a world, which does not allow them such space.
As the day continues, my role once again changes as I get to move into a classroom. When I began working at Perspectives, I was afforded the opportunity to observe teachers in order to get to know students and the culture of the school a little bit better. One of the classes I became drawn to was the sixth-grade earth science class, taught by Megan Plante. One day, talking to Ms. Plante after school about earth science, she asked me about my experience with earth science. After telling her that I studied the subject in college, Ms. Plante asked me if I wanted to help teach the class. Since then, whenever I have had time I have jumped in to teach about various concepts in earth science. This year I have taught students about the East African Rift, volcanic plumbing, and most recently about riverbed erosion. Although this might not seem like the typical AVODAH assignment, helping to engage the kids in a field they would most likely not get to interact with, I believe, is just one small step towards achieving a more just world.
Once the school day ends, I make one final transition into the job I was originally hired for: running the Peace and Leadership Council (PLC) at Perspectives Middle Academy. The PLC is a program run in the five Elev8 schools in Chicago. For this program, I am supervised by the staff at Mikva Challenge, an organization dedicated to helping youth become better leaders and better advocates for themselves. This year is the first year Mikva has worked in middle school. With the help of two other Corps members and two Mikva staff members, we are finding our way through adapting a high school program into a middle school. This year, my PLC has worked with our principal to identify issues in our school including gang violence, student truancy, and a lack of enrichment courses. We have completed surveys, made movies, and given speeches to the school about ways that students can help improve their school. Each day, the after school program is quite varied and we start each day with a different icebreaker. Getting to know these students has been one of the most positive and fun experiences of joining AVODAH.
By the end of the day around 6:oo pm, I am exhausted and left deep in thought about the many different things I have heard and seen. As I head north on the 79th St. bus to the Red Line, I get one last glimpse of Auburn-Gresham, a community that I have come to love.