CityStep Yale and IRIS After-School: Teaching Joy During a Pandemic

CityStep Yale is a group of students who love working with young people, dancing, laughing and learning together. 

During the pandemic, CityStep has fostered a meaningful partnership with the New Haven Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS). Twice a week, CityStep hosted Zoom dance classes with the IRIS after school program. Over the course of the school year, our volunteers developed genuine relationships with our 10-14 year old IRIS students. The volunteers and students have come to know each other’s personalities, family traditions, and favorite TikTok and cultural dances. Friendships have formed despite differences in age, language, personal background and the difficulties of Zoom learning. 

IRIS students and CityStep co-president, Hema Patel, were overjoyed to meet and dance in person for the first time in May, 2021. 

A typical CityStep lesson plan, online or off, might begin with a warm-up and end with a stretch. In between, the CityStep volunteers can be as creative as they want. Some teach students to choreograph to their favorite rap songs. Others play movement games like freeze dance. Some share traditional cultural dances and invite their Yale friends to collaborate. 

Usually, however, class does not go according to plan. A student might interupt to screenshare a K-pop music video. The check-in question, “What are you grateful for?” might take thirty reflective minutes. Students might ask to teach the volunteer instead of the other way around. Planned or not, every CityStep lesson is filled with joy and laughter, ups and downs, learning and care. 

Amidst a global pandemic, we have all been challenged to be more creative, compassionate and communicative in our teaching and learning. CityStep Yale has embraced that challenge, thanks to the dynamic young people we work with at IRIS after-school. If you are looking for ways to laugh, dance, learn and teach with New Haven youth, please contact the 2020-2021 CityStep Yale co-presidents, Dora Guo (, Hema Patel (, and Adrian Kyle Venzon ( We are excited for the in-person prospects of the 2021-2022 school year and are always looking for more leaders and volunteers to join our community.

About the Author