City Year Corps Builds Relationships

The Mattahunt is a “turnaround” school in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. As such, 90% of the teachers—and the principal—were new to the building in the 2013–2014 year. The students, who have endured years of educational and administrative turnover, are the most consistent members of their school community. In 2013–2014, City Year was in its second year at the Mattahunt; with their distinctive red jackets, youthful enthusiasm, and success-oriented training, corps members offered students stability and a touchstone of familiarity.

Genteen Jean-Michel, a veteran of the Boston Public Schools and the Mattahunt’s new principal, expresses this confidence in City Year: “The corps members are on top of everything at the school. They know the students academically as well as socially and emotionally. They’re trained to build relationships with students.”

Whole School, Whole Child

City Year started in Boston in 1988 as a national youth-service movement. In 2007, City Year began to focus exclusively on education, embarking on the Whole School, Whole Child (WSWC) initiative to address the achievement gap and subsequent high school dropout rate. “Before that, City Year was doing vastly different things across sites,” said Kathryn Robinson, City Year’s National Director of Literacy. “Urban gardens, murals, tutoring … and there was no level of standardization.”

WSWC is based on research from Johns Hopkins University that identified the key indicators for students at the highest risk of dropping out.

Students who are at risk of . . .

Through their training in WSWC, corps members are prepared to support classroom teachers, run targeted tutoring groups, administer assessments to determine reading needs, and lead after-school programs to improve school culture. Most public schools are designed to provide extra support to only 15% of their students, but in high-poverty schools, as many as 50% of the students need additional help. At City Year schools from Seattle to Miami, corps members are that extra help.

Watch this video to see City Year corps in action.

Literacy Training for the Corps

It's clear that literacy is a key to keeping kids on track and in school.

City Year is now deeply invested in promoting literacy through public education, working in 262 schools in 26 U.S. cities with 2,800 corps members between the ages of 17 and 24. City Year has been strategic in hiring diverse teams of young adults or “near peers” who form a strong bond with the students. In 2012–2013, City Year volunteers worked with over 150,000 third- to ninth-grade students, amassing impressive results.

In 2010, the Walmart Foundation first funded City Year to build a literacy training program for its corps members. This was followed by a second grant, with a combined total of $4.4 million. Corps members came with the passion and commitment needed to do the work, and the Walmart Foundation recognized that to do it well, corps members needed training in literacy interventions.

The initial grant supported a summer literacy academy, regional training, and an online platform for sharing best practices. The impressive gains demonstrated by the first grant informed the decision to provide a second, larger grant.

The second grant expanded to include a “train the trainer” model with a customizable curriculum that could support off-track students. This grant strengthened and widened the literacy training while rendering it fully sustainable. Through the two grants, literacy training and support became available to nearly 1,000 City Year staff, including new corps members, senior (second-year) corps members, and program staff.

Read the press release about the Walmart Foundation’s $3.2 million grant to City Year.

Impressive Results

City Year’s comprehensive staff training has shown significant statistical gains.

In 2012-2013:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called City Year’s efforts “invaluable” in keeping at-risk kids on track, and these data-driven numbers support his assertion.

Over the life of the grant, City Year was able to reach over 45,000 fifth- through eighth-grade students with whole-school support and 7,300 at-risk students with targeted interventions in 20 cities across the country.

Thanks to the development of a dynamic training model, corps members, team leaders, and program staff benefit from ongoing online and face-to-face trainings throughout the year. City Year teams meet regularly in school to ask questions, receive guidance, share best practices, and support each other’s work. In addition, ongoing Learning Development Days are held locally and offer deeper dives into selected topics.

With funding from the Walmart Foundation, AmeriCorps, and other supporters, City Year’s corps members have made extraordinary gains with some of the country’s most underserved students. Co-founder Michael Brown’s vision is that “one day, the most commonly asked question for a young person will be, ‘Where are you going to spend your service year?’”