MAKING A DIFFERENCE: City Year L.A. helps students realize their potential
Dorany Pineda, Contributing Writer, NNPS/ESSA
City Year believes in the potential of all students, especially those from low-income communities that attend under-resourced schools.
In an effort to bring out the best in those students, City Year Los Angeles was founded in 2007 as part of an education-focused national organization whose roots date back to 1988 in Boston.
“For the last 11 years in L.A., we have been partnering with local schools to keep kids on track to graduate from high school,” said Jonathan Lopez, the nonprofit’s managing director of impact.
Specifically, City Year L.A. partners with elementary, middle and high schools that serve children from impoverished neighborhoods who are more likely to experience trauma and are less likely to finish high school.
“In our program, we leverage AmeriCorps members to work in schools with students to help with their academic, social and emotional character strength, and we provide mentorship,” Lopez said.
The AmeriCorps is a federal civil society program that engages adult volunteers in public service work all over the United States.
With more than 250 AmeriCorps volunteers in classrooms in 31 schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District, the organization is making efforts to close the education gap with its Whole School Whole Child service model.
Through this model, AmeriCorps members between 17 and 25 years of age are placed in schools where they serve as additional resources for teachers and principals to improve all-around outcomes on campus.
“By deploying young people who are idealistic, who want do service for communities and are close in age to students, they can really help leverage positive growth,” Lopez said.
Many of the volunteers are at their assigned school sites all day, greeting students as they walk through the gates every morning, running after-school programs, helping them with their homework and providing free tutoring.
That added instructional time at the end of school is one of numerous ways the nonprofit seeks to address the needs on campus, Lopez said, which many schools can’t meet because of under resourcing.
And during school hours, these young volunteers run activities during lunch and recess “to encourage team building.”
But while the academic successes of City Year L.A. are apparent in its results, including a 2015 finding that showed an improvement in math and English assessment scores from schools partnering with the nonprofit, it recognizes that it is more than just about better test scores.
“It’s about social and emotional strength as well,” Lopez said. “[City Year L.A.] does work with students who struggle with attendance. When necessary, we refer students to school administrators to help students with those challenges.”
Besides providing behavior coaching, the organization also “runs a curriculum that helps with character strength like perseverance and optimism,” which supports students’ academic careers.
Though City Year’s influence is vast, reaching more than 320 schools across the country and serving close to a quarter of a million students, there is still a local need for more support in under resourced and underserved schools.
While the nonprofit hopes to expand its programs with more funding, it is also seeking to increase the diversity of its AmeriCorps volunteers. Because boys of color experience unique challenges in school and often live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the organization is actively recruiting more men of color to serve as role models to them.
In this way, Lopez said, City Year L.A. hopes to serve “the communities we’re in more deeply around L.A.”