I recently had the opportunity to attend City Year Detroit’s Ripples of Hope dinner and I was overwhelmed … overwhelmed by the data … overwhelmed by the stories of hope told by City Year Detroit corps members who are trying change the world one child, one classroom and one school at a time.
Our educational system in the US is in a crisis and is at a tipping point. Children are dropping out and walking into a dismal future. Look at the data.
Every 26 seconds a child drops out of public high school.
In urban schools 40-60% of freshman class will not graduate from high school.
At risk students can be identified as early as sixth grade by three “off track” indicators … poor attendance, disruptive behavior and failure in math and English. 75% of those students identified as at risk do not graduate high school. “We know right now who will drop out of school five years from now,” said Dr. Robert Balfanz from John Hopkins University in a video shown at dinner.
This will not self correct. There must be intervention in the public high schools. That’s where City Year comes in. It mobilizes young adults to work with these at risk students and help develop the skills and find the confidence they need to graduate and move to brighter futures. Who better to work with a young person than a slightly older young person who role model and committed to helping them learn?
“Across the country, City Year corps members are having a significant impact on student attendance, behavior and course performance — the early warning indicators that a student will drop out,” said City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown.
At the dinner three people … one teacher and two City Year Corps members dressed in their bright red City Year jackets … spoke and I was again overwhelmed. This time it wasn’t by the data but by their personal stories.
Eric Zielke, a 6th grade teacher at Phoenix Academy in Detroit, said he could give us data point after data point about City Year’s success … how in four months students could now read at least one grade level higher and how several had moved up three grade levels and so on. But data is only data. What it doesn’t show is that his kids no longer fight in the class room. It doesn’t show that when one student came up and punched one of his kids in the face that kid didn’t retaliate. His only reward for that decision was a rewarding squeeze on the shoulder from the City Year corps member mentoring him and that was enough.
Alex Sanders talked about how he can’t ever take a day off. He’s mentoring many students but two sisters stand out. One has accepted his help and is rapidly improving her reading skills. The other sister is more reluctant. “Maybe tomorrow,” she says. Alex says he’s can’t take a day off because that day may be her tomorrow.
Skye Black choked back tears as she talked about William who was frustrated in class because he was so far behind in reading skills. He was headed down the “at risk” path. When she first monitored his class she noticed William asking the teacher to slow down. He just couldn’t keep up. She talked with William and he accepted her help. They began reading … slowly at first but William was committed to learn. He’s still not quite where he should be to be on par with his class. But, Skye said through tears and beaming with pride, he read the 167-page Captain Underpants book all by himself.
City Year Detroit’s young adult corps members sign on for a year and work an average of 50 hours a week during the school year. They are paired with a specific school in for the entire year where they mentor and tutor students in K-12. Their work has helped thousands of challenged kids who have fallen between the cracks stay in school and on track. They are natural allies for the students they mentor. They don’t just go over their homework. They ask them how they feel today. How their friends are.
City Year Detroit has 71 corps members working with 4,600 students. The sad truth is, it needs 403 corps members to reach 25,000 students … and that’s just half of the number who desperately need their help.
As a nation, a state and a city we are all in this education abyss together. The City Year Corps members have given a year to change the world and they should be more than just commended. As Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”