Written by Lindsay Hall, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Albemarle Foundation Team at Merrydale Elementary School.
City Year Baton Rouge AmeriCorps members get to spend every day working with elementary and middle school students. But who is there to support those students once they enter high school? Enter Baton Rouge Youth Coalition (BRYC), a local organization dedicated to equipping high school students with the skills they need to excel in college and beyond. Over the last few months, AmeriCorps members have had the opportunity to tutor BRYC Fellows in our own favorite disciplines, including history, English, Spanish, and physics. Getting to know the BRYC Fellows has provided a different perspective on our students and the community we serve.
Volunteering with an afterschool program after a day at school might sound tiring, but as AmeriCorps member Jimmy McClusky points out, “working with older, higher-performing students is a great way to finish a day of service.” From the moment you enter the BRYC house, it’s clear you’re working with dedicated people, Fellows and staff alike. After finishing his AmeriCorps year in Baton Rouge and attending Harvard Graduate School, alumnus Aaron Randolph returned to Baton Rouge and works as the Director of Sophomore Programming at BRYC. While City Year is there to tutor, students are prompted to practice their professionalism by introducing themselves with their full name and a handshake.
Most of these students attended the schools where City Year Baton Rouge currently serves, and are now applying to some of the best universities in the nation. BRYC’s staff encourages students to strive for excellence, a reminder that we can do the same even with younger students. As AmeriCorps member Mallory Orr says, “Working with BRYC has instilled in me the importance of encouraging my students to work hard now, so that working hard in high school can come easier to them and they can later go on to college. Many of them won't think about college unless someone tells them to - and I know that is my job. “
While the focus is on the academic success and professional potential of the Fellows, BRYC also provides a space for them to be comfortable and open about who they are and what they aspire to achieve. Many corps members have helped the students with their essays for college applications. As part of the writing process, students have shared stories about their own lives and their experiences in their community. Stories about a family’s long and difficult journey towards financial stability, or surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina lends greater significance to what the students have accomplished so far. As the BRYC Fellows speak confidently about their plans for the future, and the ways they will give back to their community, it’s impossible not to feel inspired. It’s a reminder that our students have what it takes to shape the world in ways we cannot anticipate.
While City Year AmeriCorps members tutor BRYC Fellows in algebra and English, the students offer weekly lessons in resilience, tenacity, and solidarity. As Mallory further observes, “It is easy to drown in frustration about the circumstances my students live with, but serving with BRYC allows me to see that my students do have the opportunity to succeed--and to see that there are many wonderful organizations in this city that want to see that happen.” BRYC plays an important role in the lives of BRYC Fellows, but it also has been rewarding for City Year to participate in preparing students from Baton Rouge for excellence.