Meet Marlyn Torres, senior program officer for New York Life Foundation
The New York Life Foundation is supporting a three-year plan to standardize and scale City Year’s middle school after-school program. As City Year works towards meeting its Long-Term Impact goals, the resulting middle school after-school program will be a key component in City Year’s efforts to keep middle school students across the nation in school.
Marlyn Torres has been working at New York Life Foundation for eight years. In her role, she provides leadership to promote the New York Life Foundation’s mission and strategic initiatives by convening and collaborating with key organizations. Additionally, Ms. Torres identifies organizations that may qualify for support, conducts site visits, prepares key reports for the Foundation’s Board and New York Life senior executives, and negotiates grant terms with nonprofits. Ms. Torres sits on the Grantmakers for Education Out of School Time Network steering committee.
Why does New York Life Foundation partner with City Year?
City Year’s mission and the New York Life Foundation’s focus are clearly aligned. We see the need to do more to keep middle school students in school and on track to graduate. We invest in City Year because they have a successful track record of helping students improve their attendance, behavior and course performance—all of which are proven indicators of a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school.
Why is the after-school space particularly important to the New York Life Foundation?
There is a wealth of research showing that enriching OST (out-of-school-time) programs, particularly in middle school, can positively change the educational trajectory of a young person. These programs play such an important role by supplementing, supporting and enriching a student’s educational experiences.
New York Life Foundation’s educational enhancement focus area supports national youth development organizations that help middle school students make a successful transition from middle school to high school. As a company, we help provide financial security to families. Similarly, if a young person gets to 9th grade prepared with the skills they need for high school, this student will likely graduate from high school, go on to college and have a strong financial future.
What inspired you personally to get involved in the education field?
When I was in the second grade I had a teacher who called me stupid. I was in a reading circle and since English wasn’t my first language, there were some words I had difficulty pronouncing. This angered the teacher and she started to yell at me, and called me stupid. As you can imagine, as an eight year old, I started to cry and I was distraught. This incident left a very deep impression on me. As I look back, this was a defining moment for me. I knew education was important and, despite what anyone said, I was determined to excel and help make a difference for others.
Who was your role model growing up?
My role models growing up were my parents. Seeing their struggles instilled in me a strong work ethic and the importance of education.
What is your own favorite memory from middle school?
I’m a product of the New York City public school system—and, I must say, I loved middle school. I was a cheerleader and in the school band. It was a great time of personal growth and exploration for me. One of my favorite memories was when I got an A+ on one of my first papers in my social studies class. And yes, I thought of my second grade teacher when I got that A+.
Recently New York Life Foundation brought together City Year staff members who oversee after-school programs in schools that City Year sites partner with across the country. Why was it valuable to do this?
The New York Life Foundation grant supports City Year’s efforts to strengthen and expand its after-school programs for middle school youth. The convening created a space for reflection and an opportunity to bring together key City Year staff to share information and discuss challenges as well as promising practices, and have peer-to-peer conversations. These discussions help leverage the collective wisdom of the group.
What makes a great after-school program?
There are so many good OST programs in communities across the country (e.g. After-School All-Stars, BELL, and Higher Achievement, just to name a few). From my perspective there are a few core elements that make a great after-school program. I would start with great staff -- having dedicated, committed and trained staff are the elemental components of what makes a great program. Next, I would say culture. If there is a culture of high expectations, youth engagement and creativity, the likelihood is that it is a strong program. Lastly, I’d say that a great program is one that truly knows its young people by determining how they learn best.
What did you gain from your City Year visit?
Going to the City Year Headquarters in Boston was a great experience. The physical nature of the building is so impressive. The inspiring messages throughout the building are a physical manifestation of the culture of City Year. Three takeaways that stand out for me are:
City Year clearly has dedicated staff with the passion and will to make a positive difference in a child’s life.
All the City Year sites are grappling with determining which program elements/curriculum are most effective and have the most impact for students.
Middle school programming is challenging because of the developmental stage of a young person, but it is also the most promising because an effective out of school time program can be pivotal in making an impact and can help change the student’s trajectory. Middle school programming can help the student be better prepared to take on the challenges of high school and beyond.
The City Year and New York Life partnership will result in an after-school program that has the potential to impact an estimated 150,000 middle school students at full scale. Learn more about the partnership here.