By Kria Sakakeeny, Manager of Media Relations , City Year, Inc.
This week, City Year joined hundreds of educators, policy makers, and business leaders for the 2013 NBC News Education Nation Summit in New York City. The three-day event titled, “What It Takes,” included town hall meetings and panel discussions on what it takes to ensure all young people have equal access to quality education and are equipped with the right skills to join the demanding 21st century job market.
City Year was well represented by Evelyne Santiago, a second year City Year Los Angeles corps members who serves as a team leader in Belmont High School, where the graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Evelyn spoke on a panel moderated by NBC’s Kate Snow, about the impact of mentors on student success, from helping students identity and address personal challenges, to setting personal and academic goals, to bridging the communication gap between home and school.
Three other panelists joined Evelyne: Melody Barnes, President Obama’s former Domestic Policy Council Director and the current chair of the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, David Shapiro, President and CEO of MENTOR, and Svante Myrick, the 26-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York. All of the panelists reinforced the idea that trained specialized mentors are an increasingly necessary resource for struggling students and their schools.
Evelyne stressed the idea that City Year’s model is both unique and effective because corps members accompany students through the entire day, from welcoming students to school, to supporting them during and in between classes, to tutoring and engaging them after school. Evenlye explained that this kind on consistency helps build trust with students and allows corps members to identify times during the day when students are either connecting well in class or are feeling discouraged or disengaged.
The moderator, Kate Snow asked the panel how this country and our American school system could engage “one million more mentors like Evelyne,” to which Melody Barnes explained the need for continued and expanded federal funding for AmeriCorps, which is critical to City Year. Currently AmeriCorps has funding for fewer than 80,000 service positions while more than 582,000 people have applied to serve.
Evelyne, who is 22-years-old and the first person in her family to earn a four-year college degree,pointed out that she’s served as a role model for students who’ve never perceived college as a possibility. It’s something she can relate to. “As a Latina woman growing up I didn’t see people looking like me who went one to college,” Evelyn told the audience. She described a Latina student at Belmont High who expressed virtually no vision for her own future. When the student learned that Evelyn had successfully graduated from college, Evelyne told the crowd that the girls’ goals started “spilling out.” “She said ‘It’s okay to have dreams, especially when there’s someone here who looks just like me and has made those dreams happen’.”
City Year is grateful to NBC News and its sponsors for dedicating the time and resources to dive deep into the status of education in America today, and for bringing together some of the brightest minds for an honest conversation about solutions that bring us hope.