Ruth Ramirez is a recent alumna of the University of Southern California’s school of social work. Before attending graduate school, Ruth served with City Year Chicago (‘12, ‘13). She is now a Social Worker with Kipp LA Schools.
When I started my social work master’s program at University of Southern California, my professors and colleagues continually asked, “Why social work?” My immediate response was always linked to my City Year experience.
I proudly served as an AmeriCorps member and team leader in Chicago. Working in under-resourced schools in low-income neighborhoods deepened my understanding of the complex issues that create and reinforce barriers to student achievement and overall wellbeing. My year of service gave me a first-hand, robust learning experience. Speaking with teachers, administration, families and the youth themselves helped me understand the adversities students must overcome.
"My year of service gave me a first-hand, robust learning experience. Speaking with teachers, administration, families and the youth themselves helped me understand the adversities students must overcome." [Tweet this]
During my first year with City Year, I quickly realized the immense levels of stress and trauma that environmental factors and social injustices cause for at-risk students. These factors have critical ramifications on social emotional development directly influencing academic achievement, and ultimately contribute to the dropout crisis. I found that students and families were in great need of support services in schools, ranging from case management of referrals to community resources or direct mental health interventions including individual and group therapy.
Over the course of my two years, I grew into a strong advocate for programs, initiatives and interventions aimed at meeting student and family needs in all aspects of life. I became more involved with restorative justice programs at high schools that aim to repair harm and rebuild relationships between conflicting individuals to decrease behavioral infractions that lead to suspensions or expulsions. These programs aimed to teach students appropriate ways to resolve conflict, regulate emotions and develop healthy interpersonal skills.
I had the opportunity to help students find techniques to cope with their feelings, learn where their behaviors manifested, and effectively resolve conflict. It was these interactions that made me feel most impactful. Not only did I intervene when students might otherwise face harsh disciplinary practices, but I saw how students felt empowered to address conflict, manage their responses, take responsibility for their actions and stay committed to improving their academic outcomes.
The skills and values I developed and honed in City Year have served as vital building blocks of my professional and personal development that seamlessly transfer to my social work career. Social work can often be an autonomous position – sometimes isolating – however, I learned early in City Year how to build allies, integrate into a community, advocate for initiatives, and contribute to building climate and culture.
"Social work can often be an autonomous position – sometimes isolating – however, I learned early in City Year how to build allies, integrate into a community, advocate for initiatives, and contribute to building climate and culture. " [Tweet this]
Partnering with teachers and school personnel as an AmeriCorps member and team leader provided much insight and practice in building and fostering effective relationships to help all entities achieve goals that contribute to positive student outcomes. Schools are intricate systems with many moving parts. With guidance from City Year leadership, I learned how to navigate the intersecting systems and resources in order to efficiently and effectively support students and implement services. Collaborating with my teams and with school personnel challenged me to be adaptable and strengthened my interpersonal, administrative, and critical thinking capacity. These skills are vital to a social worker, a role that relies on collaboration and multidisciplinary teaming.
Some of the greatest takeaways from my City Year experience, of which I am deeply grateful, were the opportunities to work with like-minded, passionate individuals who fostered my leadership approach (feedback is a gift!), grew my cultural capacity, deepened my empathy, and fueled passion to be an agent of change.
As a social worker, I am in a position to advocate for students’ needs, empower communities and build sustainable change. I have benefited immensely from intimate exposure and practice working with marginalized populations and being given the platform through City Year to be innovative, to implement services, to learn about organizational structure, to unify people, to challenge the status quo, to live my message and create ripples.
I have always been a pretty determined person, but at times have felt lost in my personal journey. City Year was the place that gave me direction, channeled my zest for social justice, enhanced my self-efficacy and instilled values that will help me be the social worker I want to be for the youth who need and deserve support services.