by Christine Morin, City Year Chief Growth and External Affairs Officer
At City Year, we know that all student have the potential and deserve the opportunity to develop their unique talents, achieve at high levels and succeed in school and in life. Yet millions of children who attend under-resourced schools navigate challenges that make it difficult for them to arrive each day at school, ready to learn. According to a new report by Attendance Works, Data Matters: Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success, 15 percent of all U.S. students – one out of seven – are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10 percent or more of school days in a single academic year. Each day out of the classroom, these students miss crucial learning opportunities, and those losses add up over time.
Starting as early as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, repeated absences can interfere with a student’s ability to read fluently by third grade, a major academic milestone. By middle and high school, repeated absences often lead to failing foundational courses such as English Language Arts and mathematics—a warning sign that a student is likely to drop out. Students who miss school frequently also lose opportunities to develop critical social-emotional skills such as confidence, self-motivation and self-regulation that help them to succeed both in and out of school. Chronic absenteeism disrupts the learning environment for everyone—teachers, students and staff—and undermines improvement efforts that are intended to enhance the culture and climate of the whole school.
Developmental relationships, defined by the Search Institute as “helping young people be and become their best selves” can “interrupt” this destructive cycle by showing students that they matter, and that attending school regularly is essential to reach their goals.
Across the country, City Year AmeriCorps members are building these positive relationships with students, adding capacity to high-need schools as near-peer tutors, mentors and role models—mature enough to offer guidance, yet young enough to relate to a student’s perspective. They help to prepare students with the skills and mindsets needed to succeed in school and in life. Working in partnership with classroom teachers, City Year AmeriCorps members form authentic connections with the students they serve, seeking to understand their unique strengths, build on their talents and challenge them to believe that they can achieve even more. These relationships are built over time, with patience, consistency and compassion, and enable City Year AmeriCorps members to deliver research-based academic and social-emotional supports that help students to stay in school and on track to high school graduation.
One example that illustrates the power of relationships to improve attendance and advance student achievement and belonging is that of AmeriCorps member Aven Presberry. Aven served with City Year Milwaukee in the 2016-2017 school year and early on, he noticed that one of his eighth graders was struggling. This student’s behavior was disruptive and he frequently skipped class. Aven did not want his student to further disengage. He deliberately found time to regularly talk with this student and build trust over time. Gradually, the student opened up to Aven.
“He began expressing that he wasn’t planning on attending high school,” said Aven. “He had lost all belief in himself. I told him I believed in him and that we would get through this year and make it to high school together.”
Over the next several months, Aven and the eighth grader worked together frequently, focusing their time on academics and talking through solutions to challenges that were keeping him from being in school that would help this student to attend school more regularly. Gradually, his grades and attendance improved. Aven realized what is possible when students have someone who believes in them, can meet their needs and is there for them, every day. “Our youth need this love, support and encouragement,” Aven said.
We know that all students thrive when they have a web of supports and positive relationships, including the presence of caring adults in and outside of school, such as teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and AmeriCorps members. While the systems that contribute to concentrated poverty are complex, positive adult-student relationships built on trust, consistency and proximity, like the one Aven developed with his eighth grader, can be a powerfully simple solution that breaks down barriers and promotes student holistic success.
Aven’s story shows the transformation that can happen when a student’s talent and potential are recognized and nurtured, and when a student is challenged to achieve and contribute at a high level. Through their consistent, positive presence, and in partnership with teachers and administrators, City Year AmeriCorps members are able to forge genuine bonds with students and encourage them to come to school every day and more fully embrace their learning environment.
For students to feel a sense of belonging within a school, they need a network of caring adults who can remind them—through words and actions-- that showing up to school every day matters, their future matters and ultimately that THEY matter.
City Year brings together diverse, talented teams of young adults to serve in high-need schools across the country, where they support students, teachers and schools all day, every day. Serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member is a complex and challenging, yet rewarding, commitment. Through their work in schools and communities, City Year AmeriCorps members not only make a difference in the lives of students they serve, but also acquire valuable skills that prepare them to become the next generation of civically engaged leaders. Learn more about getting involved.