By Siria Castaneda, Corps Member, Disney Team at Normandie Ave. Elementary School

Whenever I am on the bus on my way to work and someone asks, “What does City Year do exactly?” I could easily reply, “We tutor children,” but that simply would not be enough.

We are a group of young people who help students discover and reach their full potential. We are a group of young people teaching children while at the same time, learning a lot about ourselves, and growing with our students each day.

My teammates and I serve at Normandie Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles. Our team of 12 comes in everyday, inspired, and ready to serve in 3rd –5th grade classrooms. This is the seventh year of City Year’s partnership with Normandie and every team that came before us further strengthened our foundation, allowing us to truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

My students push and motivate me every day because they remind me of myself when I was growing up. I am from Lincoln Heights and went through the LAUSD public school system. I see my own reflection in my students, and one of the many things that get me excited to come to school each morning is the fact that I am going to be part of this enormous milestone in their lives.

I love the faces my students make when they finally understand a math problem they swore they never could do. I find joy in the fact that my students are eager to learn. Each day I am greeted with smiling faces asking me, “Ms. C, what are we going to do today?”

I don’t think my students realize they are teaching me too.

Maria is one the students whose story will stay with me long after I leave Normandie. When I first met Maria, she did not speak English because she had just moved from Mexico. I would talk to her and she would respond in Spanish. So one day, I made a deal with Maria: I would speak to her in Spanish, but only if she responds in English. She accepted the challenge.

For the past 4 months, Maria and I have worked on fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension along with writing skills. I read with her every day and I have her retell and summarize the stories for me. She works diligently on her vocabulary and challenges herself to say new words aloud – even when she gets embarrassed.

On her first assessment, Maria scored a 40, which is very low.


Although it must have felt overwhelming, she continued to give it her all each time we worked together. She started attending City Year’s Friday tutoring session to receive extra help. After a while, she was able to start working in groups with other students.

Maria recently took the second assessment and moved up 80 points, scoring a 120 on the test. Her teacher and I were elated! I often told Maria to do her best when I saw her struggle with understanding a problem, a word, or a story. Every time she amazed me with her willingness and eagerness to learn, even if it took her awhile.

My name is Siria Castaneda and my main goal as a City Year Los Angeles corps member – and in life! – is to harness the power of young people so that I can impact more students like Maria through education.

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