Today's guest blogger is Stephanie Garace, an AmeriCorps member at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens. She is a University of Pennsylvania graduate, aspiring educator, and lover of historical musicals.
At Newtown High School, City Year AmeriCorps members primarily direct our attention towards our Focus Lists; that is, a set of students selected to receive extra tutoring and support based on previous years’ data and teacher recommendations. We work with them individually and in small groups, both in the classroom and outside of it. We encourage them to come to our office during our lunch period for tutoring, and we expend extra effort recruiting them for our after school program.
For us, there is no greater joy than watching a Focus List student finally understand a lesson we’ve been working on for weeks. Their triumph is our own, and it is immeasurably rewarding knowing that we’ve made a difference in their education. And while that’s fulfilling in and of itself, there’s something even bigger at play. I can feel my effect in every class I support, as all students eagerly await my help with their argumentative essays, U.S. history review questions, and creative writing projects. Even just stepping into the building, our impact is palpable: students greet corps members with wide smiles, high fives, and enthusiastic outbursts of “City Year is always ready!” Seeing this, I know that my team positively influences more students than just those on our Focus Lists.
This “City Year Effect” is a quantitative as well as a qualitative phenomenon, confirmed by a study conducted by the Policy Studies Associates, Inc., a third-party research firm. The PSA found that schools supported by City Year were two to three times more likely to see improvements in their students’ math and ELA state test scores than non-partner schools.
Furthermore, City Year partner schools saw their students learning an equivalent of one extra month’s worth of information in English and math compared with unaffiliated schools. We can attribute some of this increase to time with our Focus Lists, but such widespread progress had to be the result of better grades from many more students. By having corps members in the building, even without the individualized attention necessarily, students had an increased likelihood of better state test scores and higher academic achievement.
To test this theory, I decided to interview former City Year students who were not on Focus Lists to get their perspectives on the City Year Effect’s impact on their lives. At Newtown, I spoke with Melanie, a sophomore who often stops by City Year’s after school program. Melanie knows she isn’t the typical student corps members are there for, but she still spoke of how much she loved having a City Year in her classroom. Even though she sometimes found our chants and unending enthusiasm annoying, she ultimately appreciated the unconditional support. Melanie no longer has corps members in her classes, but that has not stopped her success: she still earns high grades, does community service for the school, and is on track to attend a four-year university when she applies senior year. She is a model high-achieving student who still benefited from the City Year Effect, but I was still curious as to how former City Year kids use their experience to advance.
The PSA found that schools supported by City Year were two to three times more likely to see improvements in their students’ math and ELA state test scores than non-partner schools.
My next interview was with Sam Orlin, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater, who had City Year at his middle school in Seattle, Washington. During our conversation, I saw that Sam was incredibly self-motivated, but he still sung the praises of his school’s City Year team. He called corps members a “dose of happiness” for the students and teachers, who brought consistency to the school as well as a passion for knowledge. Sam spoke particularly highly of the impact a corps member, Gabe, had on his eighth grade science class. Gabe was a “centering force” in the day as he supported the class. Sam now has a bright future ahead of him, and he cites City Year as an integral part of his education background that has put him on his current track to success.
When I joined City Year, I expected to work with students who were struggling and needed a push to get back on track. I didn’t consider the school-wide impact and just how many other students whose lives I would affect, though now I am so grateful to work with them. The City Year Effect is so powerful that you can see it permeate through the entire school. At Newtown, we see it in the grins we match at morning greeting, in the success of our recent college essay workshops, and in the scores of upperclassmen who come to us for tutoring in our office and after school. It is clear that we are centering forces to more than just our Focus Lists, which is what leads to all of our students’ success.