A City Education: Planting Seeds of Student Success
Through A City Education, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
Los Angeles is a city as varied in landscape as it is by the people who fill its streets. I'm from Southern California, so I'm no stranger to the beautiful weather and palm trees. However, in the last four weeks, my experience as a City Year corps member has given me new eyes through which to admire my own backyard.
City Year corps members are college graduates who serve as mentors and collaborators in order to combat the dropout crisis in our communities. America's dropout statistics can be pretty overwhelming. Nationwide, as many as one million students drop out every year.
But there is hope.
This year I'm one of 10 corps members serving at Mendez High School in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Every day, I witness the diversity of the community. I see the splendor of the murals along the city's walls, listen to the Mariachi bands playing in the distance, and watch as the students arrive on the Metro as they travel from all directions. There is a distinct flavor about these streets. The more I uncover this unfamiliar territory, the more I'm steeped in it. And, during the 2012-2013 school year, Mendez ended the school year with a 58 percent graduation rate.
That number may shock you, but it's a 27 percent increase from the previous school year—the biggest increase in the entire Los Angeles Unified School District. Boosting that graduation rate even further is why I'm serving at Mendez this year.
Indeed, as a Los Angeles native, it's my turn to help grow the untapped potential in our schools. I believe in the power of youth and community and want to cultivate the relationship between them to improve quality of life for all. And I'm not alone. Last Wednesday, all 283 City Year Los Angeles corps members, along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy, gathered at a ceremony we call Opening Day to celebrate the start of a year of service dedicated to helping kids stay in school and succeed. In 2012, graduation rates in Los Angeles rose to 66.2 percent, with Latino students showing the largest gains. We still have a long way to go, but this suggests a path forward, an upward trajectory for our schools and students that the entire Los Angeles corps is excited to be a part of.
At our Opening Day ceremony, Courtney Sawyer, the principal of 99th Street Elementary in Watts, told us that "One of the most powerful things City Year does is cultivate powerful relationships." I was an environmental studies major in college, so I've studied how all things are interconnected. I appreciate systems greater than myself, while still acknowledging that every single part of a system is vital.
Our corps is an ensemble with a diversity to match—and connect with—the city we serve. My teammates hail from all over the nation, each bringing their own set of quirks and backgrounds, and in this we find our strength. Our differences allow us to find common ground in our dedication to a cause greater than ourselves. "I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours," we say at City Year. It's a core value we've borrowed from an old Zulu proverb, Ubuntu.
My first experience with Ubuntu inside a classroom happened long ago. Because she recognized my potential, my second-grade teacher invested extra time in me. As a result, I wrote my first-ever book—it was seven pages long and depicted the story of a girl who wants an apple from a tree. My teacher saw a future for me that I wasn't yet able to imagine. She was the water to my seed and provided the nourishment I needed to thrive.
I'm serving with City Year because healthy ecosystems have the capacity to sustain themselves. I'm serving because the opportunities I've been granted have provided me the capacity to imagine a future for my students beyond the classroom walls, across the graduation stage, and into a world of endless possibilities. The journey ahead won't be easy, but the City of Angels is almost in bloom and I am determined to nurture as many seeds as possible.
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Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles