A City Education: It Takes More Than One Person to Change the System

A City Year Los Angeles corps member learns that fixing public schools isn't easy.

In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

Ten months ago, I started my service at Markham Middle School in the Watts section of Los Angeles. As a student journalist who covered public education, I thought I knew what I was in for. I started this year with the confidence that I would be able to bring my student's reading levels up to where they were supposed to be. I soon realized though that catching up kids who were up to three grade levels behind was going to be harder than I’d expected. After serving as a tutor and mentor for an entire school year I now view the world differently.

I and the other City Year corps members at Markham learned that educators must ensure their students achieve despite plenty of distractions. We couldn't control the outside factors that plague low-income communities: challenging home lives, gang activity, and violence. Some of my teammates struggled with their students ditching school for days on end and getting involved with gangs. We also never knew when something that happened in the neighborhood would cause chaos on campus or in an individual student's life.

Obstacles to learning lurk inside the school too. Fire alarms were always going off at Markham. As the alarm blared during my last week on campus, I didn’t cover my ears and roll my eyes at the interruption. Instead, my partner teacher and I still tried to continue the lesson with our students—even though eventually a student and I started to laugh over the situation. No matter how hard my teammates encouraged, some students remained unmotivated to learn. Some students who wanted desperately to learn couldn't because of disruptive classmates.

Still, we didn't lose hope. Regardless of a student's situation, we knew deep down that all of our students had the ability to achieve. We believed in our students in even the toughest times. We never gave up because it was our job to keep calm in all situations and never doubt that the kids could learn. Sure, my heart ached whenever my students would try and try, but still didn’t understand. I learned to celebrate every victory. If a student accomplished something small like spelling "because" correctly or completing a worksheet, they still achieved.

I'm leaving Markham knowing that one student told me she wants to go to college so she can make Watts a better place. Other students significantly increased their reading ability, sometimes doubling their grade level. Still other students trust us enough to tell us anything, which shows me that we really made an impact.

However, throughout the year, I always wondered what it would be like for my students to be growing up in another, wealthier, area of Los Angeles. Would they still be so far behind grade level? Would they have to deal with those other outside factors that impact their behavior and attitude toward school? Probably not.

I learned that although it's true that life is never fair, we can make it more just by serving in communities that need an extra hand. As the year comes to a close, the most valuable lesson I've learned is that changing the world isn't as easy as it sounds. The issues facing our public education system—and the communities City Year serves—are a cause bigger than ourselves. One person can make an impact, but one person can't fix everything I've witnessed this year.

City Year taught me to give a voice to the voiceless and now that my year of service is over, that’s what I'll continue doing thousands of miles away. In July, I'll start teaching English with the Peace Corps in South Africa. I will carry my Markham memories with me forever. I am grateful to the school and community for giving me a life changing experience and showing me a reality that too many other Americans aren't aware exists.

Thanks to my students, I know that whether it's a rural village in Africa or a neighborhood in Los Angeles, wherever I can make a difference is where I belong.

Photo courtesy of Liz Warden

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less