A City Education: Lessons Learned From Service in Schools

Meg Malone headed to New York City to make an impact with City Year. The experience has changed her outlook on schools.

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.

Last summer I was one of a diverse group of 255 young people from across the country arriving in New York City to work as tutors and mentors in the city’s public schools. Now, after ten months of service with City Year New York, a program that emphasizes the importance of graduating from high school, it's strange to be preparing for my own, slightly different, graduation.

I'd be lying if I said this year hasn’t been challenging and stressful. It's also been touching to hear students share their appreciations of my service. At the same time, it's incredibly sad to hear them say they don’t want me to leave and tell me how much they will miss me. It reminded me that though there were times when working with them felt like a thankless job, I did make an impact. I know that they certainly had an impact on me.

I learned so much about the education system this year—why we have to bridge the gap between the school and the community, create a positive school environment, and do our best to inspire students. I also have a new appreciation for why City Year sends a new group of corps members into schools each year. It exposes students to a diverse group of people with a variety of skills, interests, and experiences who can help them reach the goal of high school graduation.

During one of our recent tutoring sessions, I showed some of my English language arts students my journalism portfolio. It was so fun to watch them flip through it and ask if I really wrote all those stories. Experiences like this help them look ahead to the things that are possible when you build core academic skills like writing and continue to work hard and set goals.

Although I am still working to figure out exactly what I will do next year, my students know that I'm planning to pursue my master's degree. I hope that my students will see learning as a process that continues at all ages. It's also exciting to know that City Year has a plan. By 2023 we aim to help at least 80 percent of the students in schools where City Year serves reach the tenth grade on time and on track for graduation, increasing their rate of graduation fourfold.

Of course, the tenth grade is still two years away for my students, but this year they have shown me that they all have the potential to reach that critical juncture and graduate from high school. As my students meet new City Year corps members, new teachers, and go on to new schools, I can only hope that some of the advice and support I gave throughout this year sticks. I hope they know that even if I am not there, I will still be thinking about them next year, when they go to high school, when they graduate, and beyond.

I know my peers here in New York—and the 2,000 other City Year corps members across the country who are finishing their year—feel the same way. We started this experience together and now we're getting ready to graduate and do a wide array of things. No matter what path we take, the common bond of service will always hold us together.

Photo courtesy of City Year New York