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A City Education: Putting Students First Requires Adults Working Together

City Year's morning circle reflects a key value: inclusivity.

In our A City Education series, 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.

Come by Normandie Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles at 7:15 AM and you'll see City Year corps members wearing our signature yellow and red jackets and gathered in front of the school in a circle. It's a tradition that reflects one of our key values: inclusivity. Every morning, every City Year team throughout the United States does this—meeting in front of their respective schools, sharing successes and going through the day's schedule. When we do this, we gather in a large circle so that everyone can see everybody and so that everyone is equally included.

Most days at Normandie, we follow the standard routine. Sometimes, though, Dr. Ortiz—Normandie's gregarious principal—shakes things up by joining in. His ability to give off-the-cuff inspirational speeches never ceases to amaze us.

The fact that Dr. Otiz feels welcome in our circle is a big deal. It shows us that the Normandie community sees our inclusive culture as an asset and they have responded to us in kind. As a result, corps members become more effective and staff members have a better idea of what we’re about and how we all can work together.

Serving our students is about working with teachers just as much as it's about building lesson plans on our own. For example, my teammate Luis and his partner teacher examined his class's periodic assessment scores together. By looking at which questions students frequently missed, they were able to pinpoint the skills students were lacking and build interventions around them.

Of course, support from teachers isn't solely academic. My partner teacher fills me in on students' parents and home lives, and I take that information into consideration whenever I tutor. In return, I let her know about playground dynamics she doesn't have the chance to see. Together, we've managed to form a richer picture of our class, with its many customs and quirks.

My team also works on building relationships with other staff members. Normandie has been a partner school since City Year Los Angeles began running six years ago, and over time, the administration has come to trust us with many programs and events.

Earlier in the year, Ms. Gant-Leau, one of Normandie's instructional coaches, ran a program called Read Naturally. The program is designed to help students who struggle with English language fluency and comprehension. After piloting the model, she handed it off to corps members. We've now integrated the concepts and materials into our classroom tutoring. Next week, we're meeting with Ms. Jordan, another instructional coach, to discuss different math intervention strategies. I’m looking forward to learning from her experience.

Some of the most fun times have come from getting involved with school-wide events. Thus far, I've helped fifth graders practice a song from Rent, played a goody two-shoes in a skit about behavior, and ran around in a cougar costume to pump first graders up for the spelling bee. Our participation shows that City Year is—like our chants say—always ready.

When City Year comes to a school, our goal isn't to impose change. The goal is to work with our partners to help change grow organically. Normandie is a school on the rise, and it’s full of people who really believe in putting students first. Thus, it feels good when staff members stop by our circle to say good morning; we know we're valued as well.

Click here to add celebrating AmeriCorps week from March 9-13, 2013 to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles

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