Answering "why" you're trying to solve the dropout crisis always comes back to students.
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 achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.
When someone asks me what I'm doing here in Orlando as a City Year corps member, I've got a ready-to-go spiel about how I'm here to help students who are struggling with their grades or have problems with attendance or behavior. I can talk about working for City Year or our mission for days, no sweat.
But the question, "Why did I choose to serve with City Year Orlando?" has been a lot harder to answer. This year is City Year's founding year serving the Orlando community and my team is just one of five teams serving in the Orange County Public Schools System. We're setting the tone for how students and the community perceive City Year, so it's important to all 50 of us that we get the answer to "why?" right.
What do I tell people? I wanted to tutor young people and help them achieve more academically, so why not? I also knew I wanted to work with young adults who were motivated to do something positive, and who shared a similar list of priorities. I called these theoretical colleagues "a team of like-minded individuals" in my City Year application. And to be honest, that’s basically it: I wanted to serve and I wanted to do it with some remarkable teammates.
In City Year's description of one of our core values—Service To A Cause Greater Than Self—we explain that it "creates common ground by bringing together diverse individuals who share a similar commitment to work for the common good and empowering them to engage in unified action."
While our backgrounds would not seem to suggest we have a lot in common, the City Year team I have the honor of serving with at Maynard Evans High School is unquestionably a diverse team of like-minded individuals. We're from geographically far flung places like Chattanooga, Berkeley, California, and Waxahachie, Texas, Berkley, and Briarcliff Manor, New York, but now we're all invested in Pine Hills, the Orlando-area community where Evans is located.
We were also lucky enough to go to great schools like Barry University in Miami, the University of Florida, Cornell University, and Florida State. Now we're all proud to be a part of the scholarly community at Evans. Indeed, although last year we were finishing our studies in economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and political science, now we're completely focused on ensuring our students get on grade level in math and English.
City Year's overall goal of trying to solve the dropout crisis is incredibly complex. The idea though that our mission as a team is to simply make a positive impact on the lives of our students changes a complex goal into a singular, much more focused, and obtainable objective. We've been working at our school for a month and we're already building relationships with students, their parents, and the community, and seeing positive academic results. Ultimately, being of service to the students at Evans is why I'm here.
I know that in talking to my fellow corps members, that the story of why I committed to serving as a City Year corps member is similar to everyone else's. We are fifty strong and come from fifty different places, but we all believe passionately in Service Greater to Ourselves.
Photo via City Year Orlando