A City Education: Welcoming the Challenges of Chicago

Despite the polarizing controversy of Chicago's school closings, the city's students still need tutors and mentors.

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.

Anyone familiar with the issues surrounding education, and specifically the school closings in Chicago, knows that oftentimes the meaningful, solutions-oriented discussions we need are replaced by polarizing controversy. But despite the controversy, I'm proudly serving as a team leader with City Year Chicago, where I help to oversee a team of nine first-year corps members.

This is my second year with City Year. I served my first year as a corps member in Washington, D.C., where I worked as a tutor, mentor, and role model—all in an effort to eradicate the dropout crisis in which one million students drop out every year.

I chose to serve my second year in a different city for many reasons. I wanted to explore the similarities and differences in issues facing our nation's school districts, I wanted to push myself even further into my "challenge zone." I wanted to impact more students' lives and I wanted to do all of this a little closer to my Midwest roots. Where better to do all this than in Chicago?

As excited as I was—and still am—to be embarking on a new adventure, I was nervous about moving across the country. However, when I first arrived at the City Year Chicago headquarters, my anxieties melted away. The positive energy of the staff and their willingness to show me around and answer my questions made it easy to plug in to a new City Year site.

Once I was placed at my school and got to meet the team that I would be leading through this 10-month journey, I quickly learned that our connections run much deeper than the red jackets we all wear.

I am privileged to serve this year at the Dulles School of Excellence in the Greater Grand Crossing community, on the south side of Chicago. Dulles is a "welcoming school," which means it receives students from a nearby school that was closed in last year's restructuring of the Chicago Public Schools. While the phrase "welcoming school" is just a term given to any school that is receiving new students, it couldn't be more fitting for the amazing community of people who make up the Dulles family. Whether it is the security personnel who keep us safe, the ever busy but always smiling administrators, the custodians who make hallways feel like home, or the teachers who bring a no-nonsense nurturer type of love, Dulles School of Excellence is more than just a school—it's a family.

Even before the first day of school, my team and I were welcomed with open arms by the staff. They took the time to get to know not just our names, but where we came from, where we want to go, and why we chose to dedicate a year of our lives in service to youth. Of course we stood out at first—ten diverse young people wearing khakis and red, but before long they ensured that we were integrated seamlessly, and we have since formed a truly transformational partnership.

At City Year, we believe in idealism and the power of young people to change the world. Despite the very real issues facing our community, Dulles maintains a high standard of excellence for our students while providing them a safe, clean, and encouraging environment in which they can succeed. Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the time to stop by and dedicate our brand new Tiger field!

Yes, there are challenges facing the nation's third largest school district. Yes, like anywhere, the news isn't always good in our community. And yes, our students need help. But through the combined effort of City Year and the amazing staff at the Dulles School of Excellence, I know we will make an impact for good.

Get involved with City Year by attending an Opening Day ceremony or supporting the local corps. Click here to say you'll do it.

Photo courtesy of City Year Chicago

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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