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City Year: New City, New Students, Same Purpose

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles and New York write about their experiences.

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles and New York write about their experiences.

It was the day after Labor Day when my City Year Los Angeles team serving at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School met the school’s faculty and staff. City Year has been in Los Angeles since 2007, but this is the first year that Stevenson Middle School has had a City Year team, so many of the teachers had yet to be introduced to our purpose in the school and in their classrooms.

I stood with my team of 18 at the front of the cafeteria as we showed them how our presence as tutors, mentors, and role models to students would improve their students’ attendance, behavior, and course performance in math and English—three factors that predict the likelihood of graduating from high school. I could see the excitement in the teachers’ eyes at the prospect of having 18 more adults at their school. The room was filled with hope and enthusiasm and I could tell that this was going to be a good year.

This moment marked the start of my service in Los Angeles and the continuation of a journey that began across the country one year ago in the neighborhood that I grew up in. Last year, I served as a corps member at Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. I joined City Year because I wanted to be a positive figure in the classroom and the school and, in that year, I did just that. While I reached a lot of students, Alexis, a sophomore in one of my classes, stands out in my memory. She was bright but disruptive in class and frequently got in trouble. I worked with her by pulling her out of class, finding a quiet spot to for us to concentrate on course material, and talking with her about her problems and the reasons why she got in trouble. Over time, something clicked for her. In the end, we succeeded in turning Alexis’ need for negative attention to class participation and she became one of the most active students in that classroom.

By January, it was clear that my time with City Year was having a positive impact on not only the school, but also my life. Not only did I serve with people from many different places with many different experiences, I did so in my own neighborhood. I found myself growing as a person and, after some reflection, I decided that I wanted to do another year with City Year and challenge myself further by moving to the Los Angeles site. I knew that moving from my hometown in Philadelphia to Los Angeles would be a major adjustment, but I would not let distance stop me from serving or seeking further personal growth.

Today, I lead a team of first year corps members and it is my responsibility to support and motivate them through their year of service. I brought with me the lessons I learned last year and I try to mold those experiences into meaningful messages for my team. My teammates have great ideas and an outstanding work ethic. For example, after just a few days in school, they wanted to not only recruit students and engage parents for our after-school program but to find the best way to do it. After giving them some guidance, they worked quickly to set up parent information sessions and create flyers and PowerPoint presentations that explained the benefits of the program.

It is still early in the year and we have a lot ahead of us. We have just identified the students we need to target in class and we are now starting the social justice curriculum in our after school program. We are still growing together as leaders and as teammates and, inevitably, there will be challenging moments and rocky times. It will be my job to maintain perspective and draw upon my experiences to keep our team going on our journey together. I look forward to the challenge.

Photo via Flickr user City Year.

Law Murray is a second year corps member serving at Stevenson Middle School in Los Angeles.

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