CLEVELAND-You know them immediately by their red coats. And their enthusiasm. They are City Year corps members-young Americans who serve for a year in urban communities throughout the country, including in Cleveland and its public schools.
On Wednesday afternoon, City Year corps members cheered for guests as they arrived at Cleveland’s East Technical High School for a forum featuring Secretary Duncan. On any normal school day, you would find them cheering for 9th graders in the city who are at risk of getting off track and dropping out of school.
City Year just began its second school year of involvement on some of Cleveland’s lowest-performing campuses-five schools this year, all of them undergoing a turnaround funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant program. Corps members serve as mentors and tutors to cadres of students whose grades have slipped and who show the indicators of becoming high school dropouts.
City Year focuses on the ABCs-Attendance, Behavior and Coursework. The day for corps members can start as early as 7 a.m., calling students’ homes to make sure their charges will show up for school.
“The first battle is getting kids into the schools,” said Phillip Robinson, executive director of City Year Cleveland and a native of the city. “Then we work on behavior…and coursework.” Last year, Robinson said, Cleveland students supported by City Year saw a 10-point increase in their attendance. Focusing on the non-academic factors that affect school performance “allows the principals and teachers to focus on teaching,” he said.
What City Year is doing in Cleveland is also happening in 20 other cities around the country, including other stops on Secretary Duncan’s “Education and the Economy” tour: Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago.
In exchange for their year of service, corps members receive a $5,550 education award to defray the costs of college or graduate school, plus a modest stipend for living expenses. Funding comes from public sources, including the Department’s School Improvement Grant program and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps program, as well as contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals. City Year is also a partner in a five-year, $30 million grant from the Department’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program that is focusing on turning around “dropout factories” in 14 school districts. For every $1 in government funding, Robinson said, City Year tries to raise $2 from private sources.
“We’re a higher-yield, low-cost human growth strategy,” he said. Donors are “investing in the transformation” of Cleveland and the other communities where City Year is at work.
Todd Marsh, a 24-year-old Ohio State University graduate who was among the dozens of corps members filling several front rows at Wednesday’s forum, is staying on for a second year with City Year, as a team leader assigned to an academy set up just for 9th graders.
“As much as you’re giving back to a community,” Marsh said, “you’re also developing your own professional and leadership skills.” And developing similar skills-plus others-in those students whom City Year is helping to graduate.
Office of Communications and Outreach