Stepping Stones to College

By Erin O’Donnell, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast Team at the Jeremiah E Burke High School.

My students hear the word college being thrown around every day, as if it is their ultimate goal and sole reason for being in school. Anyone can ask them why they come to school, and they say without hesitation that it is because they want to go to college. I often wonder what that means to them— if they are just parroting the words of their teachers, or whether there is deeper meaning behind their automated response. I can never quite tell.

So I took 20 students to Tufts University. Not necessarily the most deserving ones, the high-achieving ones, or the best behaved. But an eclectic group of sophomores who I thought needed an extra little boost of inspiration. Or maybe just a reality check. A reality check that this is real. The time to be preparing for college is now. It is not some mirage in the distance that skirts away as they draw closer. Their classes count today.

Some students came on the visit out of legitimate interest, others because they were curious to see my Alma Mater, and some just wanted an excuse to get out of school for the day.

[Erin shares inspiration through video: Pencils and Dreams]

After trekking across campus through the pouring rain, my former a cappella group, Anchord, greeted us by performing two songs, providing my students with a glimpse of what student life can look like and the life-changing micro-communities that develop within a college setting. Several students were impressed by how “the little white guy could drop those beats and rap like that.” Even two weeks after the visit, Continue reading

Interview: Michael McDonald, Trust Project

Written by Epiphany Acevedo, City Year AmeriCorps member serving at Dearborn Middle School.

Michael McDonald is one of the Trust Project’s life success coaches at Dearborn Middle School. The Trust Project develops relationships with truant students in order to improve attendance, engagement, and performance in school.

              Michael McDonald, left, with his fellow life success coaches.

When I asked him what exactly he does at the Dearborn, he joked:

“I make it happen,” before correcting himself, “Seriously though, I deal with truancy. Truancy deals with a host of things – learning about students’ habits, strengths and weaknesses; making home visits; learning why students make mistakes and helping them make better choices; visiting court rooms; plugging students into various opportunities in the community, which involves working on my networking skills; building social-emotional skills; and inputting data for school attendance.”

EA: How long have you been at the Dearborn?  Continue reading

Course Coaching: A Time for Candy, Whoopee Cushions and Hard Work

By Samantha Schnell, AmeriCorps member serving on the Westfield Capital Management Team at Neighborhood House Charter School.

Note: For the remainder of the summer, posts will be published on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The publication schedule will return to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the beginning of August, when the 2012 – 2013 corps arrive.

At the Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS), City Year Course Coaching is a time for doing homework. When the clock strikes 3:20pm, cell phones are put away, and out come binders, planners and homework folders. For the next hour, students and City Year corps members are one-track-minded: finish that worksheet, study those terms, pull those grades up. The goal of Course Coaching is clear: corps members will help students reach their full potential as scholars by providing them with academic support and motivating them to stay organized and focused.

My ten months of service at NHCS have come to a close, and my experience with Course Coaching surpassed my greatest expectations. As it turns out, my Course Coaching room is not only a place where homework gets done; it is a safe space where self-confidence grows and unlikely friendships are formed. Over the months, our room has been home to both laughter and tears; it has seen F’s become C’s and C’s become B’s.

Jenna’s list of goals for the year; she has made incredible progress in all three areas.

At the beginning of the year, the 5th-grade students* in my Course Coaching group seemed to have nothing in common. I used to doubt that Jenna and Keon would ever get along; the former is a shy girl who loves drawing fantastical creatures and listening to country music while the latter is a mischievous boy who has read every book in the Captain Underpants series and longs to be part of the popular crowd. Coming from different groups of friends and different sets of interests, they would eye each other with suspicion, barely exchanging more than a few words. Now, I often see them huddled around the same desk; Jenna always helps Keon with his illustrations when their homework requires an artistic component, and Keon regularly brings Jenna a snack when he returns from his daily trip to the cafeteria. They even teamed up to play a prank on me in honor of April Fool’s Day; upon arriving to Course Coaching, I was greeted by bigger smiles than usual. “We have a special surprise for you,” they said, moments before I sat down on a stealthily planted whoopee cushion.

To my great pride and delight, Jenna made honor roll for the first time this year. This is a huge accomplishment for any student, let alone one who used to say, “I’m fine with C’s; I don’t think I can do better than that.” Keon still has a ways to go before making honor roll, but his attitude and self-confidence have grown leaps and bounds this year. At the beginning of the year, he used to cry and beg me to let him go home. I’ll never forget the first day that he asked me to stay late so that I could help him work on his revisions (at NHCS, students are allowed to revise assignments that they have failed). Before leaving, he even thanked me for my help; coming from a student who used to look the other way when I said “hello” or “goodbye,” this meant a lot.

Course Coaching doesn’t always run perfectly smoothly. Since April 1st, Keon’s whoopee cushion has made a second appearance, and Jenna still tells me that she isn’t entirely sure that she is smart enough to make straight A’s. Despite our ups and downs, I still look forward to Course Coaching every day. On most days, as we pack up our books and unwrap our warheads (this particular candy, favored by all of us, has become our end-of-the-day reward), the room is filled with a sense of triumph, camaraderie and, at least on my end, love. I would gladly sit on a whoopee cushion any day if it means that I get to spend time with students like Jenna and Keon.

*Students’ names and grades have been changed for privacy.

Top Five Friday: Hidden Black History in Boston!

By Nicole Chandler, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the MFS Investment Management Team at Dever-McCormack Lower School.

I am a history lover, so living in historic Boston is like celebrating a holiday everyday for me. Aside from famous landmarks like The Freedom Trail, Old Ironside, and Boston Common, there are some interesting hidden historical places. With a love of discovering new places, I’ve identified some unique Black History landmarks that are worth visiting. Make a field trip out of it by taking your students to a few of these. Check out my Top 5!

Dr. King’s apartment in South End

5. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s apartment in the South End.

Located at 397 Mass Ave next to the Mass Ave T Station, this is where Dr. King lived while he studied theology at Boston University from 1952-1953.






Home of Malcolm X and and Ella Little-Collins

4. Malcolm X and Ella Little-Collins House in Roxbury.

Located at 72 Dale St in the Sugar Hill section of Roxbury, is where Malcolm X spent his teenage years with his half-sister Ella Collins. Ella was a strong influence in Malcolm’s life, playing a mother-like figure to him. The house is currently undergoing restoration and Malcolm’s nephew, Rodnell Collins, still lives in the house.

Plaque explaining the significance of the Freedom House



Continue reading

Wordless Wednesday: In An English State of Mind

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

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Whether it be observing our students working diligently on their algebra during a Leadership Development Day, acting as proud parents to see our students off to their first bowling experience with Boston Celtics players, or getting a student to help monitor their peers signing in to our Extended Day space, the Bain and Company Team serving at the English High School depends on their students. Through all of the frustrations and tribulations, we are so fortunate to have some dedicated students with mountains of potential and this photo montage is in honor of all of the students we serve at the English High School.

A Piece of Advice for Corps Year and Beyond, #CYgrad

By Jessica Mah, City Year AmeriCorps Recruitment Project Leader on the Bain Capital Team.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter F. Drucker, American Educator and Writer

Part of being an effective leader is having the ability to be self-aware, reflect on successes and challenges, taking the time to maintain perspective and re-centering of one’s values.

Understanding this concept was crucial to my leadership development. Many times throughout the year, I became so engulfed in my work that I would forget the ‘big picture’ or wonder what skills I was actually learning and at one point I lost sight of one of my most treasured values: empathy. Serving a corps year was tough and serving a senior corps year is even harder, but no matter how overwhelmed I became this year I would make it a priority to reflect on my service.

Whether I reflected in formal settings, with my fellow senior corps members or by myself, it was these reflection periods that helped me re-energize and re-mobilize to continue serving with excellence. I would evaluate my successes, critique my challenges, revisit my personal and professional goals as well as ask for feedback from individuals I led. Through these actions, I not only learned about my leadership style, my strengths and weaknesses but I also regained perspective, which in turn fueled my motivation and enthusiasm for my service. Now of all the lessons I learned this year, I will not only be taking away value of self-reflection but I will remember to utilize it for years to come!

After my realization, I would like to set-up the incoming and outgoing corps for success by offering some advice: make it a priority to reflect throughout the year because this skill is not only beneficial during your service year at City Year but also for your leadership development in your life and career.

Interview: Conversations with our Students

By Elijah Fanelli, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bank of America Team at Young Achievers Science and Math K-8 Pilot School.

As a City Year corps member, I serve in a 6th grade humanities classroom and help facilitate one of the Young Achievers after-school programs, HASP (Homework After-School Support Program). Through both of these settings, I have been able to watch several of my students grow both personally and academically. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of these incredible young adults. Below is the conversation we had.

Me: Hello!
S (Student)
: Hi.

Me: So, first question. What do you think City Year does best?
: I think the thing that City Year does best is they help people out with their work and also help people with difficult situations.

Me: Ok, can you give me an example of what a difficult situation might be that City Year helped you out with, or that you saw City Year help someone else with?
S: If somebody has a bad day, they’ll talk to them one on one and help them out and figure out strategies to get them through the day.

Me: Is there an area that you think City Year has personally helped you out with over the course of the year?
: Ummm…Not really…

Me: I think I’ve noticed a few huge things. One is that you’ve been getting down to work really well. Even if you get upset, you’ve been able to get back to work in just a few minutes. Remember how hard that was at the beginning of the year?
: Yeah, I guess. I have gotten better there. Continue reading

Wordless Wednesday: A City Year in Boston – The 2011-2012 Corps

Created by City Year AmeriCorps members Jordan Frias, Jennifer Javier and Kevin Popovich. Read their full bios here.

Graduation is a week away! We want to honor the 2011-2012 Boston corps with a video and a graphic that shares a snippet of who we are. We couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this corps.

Infographic: A little bit more about us…

This is the fourth installment of a monthly collaborative creative project. See last month’s project here – “What does City Year mean to the kids?”

Middle School: Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone

By Michaela KinlockCity Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Summit Partners Team at the Harbor Pilot Middle School.

As my year of service begins to wind down, I am struck by the (unsurprising) notion of how much I have grown to care about my students. Every day brings some sort of success, new joke, or other connection. June is here, and a new City Year team will fill my boots at the Harbor next year, so I am striving to make each and every day with my students count. As I reflect on the year thus far, I realize how far I have come since the Summit Partners team entered the Harbor in September.

Before the start of my City Year, I had mostly worked with very young elementary school children. I thought middle schoolers were moody and angst-ridden and frankly, kind of scary; I admired the kind of patience and resilience it must take to get through to students at such a seemingly volatile age.

During my last semester of college, when a professor of mine learned that I was serving with City Year after graduation, he told me he thought I’d be successful working with middle school students—I thought he was crazy. However, as the start date approached, I thought more about his advice and realized that there was no better time for me to step outside my comfort zone and try to connect with a new age group of students. I realized that serving in a middle school would allow me to Continue reading

Top Five Friday: After-School Health & Wellness Lesson Plans

By Rian Yalamanchili, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Johnson and Johnson Team at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School.

At the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School, I have been very fortunate this year to have the opportunity to create my own enrichment lesson plans for 8th grade students in our City Year after-school program called We Are The Change (WATC). The best part of making these lessons is finding out what interests our students and us have in common and then tailoring the lessons to incorporate these shared interests. Consequently, we have created several lesson plans this year based on a Health and Wellness theme that have been received very well by our students. In this edition of Top 5, I would like to share my five favorite moments in teaching our 8th graders about Health and Wellness.

                              Students take turns measuring blood pressure.

5. ‘Health Care Inequalities’ Social Justice Lesson:

At first, we had thought that discussing the issues related to the country’s current healthcare debate would perhaps be too abstract for 8th grade students to comprehend. However, we were wrong. During one social justice lesson where we taught our students about some vocabulary related to the healthcare system, they were already very familiar with how health insurance works. Their attention and focus was surprisingly high after seven hours of classes, and one student even yelled out, “That’s so unfair!” when she learned about some of the inequalities that exist for women in our healthcare system. I feel that the understanding and interest that they showed during this lesson truly attests to the amazing education that they are receiving at Orchard Gardens, even in classes that do not have their own respective MCAS exams, like Social Studies.

[Rewind: Rian discusses gender stereotypes with a student in his social justice lesson]

4. La Alianza Hispana‘s Sex Education Program:

I would like to give a HUGE appreciation to La Alianza Hispana for their excellently executed sex education program that was incorporated into our after-school lessons during February and March. As awkward as it must be for thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds to learn about safe sex practices, it is very reassuring to know that our students will now go off to high school knowing how to keep themselves safe and healthy and how to advocate for themselves in their future romantic relationships.

3. Field Trip to Whittier Street Health Center:

The interest that our students expressed on our field trip to the Whittier Street Health Center‘s new building was certainly a pleasant surprise for all of us. From industriously taking notes during the tour to having the opportunity to Continue reading

Wordless Wednesdays: Pencils and Dreams (video)


By Erin O’Donnell, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast team at the Jeremiah E Burke High School.

Everyday I try to remind my students that their choices of today affect their possibilities of tomorrow. Although they may not have a dream today, one day they will. And a solid educational foundation is what will help them make it happen.

[Read Erin’s Top 5 most inspirational moments in mentoring]

The “English” Translation: Your Guide to Student Vernacular

Written by Kevin R. Fish, City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain and Company Team at English High School.

Throughout my lifetime, I have learned that miscommunication is often the root of discrepancies and conflict. I have found that at City Year, and more specifically, English High School, having a firm understanding of student language is essential in being successful in our mission. This lead me to the development of the “The English Translation,” a pseudo-personal dictionary that I created in order to assist myself with the vernacular that my students used daily. Over the past 8 months I have encountered 5 words and phrases that have stood out to me the most:

5)    Ya Forcin’ It (v.) Your actions are quite exuberant for what you are actually trying to achieve

4)    Good Looks (interj.) I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do a favor for me with or without me asking.

3)    I’m hip (adj.) I am quite knowledgeable about the current subject of conversation

2)    Aggy (adj.) of or pertaining to intolerable/undesirable actions or speech

1)    Schemin’(v.) To be involved in clandestine activities which are only carried out to improve one’s own self-interest

[Interview: Kevin, City Year and his student Darwell]

Now, these 5 words and phrases represent an entire vernacular that is used commonly throughout our schools. I know that I often use them without even thinking about it and have tried to incorporate them into grammar lessons with students. Simply asking students to think about what part of speech these words represent is an easy way to combine critical thinking and every day vocabulary. Not only can it work into grammar lessons but it is helpful to teach the idea of “time and place.” Getting students to consider alternative words that are more appropriate for school and other professional setting is always a helpful lesson.

The Power of Service – Insights from the City Year Boston Family

“I think empathy is tremendously important in the world that I would like to live in,” explains Corinne Ferguson, Chair of the City Year Boston Board. “I really feel that red jacket is almost a coat of armor,” adds Boston Board member Jim Atwood.

[More: A Community of Learners – Teachers Discuss City Year’s Impact]

From City Year founding staff member Kristen Atwood, to Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, to teacher Diane Stafford, a 28-year veteran of Boston Public Schools, individuals from all over the Boston community dig deep and discuss the impact that City Year has on them personally, on the corps members serving, in schools, in the city, and in the world.

What are your thoughts? Leave comments below.