By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
The school dropout rate in urban areas is alarming. More than 40 percent of Denver Public Schools’ dropouts come from just 9 of their 37 high schools. This problem has individual and community impacts. Those who drop out are 3 times more likely to be unemployed and 8 times more likely to become incarcerated. AmeriCorps members, including nine CSU alumni, are serving with City Year Denver to change those statistics.
City Year nationally recruits AmeriCorps members to serve full time in elementary, middle, and high schools in 29 cities across the country. AmeriCorps members collaborate with teachers to engage students and encourage growth and achievement. They tutor students after school. They participate in “Walking School Bus,” going to students’ homes and walking them to school. Students refer to their red-jacketed mentor as “My City Year.”
Olivia Hirota (B.A., ’18) serves at North High School. She says the things she loves best about City Year are “building awesome relationships” with students. She explains it is critical how you frame messages to students; she urges them to “be your best selves.”
Also at North, Marisa Gallardo (B.S., ’17) mentored a student on suspension. When he announced he was not going to a required meeting and quitting school, she got him to walk around the school with her while they talked. When he said he was hungry, she bought him a sandwich. He finally agreed to go to the meeting, where they came up with an “awesome plan” for him. “Once he finally realized people cared about him,” she explains, “he stayed in school.”
The mission of City Year is to reduce the urban dropout rate by two thirds, according to vice president and executive director Morris Price, Jr. (B.A., ’87). He explains that at-risk students need to be at grade level by the third grade or else they start to fall behind. By sixth grade, they drop out mentally, and by ninth grade, they quit school. City Year is committed to breaking that pattern.
The CSU alumni and their fellow AmeriCorps members are making good progress. Of the students City Year’s Denver site has worked with, 74 percent improved in literacy and 76 percent improved in math. Teachers praise City Year Denver for improving students’ motivation to learn and fostering a positive learning environment. “We get a lot out of it too,” says Leandra Miller (B.A., ’18), who serves at Denver Discovery School. “It is cool to get to know the students” and “awesome to work with diverse teams and students.”
City Year Denver has several partner institutions, and for the last five years, CSU has been the #1 leader institution. Also, our masters in social work program works with the Corps on second-hand trauma issues.
Marisa encourages seniors to consider becoming an AmeriCorps member at City Year. “They accept all majors. It is a great way to fill a gap year before you go on to the next stage of your life, be it another degree or starting your career.” Morris notes that 70 percent of Corps members remain in the Denver area after City Year, and half of those go into teaching. These amazing young alumni are committed to changing lives.
A special needs student became disoriented in the hallway of his Denver school on his first day of classes. A City Year staffer in a red jacket saw him, chatted a bit, then accompanied him to every class that day. Later that year, City Year received this letter from Sam: