Kansas City schools welcome energetic City Year AmeriCorps members

AmeriCorps’ City Year mentors go to school to pump up urban students

City Year Kansas City holds opening day ceremonies on Friday at the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza branch. The program is sending 50 AmeriCorps members into five urban Kansas City schools to serve as mentors for students.
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City Year Kansas City holds opening day ceremonies on Friday at the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza branch. The program is sending 50 AmeriCorps members into five urban Kansas City schools to serve as mentors for students.

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell had a question Friday for 50 enthusiastic young AmeriCorps workers who have been mentoring students in some of the district schools this year.

“How can I get more of you in our schools?”

It’s a question, he said, that he is being asked by principals across the district who are hearing about the positive impact City Year AmeriCorps workers are having on the academic performance of children.

City Year AmeriCorps is a Boston-based national service organization whose members, ages 17 to 24, are identified by the red jackets they wear at work in urban schools, building relationships with struggling students. City Year workers serve full time alongside teachers, tutoring students one-on-one, providing in-class support and organizing programs to increase academic achievement and student engagement.

Two Kansas City schools participated in the pilot program last year, and this year it has expanded to five schools where corps members are working with 2,400 students.

On Friday corps members, who’ve been in the schools since classes began five weeks ago, came together for a rally at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

In their usual style, the red-jacket-clad members started the event with waving red and yellow balloons and flags, drum rolls and high fives.

Then, led by Chiefs president Mark Donovan, who helped bring City Year to Kansas City, corps members took the City Year and AmeriCorps pledges in unison to publicly kick off their year of service in Kansas City.

“When faced with apathy I will seek action,” they said. “When faced with adversity I will persevere.”

Donovan thanked corps members for dedicating a year of their lives to Kansas City schoolchildren.

“The energy around this program is contagious,” Donovan said. “I’ve seen the impact you have already had, and it is immeasurable.”

The commitment of corps members paid off for students at Central Middle School, said Principal John Williams. Central was one of last year’s pilot schools.

“The support that you get from the City Year corps members is unbelievable,” Williams said. “Their energy changed our overall climate.” Every morning City Year members greeted Central Middle School children with cheers and flags and high fives, Williams said. “They made students want to come to school. They made them feel comfortable.”

More importantly, he saw significant gains in attendance and academic performance at Central.

“Our attendance started with 44 percent of students attending school 95 percent of the time and went to 75 percent of students attending 95 percent of the time with City Year,” Williams said. He said some of his students who were supported by City Year corps members saw as much as 10 point gains in test scores.

“I really don’t know if I could live without City Year in my building now,” Williams said.

Research assessing the impact that City Year has had on the more than 300 schools it partners with in 28 cities found that schools with teams of City Year AmeriCorps members were “two to three times more likely to increase English language arts and math proficiency rates compared with other similar schools.”

“Our city needs more passionate, diverse young people entering the education sector, and the young people who serve with City Year fit the bill,” said Corey Scholes, director of education for the Kauffman Foundation, a supporter of City Year Kansas City.

She was talking about young people like Dionna Williams, 22, of Kansas City. City Year, Williams said, was exactly the kind of program she was looking for when she graduated with a degree in nutrition and fitness from the University of Missouri in May.

“I’m very passionate about working with children and about serving my community,” said Williams, who is working with a seventh-grade math class at Central Middle School. “City Year allowed me to put both of those things together, and it is so rewarding.”

Already this year, Williams said, she has had the chance to work one-on-one with several students.

“We are so close in age with our students that we can really mentor them,” she said. “We are just trying to keep them on track to graduate on time. And just knowing someone is there to motivate and love them is enough to light the fire for them.”

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc