AmeriCorps Helps Students and Schools Succeed

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Education
By: 
Michael Brown and Jim Balfanz

At many low-performing, high-poverty schools across the country, graduating from high school is a 50-50 proposition. Because of the scale of the challenges faced by students and teachers, extra help is needed to ensure students receive additional personalized support.

Many students in low-income communities face out-of-school stressors, and the obstacles schools face to meet the distinct needs of students are often exacerbated by budget shortfalls and fiscal challenges.  This creates a gap—an implementation gap—between what research tells us students require to succeed and the time and resources educators have to meet each student’s unique needs.

A City Year Chicago AmeriCorps member works with students in the classroom.

AmeriCorps is a low-cost, high-yield solution that can help to close this implementation gap.  Across 25 cities in the United States, 2,700 City Year AmeriCorps members serve in nearly 250 schools, helping to ensure that students remain in school and on-track to high school graduation. Nearly 65 percent of the schools in which City Year AmeriCorps members serve have been identified by their states as high-priority schools for improving achievement and closing achievement gaps between groups of students.

City Year AmeriCorps members work with teachers and school leaders to identify students at-risk of dropping out based on early warning indicators in attendance, behavior, and course performance. Equipped with data on student outcomes and evidence-based interventions that spur student growth and development, City Year AmeriCorps members tutor, mentor, and run comprehensive afterschool programs for more than 34,000 students, providing individualized academic support and bolstering the personal motivation students need to succeed.

City Year AmeriCorps members also work with teachers to create fortified learning environments that recognize and work to address the particular needs of students living in poverty. By providing whole-class support, targeted academic interventions, and social-emotional learning opportunities, City Year AmeriCorps members help students and schools succeed. As near-peer mentors, City Year AmeriCorps members also serve as positive role models to their students. 

Across the country, City Year AmeriCorps members are making a difference in the lives of students. Last year, 82 percent of students in third through fifth grade tutored by City Year AmeriCorps members improved scores on literacy assessments; 54 percent of students in sixth through ninth grade who started the year off-track or sliding in English language arts moved back on-track; and 43 percent of students in sixth through ninth grade who started the year struggling in attendance improved their average daily attendance rates and regained at least 10 instructional hours.

These are promising figures that show we can make a dent in our nation’s dropout crisis.

City Year AmeriCorps have the potential to serve as a robust teacher pipeline for high-need schools based on their strong diversity, comprehensive leadership training, and commitment to addressing the needs of the whole child. Approximately 35 percent of City Year AmeriCorps members are interested in securing teaching jobs after their service year. Of these City Year AmeriCorps members, 31 percent are male; 31 percent are bilingual; 19 percent are African American; and 17 percent are Hispanic. Such a diverse group of young teachers can help to address the dramatic under-representation of teachers from these demographic groups.

Improving low-performing schools requires a comprehensive, coordinated effort, and AmeriCorps should be an essential component of this work in all communities. School Turnaround AmeriCorps, a partnership between the Corporation for National Service and the U.S. Department of Education, is a powerful strategy that leverages national service to help close the implementation gap.

At City Year, we could not provide teachers and schools with the extra support needed to combat the implementation gap if it were not for the hard work of our AmeriCorps members. With every student they serve, City Year AmeriCorps members help to set an individual on a path to adult success.

During a February 2014 event marking the first year of School Turnaround AmeriCorps, City Year AmeriCorps members join Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, City Year CEO Michael Brown, and AmeriCorps Director Bill Basl for a group photo at Stanton Elementary School in Washington, DC.

Michael Brown is the CEO and Co-Founder of City Year and Jim Balfanz is the President of City Year. The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of education during the month of February. For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.

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