My Student Hero

The first day of ELT a seventh grader named Cesar walked through my door. I still remember he was very quiet and did not want to look me in the eyes. I started to get to know him through ELT where he always would push back and avoid doing work. He would also make many homophobic comments towards his peers. This continued almost every day. Then when October rolled around I was really excited to see Cesar on my focus list. It soon came to my knowledge that Cesar had Fs and Ds in his classes. His reading was about 70 to 85 words per minute. Not only were his grades suffering but his behavior was a huge distraction to his teachers and peers during class. I slowly started pushing him out of his comfort zone and tutored him during the school day and for hours during ELT. Despite all the time and effort I was putting in I wouldn’t see any changes. Then one day I heard Cesar’s name got called over the intercom to the principal’s office. I remember my heart had sunk in my stomach. He did not show up to ELT and I heard that he had gotten in a fight with some boys in the bathroom. He was suspended for two days and had gotten a police citation. After the two days I pulled him out to talk to him about what had happened. We conversed for a long time and I told him that I see so much potential in him but the way he has been behaving is not making his path to success reachable. I told him that I could see a four year college in his future. He could reach the stars but he was too preoccupied with “acting cool”. I wasn’t sure how much our talk really affected him because his grades were still pretty low.

I finally called home and set up a meeting with his parents. His parents are very hard working individuals that really care about Cesar’s future. We came up with an incentive system for him to bring up his grades. He would get to have his phone if he got his agenda signed from every single teacher over his homework and behavior. He realized that he needed to start becoming more responsible and making an effort to bring up his grades. During ELT Cesar would do homework and make up work. He would also read with me to improve his reading and comprehension. We started to get extremely close even though most of the days I thought he hated me. I started seeing more leadership in Cesar he joined the football team and got selected for the soccer team. I would go observe him in class and he would sit away from his friends so he could get his work done. His attitude has completely changed. He is always smiling and laughing. He says “hi” to all the corps members and helps his peers with homework during ELT.

He and I started having talks about his life at home. He told me how his family has been affected by gang violence, which showed me a vulnerable side to him. We started having discussions over homophobia and how negatively it can affect an individual. I just recently went to check in with all his teachers and found out that he has brought his Fs and Ds to C pluses and B minuses. They aren’t A’s but for Cesar that is a big accomplishment. It makes me so proud to see him come prepared to class compared to when he wouldn’t even bring a pencil to class. I was surprised to hear my TL tell me that Cesar told her “I like it when Ms. Ali pushes me because it means I can’t fail.” I never expected that from him but watching his progression has been so inspiring. There are so many stories I wish I could share about Cesar’s academic and social progression throughout the year but there won’t be enough space. I am so hopeful for his future. He always tells me that because of me he does well in school. When in reality he inspires me and motivates me to be a better mentor/person. He is my little hero.

Written by Sye Ali, corps member at the Applied Materials Team at Lee Mathson Middle School



Alumni Spotlight: Mark and Veronica Hennessey

City Year love usually blossoms when idealistic, attractive young people come from different corners of the country, work long hours side-by-side on noble projects as part of a national movement, and then both feel that spark burst through their sleep deprivation and poor diet. That spark prompts them to think to themselves, “Is this cute idealist next to me someone I could spend the rest of my life with?”

The City Year love story of Mark and Veronica Hennessey is no different. The noble project was cyzygy, City Year’s national convention of idealism that unified sites from around the country and the globe to cap of a powerful year of service. The site was Little Rock, Arkansas. The poor diet was barbecue. Lots of barbecue.

City Year Alumni couple Mark and Veronica Hennessey

City Year Alumni couple Mark and Veronica Hennessey

Mark served as a corps member with City Year Washington, D.C. in 2001-02, His year had some great moments, but as he traveled to Philadelphia for his own cyzygy, he felt like he didn’t make the impact during his corps year that he had hoped he would. He wanted to do more. That first cyzygy experience was amazing. He loved the energy, the passion, the shout outs for each site, even the PT. His cyzygy service day provided the transformational impact that he had been seeking. He spent all day building a softball field at a local park. At the end of the day, he even practiced with a local team on the new field in his Timberland boots. Amidst all that energy, across the quad one day, he spotted a really cute girl sporting the yellow jacket of CY San Jose. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Too bad he was too chicken to talk to her though…

Veronica (then Veronica Ruiz) was in Philly that day for her 4th cyzygy. She was a staff member in the award-winning Recruitment department at City Year San Jose, after corps years in San Jose (98-99) and Philly (99-00).  Veronica stayed in recruitment with CY San Jose for three more years when she responded to the leadership opportunity to help run cyzygy registration in Little Rock. And as luck would have it, she would work closely for two weeks with the Operations Manager, a former corps member who still thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

Those two weeks together in Little Rock would lead to Mark moving across the country from Boston to be with Veronica in San Jose. They got married a few years later, and are now expecting their first child in June. They both stayed with City Year for a while. Mark went to graduate school for school counseling and now works at Pioneer High School providing mentoring and counseling to a small but great group of sophomores there. He hopes to become a full-time counselor soon. Veronica fulfilled her dream of becoming a teacher, and teaches 5th grade at Simonds Elementary in San Jose. They both try to incorporate lessons from their City Year experiences into their work lives, whether it’s by showing students how everyone’s perspective and input are important or by encouraging students to get involved in service to their communities. And they remain active in the City Year community as well. They met their best friends through City Year. Mark regularly plays basketball with alums and current corps members, and they recently hosted dinner for a group of corps members. No barbecue allowed.

Make the World a Better Place with Kindness


International Random Acts of Kindness Week is February 10-16, 2014. Take this opportunity during the week to step out of your normal routine or comfort zone and attempt a new random act of kindness each day of the celebratory week.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is an internationally recognized non-profit organization founded upon the powerful belief in kindness and dedicated to providing resources and tools that encourage acts of kindness. You check out their website to see ideas on how to perform a random act of kindness, educator resources, stories of kindness, resources like downloadable greeting cards, and more.

The Top 10 Kindness Ideas include:

1. Just smile at one extra person.
2. Eat lunch with someone new – at school, at the office or wherever you like.
3. Make sure to say I love you or give someone special an extra hug.
4. Volunteer!
5. Download Kindr from the Apple App Store and brighten someone’s day by sending a creative compliment, a hug or even a cute animal video.
6. Try to cook something healthy for your friends or family, and throw in a new vegetable or fruit.
7. Try to park your car a little further to provide a good parking spot for someone who needs it.
8. Send a positive message to someone in need or help someone who might not need it , but appreciates it.
9. Donate unwanted or unused clothes or household goods to a shelter, non-profit or animal rescue organization.
10. If you feel you just must make a monetary contribution, buy someone’s groceries or offer to help pay for someone in line.

If you participate in Random Acts of Kindness week, use the hashtag #RAKweek to tag your social media posts.

–Written by Sara Wright City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley Alumni ’09

A Day in the Life, Inspired by Students


Growing up in Oregon, I had never heard of City Year. At the University of Oregon, being the eager freshman I was, I talked to a career counselor who mentioned City Year as a potential opportunity to take during a year off from school. I applied to where most-needed before the first application deadline, giddy with excitement. I signed up to serve because I knew that I had a lot to learn and hopefully a lot to offer. Now I serve because the students that I work with inspire me. They motivate me, they ground me, they challenge me, they may frustrate me, but without a doubt they make me smile and make me laugh. All of this fun starts during 1st period, where I tutor the first few of 8 students that I will spend individualized intervention sessions with throughout the school day. One of the students that I tutor in literacy is Jaylin.

Written by Laree Foster, corps member on the Clyde Fischer San Francisco 49ers Foundation Team

Written by Laree Foster, corps member on the Clyde Fischer San Francisco 49ers Foundation Team

When I met Jaylin, her attitude was polarized as either spunky or defeated. She is so clearly a bright girl, but when challenged I saw her shut down, a quality I recognized in myself. As months passed as her Extended Learning Time (ELT) Bridge leader, I began to gain her trust. Enough trust to learn of her broken family dynamics and her belief that her teacher does not believe in her. All that I could do was encourage her to try her best. Her best began to be better, and now her confidence is higher than ever. Now she is proud of her schoolwork and she has exceeded the 6th grade benchmark in fluency and reading comprehension, but what I am most proud about is how she is no longer stifled by reading a big word or solving a long math problem. I know that she can do these things without help. And most importantly, she knows that she can, too.

When I am not tutoring, I get to break up the day by playing football with kids during lunch, assisting with student council meetings, or leading Reader’s Theater during a special education class, before heading off to Room 55 where I meet my BRIDGE class promptly at 2:45. Up until this point in the year, I have led two literacy blocks during ELT each day but I am in the process of transitioning into Co-Behavior Coordinator where I will work with students who exhibit anti-social behavior or have more intense social and emotional needs. After my year of service ends, I will be a senior studying psychology and special education. I hope to build upon my experiences with education, to keep them in my mind as I one day hope to become a school psychologist, where I will meet many Jaylin’s, Fabian’s, Jesus’s, Jonathan’s and Angela’s again.

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Payne

Hi, my name is Sarah Payne and I am from Henderson, Kentucky. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 06’, I made a decision that continues to positively benefit my life—I committed to serve with City Year. I served in the 2006-2007 corps, as well as 2007-2008 as a Senior Corps Member. I often look back on my corps member experience and think how grateful I am to have had this opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself, and thankful that I surrounded myself with people who truly care about making this world a better place. My City Year experience was truly life-changing and it continues to make me a better leader, communicator, and person. I currently work in Cambrian School District in San Jose as a 4th grade teacher.

Sarah Payne, City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley corps member '06-'08

Sarah Payne, City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley corps member ’06-’08

 In every classroom I teach, I begin each year by building the beloved community. It is my personal mission to build classroom environments that foster success, community, and self-confidence. The importance of community, instilled from my City Year experience, will always be a part of every class I teach. Service learning is powerful! After introducing my students to the Starfish Story, each student is making a personal commitment to changing the world, as a class we are committed to holding one another accountable for our commitments.

 Ultimately I want me students to know that they have the power to make a difference. In our classroom we have a Wall of Positivity and a Wall of Good and Beautiful People, Places, and Things.  These are essential components of our creating our classroom community. As a teacher I think often about Putting Idealism To Work, or PITW# 98 All people-especially young people-need the same eight things: Meaning, adventure, community, power, respect, structure, challenge, and opportunity. City Year provided me with these eight things and I am committed to providing my students with these as well.

Wordless Wednesday: A Celebration

Excited to be sharing a special moment with her corps member tutor

Excited to be sharing a special moment with her corps member tutor

One of my lovely tutoring students celebrates completing her first book of the year in our session. Brittni read her first book with a strong focus on tone. It was great to see and hear her enthusiasm when reading and it only grew stronger along with her reading assessment scores! We both really enjoyed reading and exploring tone, “I liked it because you could give it some attitude, it was kind of like taking a mini drama class!” Brittni stated when asked about our sessions. Multiple tutoring sessions where done from start to finished in British accents! I can’t wait to see the amazing things she will accomplish this year.



Written by Charli Brown, corps member at Arbuckle Elementary School

Taking a Complaint-Free Moment


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I’m no stranger to complaints. I field a lot of them in my position as a 6th grade literacy tutor and Extended Learning Time facilitator at Clyde L. Fischer Middle School. This week, I decided to reverse the tables. I asked … Continue reading