Lessons learned from Summer Academy

Every summer, the leadership of City Year gathers in Boston for an academy packed full of inspiration and training for the upcoming service year.  While the traditional field academy has always been a useful time for imparting resources and sharing best practices, this year City Year was given a grant from the Walmart Foundation which allowed them to extend academy in order to give more intensive training to those who will be serving in schools.

During field academy, when all branches of City Year were together to cast the vision for the year ahead, City Year CEO and co-founder Michael Brown reminded us of the importance of our organization’s work by talking about how education is the civil rights issue of our generation. City Year president Jim Balfanz talked about the amount of potential that is being wiped out in certain communities that account for the majority of the high school dropouts in our nation.   It is into these “dropout factories” that we are sending corps members, and thanks to the Walmart Literacy Academy they will have an understanding of the challenges facing their students and the techniques they can use in order to help close the achievement gap.

Here are some highlights of what we learned:

  • The English language is hard! This may seem like a common sense sentiment, but understanding the difficulties facing early readers is vital to helping them become fluent readers.  We did an activity where we tried to read a book written entirely in symbols and as we did so we were able to identify many of the patterns and techniques our students would use in trying to make sense of a text.
  • Corps members can play a vital role in building our students’ vocabulary! A child whose family is welfare status will hear 3 million words per year while a child whose family is professional class will hear 11 million words per year.  This striking difference in vocabulary exposure limits the ability of children with low socioeconomic status to become fluent readers and their ability to communicate effectively as they progress into higher levels of education.  As fluent English speakers, corps member can and should be introducing new words into their students’ vocabulary that they might not have the chance to be exposed to otherwise.
  • Games and hands-on-materials are a valuable educational tool! Many of the presenters for the Walmart Literacy Academy were current or former teachers, allowing us to learn from people with years of classroom experience how to best help our students.  A common theme from these veteran educators was that hands-on activities can make learning fun and help students internalize material in a way that worksheets and other traditional literacy activities do not.  Corps members can use their enthusiasm and creativity to make complicated concepts palatable for their students through activities.

Since we first began serving in schools, City Year corps members have been an important asset in struggling schools simply because of their ability to provide a consistent, positive presence in the lives of students.  This year, we look forward to seeing how much more we can contribute to turning around schools and empowering our students with an increased understanding of the obstacles they face and the steps we can take to help them achieve their greatest potential.

– Deborah Woo, Team Leader CYSJ


2 thoughts on “Lessons learned from Summer Academy

  1. Deborah, your father forwarded me your article describing your experience with City Year team leader engaged in Walmart Literacy Academy helping students “crack the code” (alphabet/phonemic awareness) and providing hands-on, fun ways for kids to learn sight words. This is exactly what our Succeeding by Reading program is all about (www.faith-network.com). I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Brown’s statement that education is the civil rights issue of our generation.

    Keep up the good work! – Pastor Randy

  2. This is such a great cause! I work for a company that makes a reading program for students with reading disabilities & English language learners, I have frequently thought about how difficult the English language would be to learn if reading did not come natural for me. I thought your activity of reading a book entirely from symbols was an interesting to illustrate how difficult language can be.

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