Instead of heading to graduate school directly after college, I chose to use my passion for education and my frustration with our broken, imbalanced education system for good. I chose to dedicate a year of my life to City Year so I could be a part of their lofty goal to “give a year” and “change the world.”
For my corps year, I was assigned to my top choice, Cesar Chavez Elementary School. At the time, it was the lowest performing school in the county (as determined by API or Annual Performance Index test scores).
I wasn’t drawn to Chavez merely due to the hopes of gloriously being a part of transforming a school and potentially “saving it” from being shut down by the state in the near future as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
I saw more to Chavez. I saw the neighborhood it was in—smack dab on the border of enemy gang territory. I saw students that didn’t believe in themselves and that misbehaved because they didn’t understand their coursework.
On a much larger level, I saw a state that was setting low standards for this school. In California, the statewide API test score goal for each school is set at 800 points. For Chavez, the year’s growth target for a mere 8 points higher than the previous year’s score of 645, was set when the school was a hefty 155 points below the statewide goal. The teachers and administration wanted to do better than that. And we wanted to help them achieve their goals.
Every morning, our team of nine arrived at the school at 7:45 to meet our early arriving students and read with them before their school day began. After a morning rally to start off the day, we would provide literacy tutoring to a total of 158 of our 500+ students throughout the year.
We would take a break from tutoring in the morning and at lunchtime to join our students outside for recess, building relationships, and trying to become 2-square pros. After an afternoon round of tutoring, we ran our own after school program in which we provided homework assistance and enrichment activities until 6 each evening.
As we worked to help our students strive for excellence, believe in themselves and take responsibility for their actions both academically and behaviorally, it sometimes felt like we were not making a difference…until the 2010 API test scores came in.
After what seemed like a long wait between California’s testing in June of my corps year and the release date in mid September, I was able to see just how much of a difference we made at Chavez. It turns out our students make awesome progress last year as they more than tripled the API gain from the previous year, going from a score of 649 to 709. Chavez is now above the 700 API mark for the first time in school history. Furthermore, Chavez is no longer the lowest performing school in the county.
Looking back to the beginning of my corps year, when I wondered how City Year could possibly have a tag line that essentially says you can help change the world with just one year of service. Now I know.
Even though the entire world is not changed, Chavez is. Every student at Chavez is, because each student was impacted in some way whether it be through a tutoring session, a starfish corps lesson or playing four square with a corps member. It has been so powerful for me to see the transformations of students I have worked with individually, but it is a whole new level of pride and awe seeing a school achieve like Chavez did.
Liz June, Project Leader for Academic Achievement CYSJ