Mountain View Voice

- April 1, 2011

City Year mentors keep students on track

by Jennifer Pence

Every year 1.1 million American teens drop out of high school. Every teen who drops out costs the community an estimated $394,000 in reduced earning potential and increased burden on the criminal justice system. City Year addresses this crisis by recruiting 17 to 24-year-old corps members to spend 11 months serving full-time as tutors, mentors, and role models in under-performing schools.

While City Year has been around for 23 years, it recently revamped its program to focus on four early indicators for potential dropouts identified through a Johns Hopkins study: course performance in math and English, attendance, and behavior. City Year addresses these areas through individualized tutoring and mentoring during the school day and through after-school programs. City Year officials believe that in order to make a real difference in the high school drop-out rate, corps members must focus on children at the elementary and middle school levels who are 1.5 years or more behind their peers in math and/or reading. By the time these students reach high school, they may be many years behind grade level, making it difficult to get the students back on track to graduate.

As Beach Pace, executive director of City Corps San Jose, puts it: "Corps members work with students who are performing well below their grade level eighth-graders reading at a second-grade level and fifth-graders still learning basic arithmetic."

City Corps provides extensive training to ensure that corps members have the tools to effectively help under-performing students. As a result, students who previously were only learning half a year's material in one school year can, in many cases, accelerate their progress to the point where they are learning 1.5 years of material, closing the achievement gap. A standardized reading curriculum enables corps members to track each student's progress and let students see their own progress.

Mountain View resident Yvette Licea is one of the enthusiastic young corps members. A graduate of Mountain View High School, Yvette double-majored in psychology and Spanish at the University of Southern California. During college, she volunteered extensively with an organization that worked with inner-city students, so when she heard about City Year, it sounded like the perfect fit for her after-graduation plans.

Yvette serves at Mildred Goss Elementary School in the Alum Rock School district in East San Jose. Yvette admits that her typical week is not an easy one, usually involving 50-60 hours of work. But what keeps her going is the knowledge that "maybe today will be the day that I'll change (a student's) life!"

As a Latina, Yvette is able to act as a liaison with parents as well as serve as a role model for students. "It's nice to know that parents feel comfortable asking me questions since I am Hispanic myself. Meanwhile, I tell the students, 'I'm Latina, I'm Mexican, I did it, and you can, too!"

What can you do to help or learn more?

1) Volunteer with City Year for Global Youth Service Day to beautify Majestic Way Elementary School in San Jose on April 16. Contact Chris Romero at 408-667-2776 or cromero@cityyear.org.

2) Attend City Year's inspirational annual gala on May 19. Information at www.cityyear.org/sanjose.

3) Encourage someone to apply for the 2011-12 corps. The priority application deadline is May 15. Corps members receive a stipend, loan forgiveness, and more.

4) A House resolution (HR 1) seeks to eradicate national service programs such as AmeriCorps and City Year. It will go before the Senate very soon. Learn more and take action to stop this bill at www.saveservice.org.

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