This is a guest blog post from Jim Balfanz, president of City Year, a Pahara Aspen Fellow and a member of the Council of Distinguished Educators for the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.
As an organization founded on an unwavering belief in the power of young people, City Year believes that every child has the potential to succeed, and that access to high-quality education is among the most effective ways to unlock that potential. Our three decades of youth development experience, along with external research, has shown that students’ academic success is directly tied to their emotional well-being. If we are to increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared to succeed, we must commit to a whole child approach that integrates academic and social-emotional supports and leverages students’ strengths in their learning and growth. When students are given a chance to thrive, we all benefit.
Still, we recognize that multiple factors can impede a holistic approach to education. Many children in the United States, including millions who live in concentrated poverty, face adversity that interferes with their readiness to learn. These students often need additional interventions, including developmental relationships with caring adults, to stay on track and flourish. Most schools, however, are neither resourced nor designed to provide these additional supports. Given the intensity of need, a heavy burden is placed on educators to serve all students.
National service programs such as AmeriCorps help schools to close these critical resource gaps and accelerate school improvement efforts. This year, more than 3,100 City Year AmeriCorps members are serving as tutors, mentors and role models — or student success coaches — to more than 223,000 students in 330 of our nation’s highest-need schools across 28 American cities.
City Year AmeriCorps members work full-time in schools — serving before, during and after the school day — where they deliver research-based interventions, establish relationships with students, and lead whole-school activities that strengthen overall culture and climate. They add capacity for schools to strengthen personalized learning approaches and to implement effective early warning and response systems, which ensure that students get the right interventions at the right time.
City Year’s work also has a broader impact, as AmeriCorps members engage families and plan civic engagement events that enhance the community. City Year alumni demonstrate high rates of civic engagement, and each year hundreds of City Year alumni become teachers after their service.
Our holistic approach is delivering results across the country. In Kansas City, City Year AmeriCorps members contributed to significant gains in attendance, school climate and academic performance at Central Middle School.
“I really don’t know if I could live without City Year in my building now,” Principal John Williams told the Kansas City Star.
Principal Williams said attendance rates climbed from 44 percent to 75 percent of students attending school 95 percent of the time, and some students supported by City Year AmeriCorps members gained up to 10 points on test scores.
Nationally, 90 percent of partner teachers agree that City Year has a positive impact on school climate and student performance. A 2015 study found that students in City Year partner schools gain a month of extra learning time and the schools are two to three times more likely to improve on state assessments. In addition, a recent Deloitte analysis found City Year to be 78 percent more cost effective than contracting with individual providers of tutoring, mentoring and afterschool services.
Every day, City Year AmeriCorps members are partnering with teachers to help ensure that schools are places of learning, exploration and risk-taking, where every student feels safe and connected; where data is used to continuously promote student growth and achievement; and where all students have access to positive relationships and personalized learning environments that build on their strengths.