City Year hopes to improve education in South LA

Over 200,000 South LA residents do not have a high school diploma according to the 2000 census. City Year, a non-profit organization that partners with public schools to help students succeed, hopes to change this.

Maya Itah volunteers for City Year at Normandie Avenue Elementary School. She understands the importance of providing a quality education to students at all grade levels.

“I’ve been to schools that haven’t been so great and I know how that affected my learning,” Itah said. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone else.”

imageMural at Belmont High painted by students and City Year corps members.

As a City Year corps member, Maya works with a specific group of students where she gives them individual attention and forms a bond with them.

She has already started to see improvement in her students.

One student who was struggling with math, named Mary, would not even talk to Itah at first. Gradually, Mary began to trust Itah. This allowed Itah to better assess Mary’s strengths and weaknesses to assist her in math.

“When you have a good relationship with a student, they are more likely to believe you and trust you,” Itah said.

Students take tests to sporadically measure their performance, and Mary improved 20% from her first test to her second. However, these test scores only indicate to a certain degree how much of a difference Itah is making.

“Obviously test scores are important,” Itah said. “But at the end of the day what’s important to me is that they take charge of their learning.”

City Year volunteers form a mentorship relationship with the students they serve. On top of extra help in the classroom during the school day, volunteers also greet students in the morning, organize lunchtime activities, and host after-school tutoring.

“Any time that we can give students an opportunity with an adult who is working with them to give them additional skills, teaching them about resiliency and giving them hope, it is always a good thing,” said Darline Robles, USC Professor of Clinical Education and former superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education,

Since beginning in 1988, City Year has grown to include 6000 corps members throughout the country and internationally.

City Year serves 23 schools in Los Angeles. It has 24 US locations and two international sites. Corps members usually serve for one school year before continuing to their chosen career path.

“City Year is a great launching pad for any sector,” said Audrey Kim, corps member and team leader at Belmont High School.

Corps members often attend graduate school or enter the work force after their year of service. However, corps members often remain involved in education after their year of service ends.

Kevin Price, corps member at Belmont High School, values his time with City Year because it provided him the opportunity to be in the classroom even though he doesn’t want to be a teacher. He is currently applying to business schools.

“City Year is an opportunity where I can do something I’m passionate about, which is educational equality in a way that helps me to build my skills, but also puts me [in the classroom] in a more effective way,” he said.

City Year offers corps members like Kevin to impact these students through a dynamic different from the traditional teacher to student relationship. These “near peers” form unique relationships with students that encourage their learning experience.

“They’ve built really deep meaningful relationships with a lot of these kids,” said Kristen McGregor, principal at Los Angeles Academy of Medical and Public Service, one of Belmont High’s learning communities. “They have the older brother or sister relationship and the kids really look up to them.”

Itah thinks one of City Year’s strengths lies in the one-on-one attention corps members can provide. Itah was surprised that students at just age 10 already believed they could not succeed in school. She wants to change their attitude by offering the support and encouragement they need.

“We can never give up on kids,” said Robles. “They have the potential to be whatever they want if given the opportunities that so many others of privilege have.”