Amid School Crisis, ‘City Year’ Is Bright Light

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CITY YEAR'S brightly uiformed corps members are a familiar sight around Phila. schools. Less known, though, is their crucial - and cost-effective - impact on struggling students.

CITY YEAR’S brightly uiformed corps members are a familiar sight around Phila. schools. Less known, though, is their crucial – and cost-effective – impact on struggling students.

BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Despite the gloomy economic skies raining depression on the city’s public-school system, the School District can point to a silver lining full of student pluses. It’s called City Year, a corps of 255 young men and women who spent the past year working hand in glove with teachers and one on one with students at risk.

The records of that cooperation are impressive.

Ric Ramsey, who has led City Year here for the past two years, has the results of the efforts made by his corps members.

Take, for example, the work of corps member John Maeng, who spent the school year at South Philadelphia Hs, not an easy task with big bruisers engaging him in face to face challenges.

His school day at “Southern” started at 7:15 a.m., meeting with principal and teachers, and then with at-risk, underperforming students who respond to him as a peer.

“We don’t challenge teachers, only students. Teachers appreciate us as we work on a one-to-one basis with some of their students in need of help,” explained Maeng.

Maeng is one of many corps members who are certified teachers, receiving additional training in key mandatory school subjects. But his role in public schools is relatively new for City Year members.

Ramsey noted the nationally expanding City Year, launched in Boston 22 years ago, has grown roots the past 15 years in Philadelphia. Now 25 cities enjoy City Year support.

“We started out as a community service-oriented corps,” he says. “Eventually our work included supporting schools in maintaining their locations and now we aid them by supporting their teachers.”

Virgil Sheppard, director of services, has the figures to show the positive impact of CityYear Corps service in the classrooms.

“We check the attendance and behavior patterns of those students with whom we interact and have records of their class records in reading and in mathematics. We know how much better they become by comparing our history with them against what they were doing before we joined them,” he said.

Ramsey made sure to indicate his members would not enter a school without approval by the principal. “There are times,” he admitted, “when we find it best not to involve itself in the school because its climate was inhospitable toward learning. We concentrate on educational results, and not security problems.”

City Year’s stats are impressive. This past year, its 255 corps members impacted on 13,000 students in 16 public and four charter schools. They show 42% went up one grade level, powered by an 82% improvement in math.

Ramsey added, “Principals recognized the impact we made as we engage with students. We wish we could do more, but the lack of funding precludes that from happening. Though our cost averages around $35,000 per year for our corps members, we only charge the School District $10,000 for our effective trainees. We don’t replace teachers, we support teachers in their classes working with students who truly need one on one interaction.”

EXECUTIVE Director of City Year Ric Ramsey, left, sees his corps as answer to Public School graduation rates. With him are Virgil Sheppard, director of services and corps impact on schools, and corps member John Maeng.

EXECUTIVE Director of City Year Ric Ramsey, left, sees his corps as answer to Public School graduation rates. With him are Virgil Sheppard, director of services and corps impact on schools, and corps member John Maeng.

Currently, 1.6 million American students attend low-performing urban high schools where the odds of graduating high school are less than 60%.

Studies conducted on education and the work force have found that by 2018, two-thirds of the nation’s jobs will require at least some form of post-secondary education but today only one-third of the country’s workforce has a post-secondary credential.

Of the 13,500 high schools in the United States:

• 1,634 (12%) produce half (50%) of the nation’s dropouts. These schools have been called the nation’s “dropout factories”, where graduation is a 50/50 proposition;

• 3,000 schools with a graduation rate between 61-75% produce an additional 35% of the dropouts, meaning 85% of all dropouts come from 34% of the schools.

That’s why City Year continues to expand in the cities in which it has corps, chiefly in aiding the school systems. Its mission statement includes the sentence: “Students who reach 10th grade with their peers are four times more likely to graduate.” The only way to increase the nation’s graduation rate and achieve economic sustainability is by focusing on the lowest-performing high schools, which produce a disproportionate number of dropouts.

City Year’s work with districts and schools has revealed that the highest-need, persistently low-performing schools require a comprehensive approach to redesign the school structure, culture and student supports. Through its Diplomas Now school-turnaround collaboration, City Year partners with Talent Development Secondary of Johns Hopkins University and Communities in Schools to combine three complementary, evidence-based models. Diplomas Now leverages each organization’s expertise — employing, City Year’s Whole School Whole Child model — to put in place the necessary strategy and in-school resources to turn around the nation’s most challenging secondary schools, demonstrating that when the right partnership model is implemented as part of a comprehensive school reform strategy, big change is possible.

Due to a strong evidence-based approach and early success, in August 2010, Diplomas Now was selected as an inaugural federal Dept. of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) award recipient — the only national secondary school turnaround model to win a prestigious i3 award. As a part of the i3 grant, awarded to only 49 of 1,700 applicants, Diplomas Now is partnering with MDRC and ICF International to conduct the largest national randomized control study on a secondary school turnaround model. Preliminary internal results demonstrate the effectiveness of City Year as part of the turnaround collaboration, reducing the percent of students displaying an early warning indicator by up to 66% within one academic year. This evaluation will provide the highest level of scientific evidence for the turnaround collaboration and the unique role City Year and national service can play in turning around the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Establishing a Long-Term Impact Goal

City Year worked in partnership with Deloitte Consulting to conduct analyses and develop a long-term impact strategy that could leverage City Year’s national footprint and unique service model to address the implementation gap in high poverty schools. In the highest need schools in the communities where City Year serves, preliminary analysis indicated only 44% of students are reaching the 10th grade on track and on time. Ninth grade is a critical transition year and the grade where more students drop out than any other. Research shows that students in high-poverty schools that reach the 10th grade on time and without an early-warning indicator on track are four times more likely to graduate — at about the national average (81%) — compared to 22% for those who do not.

City Year’s Long Term Impact goal aligns the organization around a significant measurable contribution to address the nation’s high-school graduation challenge. City Year’s Long Term Impact goal is that, by 2023:

• At least 80% of students in schools where City Year serves will reach the 10th grade on time and on track each year,

• City Year will reach 50% of off-track students in the markets City Year serves,

City Year will expand to cities that account for two-thirds of the nation’s urban dropouts.

To achieve this goal, City Year will apply a “continuum of care” strategy – in which City Year serves the same cohort of students year after year – providing school climate or Tier 1 supports for students from Kindergarten through the 12″ grade with a focus on providing targeted interventions or Tier 2 supports for students who are off-track in the 3rd-9th grades. City Year embraces strategic partnerships to drive collective impact and strengthen the continuum of care for students; for example, City Year is actively piloting programs with other partners to support students in the 10th-12th grades with college access.

City Year recognizes the need to provide a scalable solution that can have a disproportionate impact within cities and across the nation. In City Year’s existing markets, one-quarter or less of the schools generate half of the dropouts. Therefore, City Year seeks to scale to reach a majority of the off-track students by focusing on the highest-need feeder patterns of low-performing schools.

City Year currently serves in cities that account for 42% of the nation’s urban dropouts. A rigorous market analysis revealed the highest-impact and most-leveraged expansion strategy is for City Year to work with local stakeholders to expand to 18 new cities.

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