Students Get Nudge to Stay on Track from 'Near-Peers'; Young Adults of City Year Corps Act as Role Models in 2 Duval Public Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski

Students are seeing red at Andrew Jackson High School and Matthew Gilbert Middle School but that's a good thing, teachers and administrators say.

Tomato-red vests and jackets make it easy to pick out the City Year corps members who've committed a year to working with the students at the two Duval County public schools.

City Year members are college students or recent graduates who assist teachers in the classroom as well as work one-on-one and with small groups of students.

It involves mentoring, tutoring and just letting the students "who are sliding off track" know that people care about them and want to see them succeed, said Jay Thompson, start-up director for the pilot year in Jacksonville.

"We want to keep students in school and on track," he said.

The national nonprofit came to Jacksonville as the result of a $1 million donation from the Michael and Kim Ward Foundation. City Year is one of the largest programs in AmeriCorps, a federally funded network of national service programs.

City Year members, ages 17 to 24, collaborate with teachers, administrators and community group volunteers in under-performing schools nationwide to raise student achievement and lower the dropout rate. They focus on the ABCs - which stands for attendance, behavior and course performance.

Principal Iranetta Wright at Andrew Jackson said they've already seen positive changes in some students who have been working with the City Year members since classes resumed Aug. 20. Some teachers have reported that those students are more engaged in the classes.

"What they provide for our students is a level of diversity in terms of ethnicities, in terms of their cultural backgrounds and ... are near-peers for them," Wright said of the City Year members. "They present for us a new and fresh perspective."

Ten City Year members serve at Jackson, where they work with ninth-graders. The nine at Matthew Gilbert work with students in all grade levels. The members, who come from across the country, have diverse backgrounds and experiences including some similar to the students.

Greeting students when they arrive with enthusiastic "good mornings," cheers or high-fives, they are developing relationships with students as "near-peer" role models.

The approach includes "positive phone calls home" to students who've been skipping classes to encourage them to come to school because they were missed and that someone is thinking about them. Those methods and others City Year members use are based on Johns Hopkins University research into best practices for early intervention for at-risk students. They coordinate their efforts with teachers, principals and other community partners working in the schools, Thompson said.

Jacksonville is the third Florida school district to join with City Year, which is in 23 other urban cities nationwide. …