Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Year Connects with At-Risk Students; Young Adults in Corps Bridge Gap between Peers, Adult Authorities

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Year Connects with At-Risk Students; Young Adults in Corps Bridge Gap between Peers, Adult Authorities

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

One recent morning at Ribault High School on Jacksonville's Northside, 23-year-old Dhante Lee was in tutor mode.

He was huddled with five ninth-graders, helping them decipher "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck's classic novel about displaced migrant workers.

After they stopped discussing the book, Lee consulted with several of the at-risk students about grades, homework assignments and their lives in general.

As one of eight City Year AmeriCorps members serving Ribault, he might on any given day be tutor, mentor, disciplinarian, counselor, teacher or brother for students in the school's dropout-prevention program. Or all of the above.

"Actually, it's kind of fun," said Lee, a 2010 graduate of Ed White High School. "I get to go back to school. ... It is a great opportunity to help, and a trip down memory lane."


Ribault is one of eight Jacksonville middle and high schools hosting City Year teams, with a total of 74 corps members at those schools all day every day for the entire school year. They are easily spotted on campus in their distinctive City Year red jackets or vests. Two more schools will be added to the roster for the 2015-16 term, with about 100 corps members on duty.

The 25-year-old international program focuses on students with poor attendance, disruptive behavior and course failure in math and English, early warning indicators for them becoming dropouts. Those students receive consecutive years of interventions and support from corps members, ages 17 to 24, so called because City Year is part of the federal AmeriCorps service initiative.

In Jacksonville, where one out of three students is at risk of dropping out of high school, the program has received positive reviews since its 2013 launch.

According to the City Year Jacksonville website, 100 percent of principals, liaisons and after-school coordinators were satisfied or very satisfied with corps members' work. About 91 percent of teachers in City Year schools reported improvement in at-risk students' performance in English and language arts. Also, 58 percent of students tutored by City Year corps members improved their reading scores on standardized tests, according to the website.

"City Year comes in with high expectations, high energy and commitment to helping at-risk students," said Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. "To have those extra hands on deck throughout the school day makes a world of a difference for principals, teachers and the students themselves."

In addition to their academic help, corps members bridge the divide between students and their parents and teachers. They are "near peers" who are close to students' ages, but do not wield authority power over them. So students are able to talk with them in ways they may not be able to talk with other adults, staffers said. …

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