By Gabriel Mendoza, ‘14 and ‘19 UCLA, City Year LA '15

City Year Alum Gabriel Mendoza ( LA ) My senior year of undergrad was a stressful time. I remember trying to decide what to do for my gap year before medical school (assuming I would get accepted on my first try). I wanted my gap year experience to feel meaningful; something that would allow me to help in a significant way. It did not have to be directly related to medicine, but would ideally develop valuable skills that would be pertinent to medicine. I discovered City Year through a friend, and as I learned and reflected on the educational injustices in our nation, I felt driven to apply.

City Year is a national-service organization that believes education has the power to help every child reach his or her potential. However, in high-poverty communities there are external factors and obstacles students are faced with every day that can interfere with their ability to both get to school and be ready and able to learn. City Year partners with at-risk schools to help bridge the gap between what students need and what the schools are designed to provide. In doing so, we help students reach their full potential and graduate high school in communities all across America.

In Los Angeles, I served alongside 287 young professionals supporting 10,000 students across the city. We spent a year increasing student academic achievement and self-confidence in 25 schools in Watts, South L.A., Boyle Heights and Westlake/Koreatown. We also participated in 28 school beautification projects throughout the year, helping to make the schools more inspiring places for students to learn.

Personally, I had the opportunity to work with ninth-grade students at Jordan High School in Watts. Yes, the ninth-grade students were at times difficult to work with, but I quickly grew to appreciate my time with them. During ninth grade, students are beginning to think more critically, and are forming important opinions about school and life in general. Many of the students I mentored and taught had problems and stresses outside of school.

City Year Alum Gabriel Mendoza in his white coat City Year Alum Gabriel Mendoza ( LA ) and his team City Year Alum Gabriel Mendoza ( LA ) in his scrubs


The majority of my students came from a single parent household in which the parent was working full-time to pay the bills, and scarcely had time to be involved in the student’s education. One of my students had his mother pass away during the year. Another student had a father who suffered from drug abuse and had to be admitted into rehab. With these things on their minds, it was clear why my students would have difficulty concentrating in class. I learned that to help my students improve in class, I would need to be a source of support and show genuine care.

During City Year, I learned to not focus solely on improving the student’s course performance, but to help address socioemotional needs. I also used student’s interests to develop individualized lesson plans, helping create a greater interest in school. As a medical student, I am aware of the importance of the patient-physician relationship, and how a physician can easily become too focused on the disease and not enough on the patient as a human. Empathy and sensitivity are crucial qualities that I have developed during my time with City Year that will be crucial when caring for patients in the future.

Too often when looking for gap year opportunities, we focus on what will look “good” on one’s resume or our curriculum vitae. I encourage my fellow Bruins to look beyond the conventional gap year. Choosing to do a year of service with City Year or a similar organization will develop skills that will benefit you in whatever profession you enter, while helping fight the educational injustice in our nation.

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