by Chelsea Cassell, City Year Philadelphia ’14
Philadelphia is my hometown. Through my service with City Year Philadelphia, I was able to give back to the city that’s given so much to me. Along with my team of 11, I was assigned to ninth-grade grade scholars in southwest Philadelphia. During our tenure, we worked hard and experienced many challenges. There were times when we stepped back and wondered if we were making enough of a difference in the lives of our students. When I look back now, I know that my AmeriCorps year was filled with moments where I believe we made an impact, regardless of how small it seemed at the time.
My service year was over before I knew it, and it was challenging to go through such a wide range of emotions in a short period of time. You’re in students’ lives day in and day out for ten months, and then, you’re not. Our students were accustomed to having us alongside them in the classroom, ready to answer questions and provide the individual attention that they needed; we were accustomed to learning from our students every day, too. Upon my graduation from City Year, I found myself thinking about my students and wondering how their high school careers would pan out.
When I graduated from City Year Philadelphia in 2014, my team tentatively made plans to attend our students’ high school graduation in 2017. I was pleased that seven of us would be able to see our scholars cross the stage on one of the most important days of their lives. While most of us were local, we also had alumni return to Philadelphia from New York City and New Hampshire attend this event. To me, this was a testament to how strongly we all felt about the work that we did with City Year and to our investment in the future success of our students.
On June 20, 2017, we all met in front of Irvine Auditorium on University of Pennsylvania’s campus, and joined the parents and teachers to cheer on and celebrate our students. As each of our students crossed the stage, we were filled with a sense of pride knowing that we had been a part of their lives and educational journeys, even if it was only for part of their high school careers.
Following the ceremony, we lined up outside of the auditorium, waiting for our students. As each student exited the building, they were greeted with cheers and applause. As my students spotted me, they immediately ran over and gave me a big hug. One of my students, who had received a full scholarship to West Chester University to play basketball, told me that he knew he was going to be successful. Another student, who as a freshman was usually too busy doodling to take notes, told me she was accepted into art school. As I had conversations with each of these thoughtful and mature young adults about their aspirations, I was amazed at how much each had grown over the past few years. I am so proud of them for their success. It was incredibly rewarding to see my students moving forward, optimistic about their futures.
Attending my students’ graduation brought my experience as an AmeriCorps member full circle, helping me process the range of emotions that I had been feeling since the end of my service year in 2014. My advice for current AmeriCorps members would be to understand the importance of the work that you’re doing in the moment. It can be easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day routine, but it’s important to take a step back and understand your role in City Year’s mission. While there is still so much work to be done for our students in the American education system, City Year is an important piece of the puzzle.
As for my students, I don’t know what the future holds for each of them, but I feel fortunate that they allowed me to be a part of their lives. As they move forward with the next chapter of their lives, I hope they look back on our time together as fondly as I do. Ten months goes quickly, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see the long-term impact of my team, the teachers and—most importantly—our students’ hard work as the graduates received their high school diplomas.