By Alexis Hyczko
City Year Philadelphia ’16
Penn State University ’14
Every day, I work closely with 5th graders whose academic performance indicates a high risk of dropping out of high school. As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I have committed 10 months to promote social change in education and positively impact children in Philadelphia.
Penn State Eberly College of Science Career Services introduced me to City Year. I knew I wanted my gap year to be different from the science coursework and technical research I completed and wanted a job involving service, something I was not as involved in as I would have liked at Penn State.
City Year not only filled these niches, but also presented a way to expand my knowledge of public health issues among children in high-poverty communities. I firmly believe that my experience at City Year coupled with my education from Penn State are adequately preparing me to become a doctor who is able to teach children and their parents about health; one who is understanding of current, urgent public health issues that need special attention in order to improve the well-being of children. Though seemingly different, my experience at City Year has inspired the service I plan to implement in my care for future pediatric patients.
The students I work with have the potential to succeed, but in their high-poverty communities, they face outside factors and obstacles that sometimes interfere with their ability to get to school on time and be ready and willing to learn. Through a focus on attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English, I am able to help students who need a little extra support. When trauma trickles into their school life, I try to be a pillar of support and a sounding board when they choose to verbalize their stories. In all my work with the students, I constantly remind myself to empathize, walk in their shoes. This helps me to build trust and grow a deeper understanding of the battles they must overcome to excel in school.
If I plucked any of my students out of their neighborhood and placed them in a suburban school, they would thrive and excel in academics. In order for my 5th graders and other students like them to succeed in learning, changes need to happen outside of school, specifically reform in the high rate of occurrences in violence and drugs, presence of familial instability, and lack of healthcare and good nutrition. Particularly of interest to me is the need to promote changes in pediatric nutrition and health care.
As an aspiring pediatrician, my experience at City Year has increased my awareness for the need to improve nutrition and primary care for children in underserved areas. When my students eat hot cheetos or chips, a cheap alternative to yogurt, fruit or cereal, for breakfast and lunch, I see falling asleep in class and low energy levels resulting in students working at half of their potential. Nutrition is important to sustain healthy brain development. However, healthy food is inaccessible in their neighborhoods and if available, healthy is not affordable.
Absences from chronic illnesses, which is amplified by poor nutrition and inaccessible health care, happen far too often and pull kids further behind in learning. My City Year experience has taught me more about how we can better the lives of children, and reaffirmed my path to pursue primary care or nutrition within pediatrics. As the building blocks to society, children, no matter their zip code, deserve high-quality education and healthcare.