Tam EmersonServed: ’07, ’08, as an AmeriCorps member and ’10  as an Alumni Fellow

Current Occupation: Acting Director at The Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program

Fun Fact: "I’ve never met someone in a red jacket that I haven’t been impacted by. I am profoundly humbled by the corps’ service. I’d like to say thank you to those people because they help shape me today.”

Who am I? Can I really make a difference?

For Tam Emerson ’07, ’08, ’10, these questions were at the forefront of her mind when she decided to apply to City Year Boston as a recent high school graduate. While she knew she would be serving a cause she was passionate about, she never thought her teammates and the City Year staff could so profoundly shape her—as an individual, as a professional, and as a leader.  

From helping to identify the importance student data plays in shaping effective tutoring sessions, to helping found the City Year London site—Tam’s service not only shaped her sense of identity, but also helped shape what City Year is today. 

City Year Boston (CYB): What first attracted you to City Year?

Tam Emerson (TE): I was coming out of high school and I felt like I could have gone to undergrad, and I would have done fine. But I didn’t want to [major in] something I wasn’t passionate about. I wanted to do something more than just sitting in another classroom. I hadn’t worked with kids before, but [City Year] felt right when I heard about their service. 

I think the organization’s diversity was a good starting point for me. My high school was pretty diverse—but I grew up in a less diverse community. Being a Latina and being adopted, there weren’t necessarily a lot of people who were “like me.” There was something about City Year that seemed to help me find a sense of identity. 

CYB: What was your proudest moment from your service year?

TE: I think one of the biggest pieces for me was having a hand in starting what [City Year] now calls their Evaluation department. […] I made some Excel graphs to track my students’ progress and to hold myself accountable—were there areas we still needed to work on? Where was the student improving? What was working?

One day, I walked past [Director of School and Community Partnerships] Nikki Tabron’s office. I had printed an extra copy of a data graph that showed my student’s growth. I poked my head in and said, “Hey, Nikki, are these of interest to you?”

At first, I didn’t really understand why she was so excited about it. But she invited me to [attend a meeting with] Superintendent Carol Johnson—for [City Year] to make the case how we could improve our service for students if we did have access to students’ DIBELS [Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills] scores. 

[…] Now, City Year has a very robust data and evaluation program and they’ve expanded their partnership with Boston Public Schools. We’re seeing the statistics of numbers of the students who are impacted. 

CYB: After your AmeriCorps year, you went on to support the creation and launch of City Year’s London branch. Could you tell us more about that experience?

TE: My London journey began in my senior corps year. The staff really saw potential in me, but I was nervous about being an 18-year-old leading team of 17 to 26 year olds. I was in awe that I was only 18, and able to build relationships with my team and school partners. The belief in me by the staff like Nikki Tabron and Chris Farnkoff and my teammates was just phenomenal.

[During my senior corps year,] I was able to go as part of a small delegation to London with the senior leadership of City Year. We were on a fact finding mission; we were merely there to understand what national service looked like in the UK.

Two years later I was in class—a sophomore in college—and my phone started ringing. I recognized the number as City Year. It was Charlie Rose asking me to apply to become part of the City Year London start-up team. 

A very small team of four Americans were hired to lay ground work for the London site—to find the most dedicated staff and partnerships. 

[…] It’s really exciting news that they’ve expanding [from London] to Birmingham. That’s the beauty of the red jacket. You don’t need to have a name or specific person in that jacket. The symbol of it is so strong—the communities recognize it and value it. The fact that there was a red jacket there, a jacket that holds similar ideals, is what really matters. 

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