Anissa Wilkens extended her AmeriCorps service for a second year after witnessing firsthand last spring how swiftly COVID-19 had separated her students from their classmates and school routines.
“It’s been a very confusing and difficult time,” says Anissa, a 24-year-old who serves in Buffalo, New York. “I wanted to help kids through the challenges of learning online and living through a pandemic.”
City Year’s 3,000 AmeriCorps members have made reuniting school communities a touchstone of their service after the pandemic pushed millions of students into the uncharted territory of virtual learning. In their role as student success coaches, AmeriCorps members contribute to rebuilding spaces where classmates come together—from organizing online student lunches to helping teachers assemble virtual classrooms for the first time.
Those efforts make a difference. According to a recent survey, 95% of partner teachers believe that City Year AmeriCorps members have supported students’ engagement and participation.
In Buffalo, where Anissa serves at a school a short drive from the shores of Lake Erie, and in Boston and Providence, AmeriCorps members helped schools adapt to a shifting educational landscape with the support of energy distribution company National Grid, a City Year regional sponsor in the northeastern U.S.
“Our partners, including National Grid, understand the huge role that schools play in our communities,” says Michael Stevens, who served as a City Year AmeriCorps member in 2006 and now is the executive director of City Year Buffalo. “Because of their ongoing commitment, we’re able to bridge the gap between students, families and schools at a critical time.”
We want to have a meaningful impact in the communities we serve, which is why National Grid invests in education through City Year. We value an approach to learning that encourages students to combine different skills, because it’s the path toward becoming a powerful problem solver.
Over the past nine years, National Grid team sponsorships have supported both AmeriCorps members and the students they serve. Through its partnership, National Grid has helped AmeriCorps members prepare for careers after service through mentoring, professional development training and networking opportunities.
Employees of National Grid also have led workshops to help students conserve electricity and have volunteered at events to brighten school and community spaces. They’ve also taken part in activities centered around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that help students explore new interests that can lead to a career in those fields, says Edward White, National Grid’s executive director, foundation & vice president, social impact.
Through City Year, National Grid also provides students with other opportunities to hone STEM skills. In Buffalo, Anissa helps third graders become more comfortable with multiplying during lessons that also strengthen their social and emotional skills, like perseverance and maintaining focus.
“We want to have a meaningful impact in the communities we serve, which is why National Grid invests in education through City Year,” White says. “We value an approach to learning that encourages students to combine different skills, because it’s the path toward becoming a powerful problem solver.”
Anissa, a native of upstate New York, supports students like Rose,* who is so determined to do well that she sometimes feels overwhelmed when taking tests, and Niko, a considerate and caring student who found himself getting easily distracted learning from home.
During online classwork, Niko has gotten better at paying attention to lessons and his fellow students with steady encouragement from Anissa, his teacher and his parents. Meanwhile, Rose is learning with Anissa how to take a test one question at a time.
“It’s all about promoting a growth mindset,” Anissa says. “Acknowledging it’s okay to make mistakes helps us learn and grow.”
The graduate of the State University of New York Geneseo has adjusted to shifting circumstances during the pandemic, too, including switching to a new school last fall from the one she had served in the prior year, and toggling between serving virtually from home and from mostly empty classrooms.
This spring, things have changed for the better, she says. Her school building is slowly opening back up to students, allowing Anissa and some of her third graders to meet face to face for the first time.
She’s also looking ahead to her next step after service—including a possible career in social work to address the wide range of inequities that impact students and communities.
“Serving with City Year has given me a greater awareness of the systemic issues that I’d like to help tackle,” she says.
*Students names are changed to protect their privacy.