2014-03-11

By Elyse Elder, corps members, Warner Bros. Team at Clinton Avenue Middle School

My name is Elyse Elder.  I am a brunette, die-hard Carolina Tar Heel fan and, more importantly, I proudly serve as a City Year Americorps Member on the Warner Bros. Team at Clinton Avenue Middle School in Los Angeles, California.

I serve because City Year is where my actions can best instill in young minds the idea that students are  capable of being driven and passionate people that matter to the world. Most of my students not only have to juggle school work, but also language barriers, care taking responsibilities at home, and the daily pressures of being in middle school.  Clinton Middle School is home to 900 middle school students and at this point in their lives, less than 50% are expected to graduate high school.

Although working with my students can be very challenging, we are lucky to be a Diplomas Now school. Diplomas Now (http://diplomasnow.org/) is a collaboration of 3 national non-profits: Talent Development Secondary, City Year, and Communities in Schools that work together to ensure that students are on track to graduate. Our strong partnerships with our Diplomas Now partners provides me and my fellow corps members the additional support we need to meet our ever changing students’ needs.

Every day, I work with 4 different classes to help students improve their course performance, attendance records, and behavior.  Within those classes, I have a focus list of 11 students that have been identified as “on the brink,” meaning they are projected to drop out before the10th grade.

Rachel is one of my focus list students. At the beginning of the school year, Rachel wore her hair in front of her face, sat in the back, and kept to herself.  Her shyness and low self-esteem inhibited her from asking for help, or even responding to my attempts to work with her.  As a result of her personal obstacles, Rachel had a low C in math.  She was turning in class work, but her testing average was bordering a D average, as her fundamental math skills were not strong.  As hard as she tried to fade into the background, Rachel needed positive attention from someone who could affirm a belief in her abilities.

I started doing pull-out lessons with Rachel to help improve her academic performance.  As a Diplomas Now school, Clinton has social workers available through Communities in School.  I worked with one of the counselors to discuss how she could feel more comfortable in the classroom.  As a result, she joined my 50 Acts of Leadership Club that meets during lunch.  The Club is a time for a small group of my students to meet and talk about how qualities of leadership can improve their lives and their futures.  Now, after over 9 hours of intervention time, Sarah is participating in group work.  She is studying for quizzes and raising her hand to answers questions.

She laughs more and I even hear “shh, focus!” aimed at her peers.  For the first time all year, her self-motivation is there.  Her grade is up to a mid-B in math and her mid-year goal is to improve her science grade from a B to an A.  I have full confidence I will get to cheer her across the stage at her culmination ceremony.

We have close to 300 corps members in schools across Los Angeles, all with 11 focus list students. That is close to 3,300 potential Sarah stories. It is an honor to give a year because I see us changing the world.

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