An Important Update from City Year Los Angeles
Dear City Year Champion,
For the past four weeks I, along with millions of parents across Los Angeles, have been operating in a whirlwind: balancing full-time work with the health and safety of my family, and the upending of my children’s high school education – a disruption that could have long-lasting consequences. At the same time, I’m so grateful my kids have access to healthy food, technology, internet, and a quiet place to work.
All our nation’s students deserve that.
Unfortunately, a crisis like the one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has a remarkably disproportionate impact on the schools, principals, teachers and students that City Year partners with every day. In LA Unified alone, it is estimated that 150,000-200,000 students did not have access to the technology or connectivity for online learning when this crisis hit. And while district and school leaders acted quickly to address those inequities, students were still losing valuable weeks of learning, which will put them even further behind.
Even so, I am inspired. For the past several weeks, our community has come together with increased creativity, agility, and commitment to continue our mission of creating a more equitable world for our students.
City Year Los Angeles is rapidly adapting our service to respond to the ever-evolving needs of young people during COVID-19, shifting to virtual academic and social emotional support, to help provide relationships, care and connection during this very challenging time. Our staff and AmeriCorps members are joining our school partners in distance learning while keeping a close eye on the horizon. When schools reopen, our AmeriCorps members will be on the front lines of the crisis response as we help students reconnect with their school community, re-engage in their learning and recover from learning loss.
As we continue to monitor this crisis together, I wanted to share some specifics about how City Year is supporting students and our corps now, and preparing for the future:
Supporting Our Students’ Families
Our AmeriCorps members have helped on a voluntary basis to distribute meals and technology to students and their families at school campuses since the school closures began.
Transitioning to Virtual Service
We are partnering with schools to bolster their new on-line learning environment, including:
- Leading breakout groups for students via Zoom after a teacher delivers a lesson
- Small group tutoring via partner approved online platforms
- English-language translation for teachers and parents
- Facilitating online message boards where students post questions
- Infusing joy and interactivity into remote learning
Developing Leaders for Life
City Year Los Angeles has committed to employing our 250 AmeriCorps members through the end of the school year, providing them their stipend, health benefits, childcare benefits and educational loan deferral. We worked with Congress, AmeriCorps and California Volunteers to ensure our members receive their full education awards despite the disruption in their service hours. We quickly put into place a rich curriculum of virtual leadership and career development opportunities to fulfill our promise of empowering young people to become leaders for life and help them transition into a range of professional fields during these uncertain times.
Preparing for Back to School
When schools re-open, our work will be more important than ever. We know our students will rely on their City Year AmeriCorps members to provide them with vital, one-on-one academic and social-emotional interventions to strengthen their resilience. City Year’s holistic model is more cost-effective than those offered by individual service providers – a huge benefit to schools, who themselves will be struggling with their budgets in the coming years.
We also continue to recruit next year’s AmeriCorps members. While we already include comprehensive training on trauma-informed practices, we are working to prepare next year’s members to address the specific challenges students will have faced during this crisis and to help them transition back to the learning community.
Shifting Policy and Driving Systemic Changes to Address the Challenge
This crisis will exacerbate systemic inequities for students in our most under-resourced schools. City Year’s voice is critical in conversations about national service and education policy, to ensure that our school partners have access to resources for student success.
Learning from Challenge: Our Research and Learning Agendas
With combined results from six national research studies to be released within the next year, City Year will be in a unique position to improve our own practice and help school districts, peer organizations, and thought leaders across the country do the same. Some of the research questions we are pursuing include:
- How to leverage the strong relationships AmeriCorps members have built with teachers and students to improve City Year’s collaboration in distance learning
- How to help students feel connected to their school community and engaged while they are at home and possibly struggling with uncertainty, food insecurity, adult job loss, etc.
- How to work alongside teachers as they move their instruction online and engage students virtually, all while managing their own feelings of fear, disconnection, and other personal challenges
Very few organizations supporting virtual learning for students have the experience working in communities affected by systemic inequities, the depth of data and research, and the experience providing student social, emotional and academic interventions that City Year has. We are uniquely positioned to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, learn from them, and share our practice broadly to create environments where students and schools succeed.
I am profoundly grateful to champions like you who have stood by us. This crisis has intensified the challenges our students face daily. But I am hopeful that by taking meaningful action, we can ensure the legacy of COVID-19 is not one of letting our students down, but of helping them rise.
Mary Jane Stevenson
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