be_ixf;ym_202008 d_11; ct_50 Learn more about City Year’s response to COVID-19

When classes resume, City Year will be there for students

City Year AmeriCorps member serving in Philadelphia schools

Advancing educational equity

Science, research and three decades of serving communities have taught us at City Year that our young people have a lot to offer society. Unfortunately, too often their opportunity to be seen, heard and contribute gets disrupted by systemic conditions of inequity, racism, scarcity and hardship. Because we know these conditions start early in life and permeate the education system, our journey over the past three decades has been one of adapting from our origins as a national service and youth leadership development organization to an organization equally focused on advancing educational equity by supporting the success of students in K-12 public schools.

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Read City Year’s statement on Black Lives Matter: “There is no educational equity without racial justice.”

We learned through our work with AmeriCorps members that it was critical to take a holistic youth development approach—one with strong recognition of the importance of community building, healthy relationships and nurturing strengths. We brought that understanding with us as we developed and evolved our Whole School Whole Child” student support work in schools. This social, emotional and academic development framework, which guides the work of our AmeriCorps members every day, has given us the opportunity to truly be present and proximate in hundreds of our nation’s systemically under-resourced schools and has helped us to clarify our commitment to advancing the intertwined issues of educational equity and racial justice.

Our holistic focus and commitment to equity have also enabled City Year to nimbly and effectively respond to the challenging circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools shut their doors in March, the service AmeriCorps members provide didn’t stop—it just looked different.

This spring, City Year AmeriCorps members provided online tutoring, helped students and parents find and complete homework assignments, and sent their students uplifting messages and short lessons on social media. City Year AmeriCorps members remain committed to advancing the growth and development of the students they serve, and we are busy preparing for a new cohort of corps members to join us this summer for the 2020-2021 school year.

The importance of relationships for student success

We strongly believe that positive, caring and trusting “developmental” relationships between adults and students, which are the foundation of young people thriving in any circumstance, will be in even greater need when schooling resumes, as educators help students to regain lost ground and heal from the trauma the country is experiencing.

In their day-to-day work as near-peer Student Success Coaches, our AmeriCorps members honor students’ unique experiences and needs. They support students as they develop their identities and help them feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves in instructional spaces. By listening, being present and showing they care, City Year AmeriCorps members help students understand who they want to be and how they want to accomplish their dreams.  By co-constructing decisions and encouraging students to set goals, they also make more transparent and actionable students’ own voice and power over their learning and development.

We continue to evolve our approach based on a growing evidence base that shows that if students are to learn and achieve, holistic social and emotional development must be prioritized and integrated with academic content. Along with mastering fractions, students need to be able to confidently voice their perspective, feel empowered to problem solve and bounce back after setbacks—skills that will be especially relevant as students return to their classes this fall, and skills that are essential to success in school and in life.

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Learn more about City Year’s unique approach.

A virtual Whole School Whole Child Approach

Our holistic approach equips AmeriCorps members to think about student learning as something that happens both inside and outside of a classroom. They understand that education is not just about instruction, but rather that academic, social and emotional growth are intertwined and happen together, through relationships and community.

I am greatly inspired by the way AmeriCorps members continue to make a difference for their students through distance learning and virtual service, but not surprised by their energy and passion for showing up for students. Now, working alongside our partners, we seek to channel this energy and passion into City Year’s efforts to collaborate with schools to support students grappling with learning loss and lapses in critical relationships.

We know that the pandemic will only continue to exacerbate the existing systemic inequities that disproportionately impact Black, Latinx and other students of color we serve. If we’re serious about advancing educational equity so every student has access to positive learning environments, we will have to do more, think creatively, and elevate student voice to help all children recover and thrive in our new reality.

Looking ahead to this fall

As we look to the fall, our desire to listen to young people and understand their needs is even more heightened. While we don’t have all of the answers, City Year and our partners will be ready to ramp up our support in schools and online in service of addressing student needs, including anxiety, trauma, economic uncertainty, learning loss and lapsed relationships. Working on healing, rebuilding connections and partnering with educators to create learning environments and employ instructional strategies that support student academic recovery and social-emotional development will also be key.

At a high level, we plan to support our new and returning AmeriCorps members so they can:

  1. Help schools renew and celebrate school community by maintaining consistent routines and feelings of belonging
  2. Provide trauma-sensitive supports to students by listening, building resilience and helping students make meaning of what they have experienced this spring
  3. Promote academic recovery efforts to address additional learning loss through one-on-one academic interventions and tutoring
  4. Advance school health and safety response protocols

Prioritizing student voice through Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

City Year was founded on a belief in the power of young people. We must prioritize student voice in our efforts to respond to the pandemic. No matter what the start of the school year looks like, it’s important to honor what students have learned and experienced while schools were closed.

Some young people will have grappled with loss or loneliness, others with personal growth in newfound independence or discovering a hidden talent. As near-peer Student Success Coaches—mature enough to offer guidance and support, yet young enough to relate to students’ perspectives—City Year AmeriCorps members are uniquely positioned in schools to tap into those feelings and experiences, whatever they may be.

We want your ideas and feedback: reimagining the future of school supports

City Year is committed to learning from the communities we serve and the partners with which we collaborate. We welcome your feedback, ideas and questions to help reimagine the future of our student-level practice in a post-pandemic environment.

Some questions with which we are grappling are:

  • How can we learn from the challenges and bright spots of virtual and distance learning that students experienced?
  • What shifts, if any, should we make to ensure AmeriCorps members are great partners to teachers and focused on the most critical needs of students and schools?
  • What is the right way to balance supporting the social-emotional needs of students, AmeriCorps members and teachers with the academic recovery greatly needed to keep students on track?

We would love to hear your ideas and experiences. You can let us know by sending a message on Twitter to @CityYear, sending a note to hqcommunications@cityyear.org, or reaching out to an Executive Director in your local area.

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City Year serves students and schools in 29 U.S. cities.

Much has changed and will continue to change, but we and our partners are as committed as ever to our partnership with public schools and communities to create more equitable, engaging, joyful and relevant learning environments where all students can build on their strengths, achieve their goals and thrive.


Stephanie Wu  is City Year’s Chief Impact Officer and leads the design, execution and evaluation of City Year’s Whole School Whole Child services. As a founding staff member of City Year, she has overseen the development and scaling of City Year’s youth development practices that remain foundational to City Year’s work in schools and communities across the country.

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