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Connecting students to school during COVID-19

City Year AmeriCorps red jacket

A unique approach to student success

When Jaya Dayal moved to Washington D.C. last summer to begin serving in a school with City Year, her training included an introduction to the social issues impacting local communities—an opportunity that has helped her support students during distance learning.

That background made it easier for Jaya to engage in discussions with students about issues meaningful to them—like the impact of gentrification on local neighborhoods—helping her contribute to a classroom environment where students feel seen and heard.

“Students have an opportunity to share with their classmates and develop their own opinions on issues,’’ says Jaya. “That’s something very important to me.’’

Helping students feel connected to school is one way City Year and the AmeriCorps national service network are supporting communities during the pandemic, while providing young adults with a chance to hone their leadership skills and expand their horizons during a year of uncertainty. Jaya, 18, is taking a gap year for national service as one of City Year’s 3,000 AmeriCorps members before starting college this fall.

Youth leadership award winner

City Year is supporting AmeriCorps members as they prepare for their next steps in life with the help of partners including Bank of America. Since it began working with City Year more than 30 years ago, Bank of America has expanded its support to City Year programs across the U.S., and in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Bank of America also partners with other nonprofits, including Boys & Girls Club of America, helping build networks that support young leaders.

Before joining City Year, Jaya took part in Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program, where she and other young adults worked together to create virtual content for youth activity programs for local Orlando Boys & Girls Clubs. Jaya’s commitment to community service helped her win the 2020 MENTOR National Corporate Youth Leadership Award.

This school year, Jaya begins and ends the day connecting online with her AmeriCorps team, and sharing some of the joys and frustrations of virtual service.

“With City Year, the team dynamic is huge,” Jaya says. “We’re all in this together.”

AmeriCorps members commit to a year or more of national service in systemically under-resourced schools across the country, including those in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

National service with students during distance learning

A typical day during Jaya’s full-time service might include helping students understand how to access classes and assignments through multiple digital learning platforms, answering student questions in the chat box during online lessons by the teacher she’s partnered with, and guiding small group sessions that help the sixth graders she supports weave together academic, social and emotional skills, like practicing teamwork by working as a group on an assignment. She’s also learned from her partner teacher about strategies to make students feel comfortable participating in online class—like messaging a student directly rather than calling on them in front of everyone.

A year into the pandemic, many students still have to deal with the frustration of slow internet access when trying to connect to school, especially when other siblings are attending school online at the same time. Students also often lack quiet spaces to study at home, says Ariana Rodriguez, a City Year impact director and Washington D.C. native, who together with other local staff and AmeriCorps alumni led the training session last summer introducing new corps members to issues affecting the city’s communities.

Since then, Jaya says her students have taught her a lot about how gentrification affects their city, showing how learning is a two-way street—a lesson she can take with her when returning to the classroom this fall to study public health as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Learn more about applying to City Year AmeriCorps:

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