City Year AmeriCorps members work hard to contribute to positive social and learning environments in the 14 schools we serve in Philadelphia, but part of the environment that can’t be ignored are the actual school buildings that local students attend. With that in mind, several City Year sites have a Civic Engagement team exclusively dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying their local schools and community centers. This month, “City Year Serves,” led by the City Year Philadelphia Civic Engagement Team, took place to beautify S. Weir Mitchell K-8 School in the Kingsessing neighborhood of Philadelphia. The event was sponsored by Philadelphia Energy Solutions. Below is a behind the scenes glimpse of what goes into a Service Day.

Before the Service Day:
Like Mitchell, many local public schools are massive and regal from the outside but in need of repairs on the inside. The Civic Engagement team of seven people surveyed the Mitchell staff and students in order to gain a sense of what sort of beautification was needed. For this event, over 50 murals were to be painted. Then came the difficult process of selecting spaces within the school that are a good fit for the projects.

As the excitement for the event built, Mitchell’s principal, Stephanie Andrewlevich explained “This is a project that is going to revitalize our entire school community. It will make our students feel that this is our house, a home away from home.”

Whatever kind of service project it is, one thing is always certain - lots of preparation work is necessary. Preparing the school and the volunteers for a successful day of service is often like a puzzle being put together.  Often the Civic Engagement team has to troubleshoot during the preparation work due to each school's unique layout and need for renovations. Often walls need to be prepared before murals can be painted. In those cases, the Civic Engagement Team scrapes off any excess layers of paint and fills in the gaps with spackle. Lastly, paint primer prepares the wall for a transformational mural.  The team completes the preparation by tracing a paint-by-number style sketch for volunteers to complete.

Prior to the event, the team not only made sure the volunteer slots were filled, but that it would be a fun experience for all in attendance. Vital to these days are the special extras like a hyped morning program with inspiring testimonials and food and drink for everyone there. At this event, the team even planned a small carnival for the students in attendance.

The four days leading up to event, the Civic Engagement Team contributed over 400 hours to make the day a success!


On the Service Day: 
“We live to serve another day, and that’s a beautiful thing” is a popular City Year mantra that was put into use for the City Year Serves Day, on Saturday, October 17th.  Starting before the sun was even up, the City Year team started to prepare for the day.

City Year Philadelphia welcomed over 200 volunteers around 9 a.m. by acclimating them to the City Year culture and giving thanks. A miniature Unity Rally started the morning off strong by getting everyone pumped for the day ahead with cheers and exercises. From there, groups broke off and set to work on the murals. Several sororities, corporate sponsors, City Year alumni, board members, members of the Mitchell community and AmeriCorps groups came together to make the day a success. The murals spanned much of the playground area with mosaic paintings on the walls, courts for foursquare, fitness and hopscotch as well as blue trim around the front of the school. The interior murals included homages to both President Barack Obama and Maya Angelou in the form of portraits and quotes. Math problems, vocabulary, and other positive educational tools were also painted.The positive energy of the event was inspiring and contagious; everyone was having a great time working together to brighten Mitchell.

As the event concluded, City Year’s Civic Engagement team got to see all of their planning come to fruition. Liam Cummings, a Civic Engagement team member, stated “It’s great to see it all come together. It wouldn’t have happened without all the help of the corps members and especially our volunteers.”

After the Service Day: 
The first day back at school, Principal Andrewlevich held an assembly for all the students. She thanked City Year for all their hard work and commitment. Afterwards, students exited by cohorts to do a walking tour of all the murals. The students were ecstatic about the murals and the bright designs. The teachers did a great job explaining the murals, including who Maya Angelou was and how her quote related to their daily lives. The hope is that these murals and the way the community came together will inspire Mitchell’s students and that they will always remember the day that over 200 people collectively said with their actions, “we believe in you."

Below is a video that shows what it is like to volunteer on a service day and includes the reaction of the Mitchell students.

By City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps members, Andrea Manley and Ivan Vivar


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