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Service in the Virtual Classroom

The traditional school setting is likely to be forever changed and there are currently more questions than answers to what the 2020/21 classroom will look like. What is certain, is the need to care for the social and emotional needs of students, in combination with academics. Much of a City Year AmeriCorps member’s focus is on student mentorship, creating positive and supportive relationships, and confidence-building. These authentic connections, built through consistency, are key to creating the pathway to academic growth.

Historically, City Year members are serving on campus throughout the entire school year, 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. They’re typically the first and last person a student sees on campus. Engagement with students happens throughout the day, a mixture of structured classroom support and enrichment activities, but also through informal interactions such as games during recess.

Our new reality has led to us adapting quickly and partnering closely with our school administrators and teachers. Through this partnership, we’ve identified key strategies and approaches to continue our service during distance learning. The goal is to remain a positive presence in student’s lives and a resource for our school partners. We are using this time to gain knowledge of effective practices to build on. Here are a few highlights:

Victor Mendoza, a second-year AmeriCorps member, shared that once back in the virtual classroom, a student greeted him with, “Mr. Victor, I’m so happy to see you!” It was clear to Victor that his students were relieved to see him again. Victor was one of our first service members back to providing small group supplemental academic instruction utilizing Zoom breakout rooms.

Vanessa Figueroa, AmeriCorps Member and Team Leader, had a similar experience when working with her small group. One student stopped the class to share,

“Miss Vanessa, I love to read with you. I am so glad you are here reading with us, I love to read now!”

These two interactions sound simple, but the consistency of our City Year service members’ reassuring and supportive presence is vital to the emotional well being of the children we serve.

Broad school support and engagement is happening through phone calls home, in multiple languages, to check in with students, parents, and guardians encouraging daily attendance and offering support. Our AmeriCorps members have also quickly turned to producing enrichment videos for students. This has been a big collaboration with our schools, as they are requesting content to supplement lessons, provide creative outlets, and enhance the school culture.

City Year has been on the frontlines of the education crisis for years, and the impact of COVID-19 has only widened the gap for the aspiring students we serve. As we look ahead to next year, we will pivot as needed between in-person and virtual service because our adaptability is key to our ability to be a true partner to our schools and meet students where they are.

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