2015-09-24

Written by Toni S. Burke, Vice President & Executive Director of City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley

Last week I spent the day at William C. Overfelt High School, a City Year partner school, as part of my annual commitment to spend days as "AmeriCorps members." My only goal is to truly moccasin the daily realities of AmeriCorps members, by seeing their challenges and being inspired by their wins both big and small. 

I left Overfelt on Thursday feeling equally inspired by the work we were doing - and - outraged by the barriers so many of our students faced.
 
I was outraged....
  • by the 12th grader who was in a 9th grade math class who couldn't spell second, difference, or pronounce explain or explanation, but knew how to solve linear and quadratic functions.
  • when a student fight broke out and was broken up by the police like it was a daily occurrence.
  • when I read students write that they felt "Nervous", "Tired", "Hungry," and that there was "a lot going on at home."
But throughout the day I was truly inspired and humbled by City Year AmeriCorps members at work. 
 
I was inspired when I saw:
  • 9th grade students working on physics labs with their AmeriCorps member.
  • A teacher say "City Year is the best thing that has happened to my classroom in 25 years," and another say "My AmeriCorps member gives me hope that I can actually help all 37 of my students."
  • A student say "I was with City Year at Dorsa 4 years ago. Do you know Ms. Yvette? She changed my life.
  • When I saw 14 AmeriCorps members fill the entire library with students who were working to get in all their missing work before the end of the marking period. 

I was inspired when I saw a student, who 3 years ago didn't speak any English, wore her hair over her face and never asked questions. She was literally sinking away. At Overfelt I saw her writing intricate algebraic expressions in a high level math class, writing in English and asking questions in English. Her hair was pulled back and the confidence in her eyes was incredible. In that moment I saw, again, the ripple effect a City Year jacket is having - and -  has had on her for the past 3 years - like we have on so many of our students. 

More than anything it was the feeling of being on the NVIDIA team at Overfelt HS for a day that was the most humbling of all. There are so many things AmeriCorps members will do in this world - so many incredible, life changing, social justice bending acts of idealism - that I felt lucky to be part of it for just one day. 

As we prepare for Opening Day tomorrow where we will celebrate the official launch of the 2015-16 service year, I want to say thank you to this year's 138 AmeriCorps members. This work is hard, the challenges are real, so many people have given up on these students, and so many people have given up on this system; THANK YOU for being a true change maker. Thank you for choosing to pick up the torch with me to tackle the seemingly impossible challenges that our students and schools face. Every day you're in a students life, I promise you're making it better. On behalf of the City Year community and 7,000+ students you'll work with this year, thank you for your service.

Thank you for being a true changemaker.
With peace and love,
Toni

 

 

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