Serving to Learn and Learning to Serve: Recent Alumni Reflections on City Year
At the end of each school year, City Year celebrates the contributions and achievements of our most recent cohort of AmeriCorps members, a remarkable group of young leaders who have dedicated a year of their lives to serving in schools across the country. In June, 2,500+ City Year AmeriCorps members officially became alumni, joining a diverse and vibrant community more than 32,000 strong who continue to strengthen and serve the neighborhoods and professions where they live and work.
During the 2018-2019 academic year, each City Year AmeriCorps member served at least 1,700 hours, working full-time alongside teachers to support students in systemically under-resourced schools. We know, and studies have shown, that City Year alums continue to give back long after their year of service is completed by embracing civic responsibilities and leadership skills, modeling a lifelong practice of service to others.
City Year alums are 45% more likely to be civically engaged or belong to a community organization than their peers, and our alums go on to serve and lead across a wide array of professions, including business, education, government, law, medicine and nonprofits, to name a few.
“City Year was one of the most eye-opening, life-changing experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” said Terrell Garrett, City Year Washington, D.C. ’11.
Terrell is now Director of Teacher Support at OneGoal, a program where high school juniors and seniors receive support with the college application process and throughout their first year of college. The program’s members are “students who typically wouldn’t receive traditional resources in terms of access to scholarship programs or other forms of support,” Terrell said.
“I’m helping students to seize opportunities and am opening doors for them, similar to my service in my time at City Year,” Terrell said. “City Year was an amazing experience that opened my eyes to the world of education and systemic racism.”
Explore the impact of City Year's 32,000+ Alumni.
While City Year’s work in schools is focused on supporting students and communities, the growth and development of AmeriCorps members is equally central to the organization’s guiding principle: belief in the power of young people. Of the 2,543 AmeriCorps members who completed their end-of-year survey this spring:
- 92% reported they saw their year of service as a strong learning experience
- 85% reported they were able to grow and develop their talents during their year of service
- 83% reported an increased awareness of their own talents and skills through their experience at City Year
Here are some reflections from a few of our newest alums.
City Year as a Path Toward Self-Knowledge and Empowerment
Hawai’i native Jessica Butay loved her first year with City Year Tulsa so much, she signed up for a second year and is now planning to stay in her new hometown. Jessica will be working as a fourth-grade teacher at a charter public school in Tulsa this fall.
City Year taught me to challenge myself and go outside my comfort zone. Personally, one of those challenges was public speaking. It seems scary at first, but once you take that first step outside of your personal bubble, a whole world of opportunities and experiences opens up to you.
Like Jessica, many AmeriCorps members find themselves embracing the unknown, pushing the limits of their own expectations and discovering their unique strengths and ongoing opportunities for personal growth. Some AmeriCorps members even build new lives in the cities they served in. A third of City Year AmeriCorps members who were surveyed this spring reported that they planned to remain in either the city or the state where they served after their service year—just one way our alumni continue to benefit communities across the country.
It’s not just city living that compels these young leaders to stick around—it’s also the people they meet along the way. They develop important bonds with the students they mentor, the parents who entrust their children to them and the teachers who value the support corps members provide. AmeriCorps members build strong bonds with each other; some fall in love and marry; others build lifelong friendships and keep in touch even at great distances. All of these strong circles of support reinforce confidence, teamwork and a sense of connectedness and belonging in our AmeriCorps members and alums—the same social and emotional competencies they strive to nurture in the students they serve.
City Year as a Way to Make an Impact
Despite how challenging service can be at times, 91% of new alumni said they believe that they “had a positive impact on the learning and development” of their students.
Rebecca Charles, City Year Philadelphia ’19, shared why it was so important to her to help create fun and innovative learning environments that promote students’ confidence and belonging.
“For a lot of students, school is just a place where you're getting yelled at, suspended or kicked out of class—a place where you’re constantly getting in trouble,” Rebecca said. “For others, school is a place you don’t want to be because of bullying or simply because the learning experience isn’t as engaging as it could be.”
During her service in a Philadelphia K-8 school, Rebecca helped her students develop strategies to help navigate those challenges, deepen their in-school connections and expand opportunities for learning.
“It's hard to see immediate results with students, especially in eighth grade,” she says. “But you can see it in the very small, everyday things—like when one of my students raises their hand to ask questions in class because that's something we worked on together or when one decides to hold their tongue instead of saying something that might be hurtful. It’s the small things that might be hard for someone to measure, but I can see the impact.”
Rebecca has decided to pursue her passion for youth development work and one day hopes to work in education policy. She entered Columbia University’s master’s in social work program this fall.
City Year as an Invitation to Pursue Social Justice
Eighty-five percent of new City Year alumni surveyed said they’ve gained a broader understanding of the connections between issues happening in the schools where they served and the larger context of the systems affecting these under-resourced communities. Because AmeriCorps members face the challenges head-on through their experiences in schools, they are often inspired to pursue careers in teaching or other public service fields that help address some of the issues encountered during their City Year. Some alumni carve their own service pathways and go on to explore the private sector, starting for-profit businesses that are rooted in social consciousness and equity building.
Elexsa Perello, City Year Orlando ’19, attended under-resourced schools herself and her passion for social justice compelled her to join City Year.
“I knew how much I would have benefited from having someone in my corner when I was going through some of the things that high school students go through in challenging school environments,” Elexsa said. “I wish I had had a City Year! For me, it was a personal decision to serve as a City Year AmeriCorps member in Orlando to support high school students in my own community.”
This year, Elexsa is exploring her interests in education and travel by teaching English in South Korea.
City Year Service Learning Applied in Career Exploration
When it comes to career readiness, 79% of our most recent alums said that their City Year experience helped them to develop key transferable skills, such as: resilience; the ability to remain calm, composed and productive under pressure; the ability to manage stress effectively in the heat of challenging moments; and the ability to adapt and demonstrate flexibility when navigating tough and rapidly shifting environments. Seventy-eight percent highlighted persistence and the ability to rise to difficult challenges as a key career readiness skill gained in service, while 70% believe that City Year helped them to better connect and communicate with others.
One of City Year's earliest AmeriCorps alums, Kanna Kuchala shares his reflections on the impact service has had on his life and his career.
All in all, serving with City Year places young leaders at the center of challenging work, serving in communities where they are encouraged to examine the edges of their own strengths and embrace challenges. It is this growth that many City Year alumni recall decades into their professional careers, if not for the rest of their lives.