Letting Go

These 10 months have been an exhilarating ride, filled with indescribable highs and a few devastating lows. The changing altitude has left me breathless, and as the last few weeks of service are approaching, it is almost time to catch my breath and gaze back at what I have accomplished.

The knowledge that I have 10 mere days to spend with my class before we part ways forever brings me to my knees. Saying goodbye to my 20 high school freshmen—students I have tutored, mentored, defended, supported, loved with all of my heart—will be the greatest challenge of this immensely challenging year. I now see with intense clarity how fleeting my entrance into my students’ lives has been. I first met them not 9 months ago, and now that they finally trust me completely, I am leaving. My kids will still face the same barriers, both in and out of school, that I spent a year trying to help them overcome. And until thousands more volunteers devote part of their lives to changing the lives of others, these obstacles will still impose upon millions of kids across America.

Still, I will go to Boston University next year and begin my studies as a Sociology & Political Science major. I hope to continue fighting for the right to a proper education. Besides, I’m not saying goodbye to my students forever. I promised them I will be back in Columbus in May 2017, just in time for their high school graduation.

— Micah Baum, First Year Corps Member, the Chase Team at Mifflin High School


Beloved Community

Dear City Year Columbus 2013-14,

You have spent this school year putting students first- tutoring, mentoring, caring for them. When your schedule piled up to overwhelming, when tragedy bulldozed your hopes, you took time to take care of you. And through all that, you’ve been collaborating, relying on each each other, being real with your teammates and showing grace, building trust. I’m encouraged by the community we’ve created this year, and I want to thank you for all the ways you’ve cared for me.

Though there are many who deserve personal recognition, I want to take a moment to focus out on the culture we’ve built among ourselves. The relationships we have with our teams and as a corps didn’t simply crop up out of nowhere like weeds and wildflowers. While it could be said that our support system is organic, I want to recognize how well its been cultivated. While I value the natural, effortless friendships that have blossomed, I have a deep gratitude for the work that has gone into sustaining a diverse ecosystem of personalities and leadership styles. When I speak from my experience this year, I do so knowing that I only have a small piece of the whole picture, and that my piece is connected to many others.

This year has not been easy. I’m not alone when I say that there were days I wanted to give up on my students. I’m not the only corps member who’s felt like a failure, powerless to bring about any meaningful change. My team is not unique in having lost a teammate. My student was not the first to be victimized. I have experienced frustration, anger, apathy, disappointment disrespect, weariness, and grief, but I was never required to walk through these experiences alone.

After I had a tough week, members of my IJ group reached out to me just to check in. When I had transportation issues, corps members from every team ensured that I could get wherever I needed to be for service. In every challenging situation, I had teammates who were willing to talk things through and find solutions. When I asked for feedback, I received genuine feedback. Thank you for your professionalism, your honesty, and your comradery. It takes intentionally and humility to build a culture with these attributes, and I am grateful for the effort you’ve invested to make City Year a place where I have been able to grow so much.


— Ben Jenkins, First Year Corps Member at Mifflin Middle School

I do it for the kids

I do it for the kids.

 Superheroes of Victoria

I recently attended a final interview for a teacher preparation program. I drove 7 hours, post Pi Day event, all the way to D.C. for a chance at becoming one of the most skilled teachers in the country. Something I heard during the question and answer segment of my interview has been on my mind ever since.

One of the current residents said that if you think you’re going to be a hero, and save all of these kids, then you need to reevaluate your motivations for pursuing a career in urban education. The words struck me as harsh but exceedingly true.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I do what I do with City Year for my students. I care deeply about each and every one of them. City Year is tough. This year has pushed me to my limits, but each time I want to give up, I think about the faces of the kids I work with. I come to school to watch them progress and to have the honor of being a support for their growth.

I do not see myself as a savior. I am not a hero. My students are heroes. My students are the most amazing people I’ve ever met. They inspire me, and though I tutor and mentor them, they teach me so much. So when I reflect on the words I heard at this interview, I find myself double checking my values and my motivations.

The state of education, in general, is in desperate need of reform. Low income, underserved, disadvantaged, urban schools in particular need change. I believe that education is a right and that every child, no matter where they come from, deserves a quality education. I believe that change in a community comes from within.

I think about City Year and our ability to partner with members of community and community organizations to create sustainable change. I can only speak for myself, but I am not swooping into Linden on a white horse. That isn’t what anyone needs. My kids don’t need to be saved. No, I am a very small cog in the immense mechanical organism of change. I form relationships, help raise some grades and test scores, and hopefully make school a better place for my kids. Maybe they’ll remember me when they’re older, maybe they won’t. But they will never forget the diploma they get 4 years from now.


Darcy McCarthy, first year Corps Member, the AT&T team at Linden McKinley STEM Academy





Life Before Morning Circle

7 ways to make the most of your morning


By 6:45am, City Year corps members are ready to serve with an open mind, positive can-do, and a soul generated by love. But life before 6:45 can be rough. Fortunately, there are things we can do to prime ourselves for a more powerful, more enjoyable day of service.

1. Prepare beforehand.


Cut down on the amount of time you need in the morning by taking care of business before you go to bed. You can wake up to a prepared lunch ready to go from the fridge, and even a prepared breakfast (you can cook oatmeal overnight in a crockpot, for example). Take a few extra minutes in the morning to grind your coffee, pack your backpack, and press you pants (you do press your pants, right?). This step will free up time for some extra sleep, or the time you’ll need to implement these other helpful tips.

2. Set an alarm that works for you.


Some people need to be gently roused from sleep by soft, bright music like subtle rays of sonic sunshine. Others need an air raid siren without a snooze button. Experiment to find a system that gets you up best so you can be awake on time and in a good mood.

3. Hydrate!


Hydrogen hydroxide is the best substance to wake up your mind and body. The caffeine in coffee will have a stimulant effect on your brain, but coffee dehydrates the body and can make a morning even more difficult. Whether you drink coffee or not, water is essential to life, especially life before morning circle!

4. Get loose!


Cats stretch every day because cats know things. We could learn a lot from cats. Stretching is a great way to wake up more fully. You can up the ante by doing some calisthenics, or go varsity by making it to the gym before service (your team will be impressed).

5. Get Centered.


Mental and spiritual health are important aspects of self-care. Take a few minutes each morning to pray or meditate. Pausing to breathe and know where and how you exist can make a big difference in your disposition, giving you a foundation for confidence.

6. Eat Breakfast.


Cars and buses don’t run without fuel. Bodies and minds don’t either. Nobody’s got the time or metabolism for eggs benedict every day, but breakfast should be a priority. Find something quick and delicious, make a healthy smoothie to go, or refer back to point 1.

7. Get the sleep you need.


Bedtimes aren’t just for kids. Setting a hard deadline to be in bed can be part of a healthy adult rhythm. Take a minute to think about how much rest you need and make that rest a priority. This might involve some sacrifice, but being well-rested will help keep you healthy, productive and positive.

— Ben Jenkins, first year corps member at Mifflin Middle School

A Starfish Story

The first time I met with this student, he would not look at me. We stood there in the hallway, and he looked at the wall, the ceiling, the floor. He nodded and shook his head. He answered in monosyllables.

This student is on my focus list for problems with behavior, academics, and attendance, so he had D’s, F’s, and suspensions last year. However, he is bright. He just has trouble keeping himself from goofing off with his friends.

Last week, report cards came out, and my student had all B’s and C’s. He had passed every class, and I was so proud and happy for him! As soon as I saw him, I went up to give congratulations. I told him that he should be proud of himself and that he had done a great job.

“No,” he said. I asked him what he meant.

“Those grades aren’t good enough,” he responded.

“Oh, what grades do you want?” I asked.

“A’s and B’s.”

I somehow managed to keep myself from jumping up and down, and we had a conversation about what he needs to do to get there. He gave me thoughtful answers, and we made a plan together.

The next period, he was back to smacking his friends and running around the classroom. But everything has changed, because now I know that he, himself, wants to get there.

– Cora Henry, first year corps member of the CSX Team at South High School

We Can Do It

cat out of bed

Question: Am I the only one ready to dip out on City Year? 10 months didn’t seem like much as I was signing the papers in the beginning– But ever since we’ve returned from break, I’ve been ready to drop my red gear off at the office and throw up the deuces.

I’m not sure what it is, but it is becoming extremely difficult for me to get out of bed each morning, much less have energy to do boots and shoes (with a smile on my face and a heart full of grace). You know it’s bad when corps members from other schools are texting you to make sure that you’re up and ready to serve (shout out to Marvin and Mariah for that).

tired cat

I’ve been told that some corps members don’t return after the holiday break and I can truly see why. The hours are long, leaving you with not much energy (and daylight savings doesn’t help). Most of the time you feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, not only with students and failing grades, but with teachers, administration, and policies (you’d think this would change after five months, but nope). So much is asked of you, and you really begin questioning yourself, your abilities, and your drive. Most of all, you ask why you decided to give a year to serve in a school.

I believe that my perspective is different from other corps members because I’m slated to start Teach For America in June. I have been feeling discouraged and second guessing my ability to change lives and make a difference through education based on my City Year struggles. I only have a few months left to put a dent in goals that I have for myself, my students, and the school.


Last year, when I accepted offers from both TFA and CY, I just knew the next three years of my life would be set… But now I catch myself thinking about a change. Last week I went on about four different walk-and-talks with teachers and administrators just to talk about where I am and where I want to be. One thing I can say is that I have a great support system with the staff at my school. They allow me to come in their classroom to go in and let have. They deal with what I deal with on a daily basis and face what I will face in Mississippi with Teach For America.

The other day, I told one of my students how I was feeling and he told me that he would’ve dropped out if I hadn’t been there to motivate him. A senior came up to me in the hall today and asked me to help her study for her ACT test. I’m reminded why I’m at Mifflin and the importance of what I do and my drive to do it. I’m there to inspire, but there are times when I need inspiration too. I’m not one to just give up on anything, but man I’ve been feeling it lately. I know that we are the most consistent people in most of our students’ lives and we will only let them down if we leave unexpectedly. These next five months will truly be a challenge for me to get through, but my students are my inspiration.

— Virginia Ivey, first year corps member of the Chase Team at Mifflin High School

MLK and our Students

Image by National Geographic

As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and commemorate his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in our schools this month and next, let’s not miss the opportunity to educate students on his purpose and the meaning of his speech– Freedom, justice, and equality. Hearing recordings and seeing videos may simply not be enough for our younger students, who are very much out of touch with the reality that was segregation in the United States just decades ago. While we know that many students can recite phrases, if not paragraphs, from the speech, let’s ensure that they also get Dr. King’s gist of fairness and togetherness. Although the specific issues Dr. King sought to combat may not be as overt today, civil rights issues persist as civil liberties are still being denied every day in the United States. Facilitated discussions and guided reflections following readings and viewings of the speech could really help students process and make meaning of the words. Only then can they apply the message to contemporary civil rights issues and contribute to the comprehensive fulfillment of Dr. King’s notarial dream.

— Pierre Lucien, first year corps member of the ATT Team at South High School