City Year Red Jackets Changing the World

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Photo by Courtesy of City Year
City Year corps member Kate Mitchell tutoring her student and having fun
City Year corps member Kate Mitchell tutoring her student and having fun

Have you seen the young people in City Year red jackets around town? Ever wonder what they do and who they are? I sat down with Jeff Franco, upper Georgetown resident and Executive Director of City Year Washington, D.C. to learn more about the organization.

City Year is an education-focused nonprofit that aims to keep students in school and on track to graduate. Jeff heads up the organization, which recruits 160 of those young people in the red jackets – called corps members – to spend an entire year volunteering full-time as tutors and mentors in a DC Public School. This year, City Year corps members are working in 14 schools and reaching 4,200 students.

Jeff came to City Year four years ago with experience in business development and project management, having worked at for-profit companies such as Voxiva and Corporate Executive Board. Jeff had never worked at a nonprofit organization before, but was immediately drawn in by the vast needs of Washington, DC’s education system and the strategic way City Year was making a difference. You’ve all probably heard of the dismal graduation rates in most large urban cities, but you may not be aware of how dire the situation is right here in Washington, DC. What’s particularly striking is that some of the worst graduation rates in the country are east of the Anacostia River. In Wards 7 and 8, where City Year predominately works, College and Career Connections reports that 6 out of 10 students who enter ninth grade will drop out.

City Year’s approach to curbing the dropout crisis is based on Johns Hopkins University research that states that as early as the sixth grade, students at risk of dropping out can be identified by three early warning indicators – poor attendance, disruptive behavior, and course failure in math and English. Corps members target students displaying one or more of these early warning indicators and work with those students all year to get them back on track, through interventions like literacy and math tutoring, attendance and behavior coaching, and after-school programming. City Year partners with the teachers and principals at each partner school to ensure students are receiving the right interventions at the right time.

Corps members are uniquely able to make a difference because they are at the school all day for the entire year, from when the first student arrives to when the last student leaves the afterschool program. Corps members, all between the ages of 17-24, are also able to serve as near-peer role models – they are old enough to be respected and taken seriously, yet young enough to relate to students in a way that is sometimes more difficult for adults. The corps members’ dedication is something that motivates Jeff to show up to work every day, even when the hours can be long and the work grueling. “The connection corps members have with the students they work with is inspiring,” said Jeff. “I am continually amazed at how corps members go above and beyond, doing things like taking their students on field trips and helping them apply to high school and college. It really shows me how invested corps members are in the success of their students.”    

During Jeff’s tenure, City Year has grown from serving in 4 schools to 14 schools. This growth has been a result of the impact corps members have had on the students they serve. For example, last year, 93% of elementary school students that received literacy tutoring improved their standardized test scores and 56% improved at least one whole proficiency level. City Year also planned over 55 school-based events last year, such as literacy and math nights, which engaged over 660 parents and family members in their children’s educations. 

It seems only fitting that City Year’s tag line is “give a year. change the world.” That’s just what City Year corps members are doing every day. Check out City Year and see how you can partner with City Year to help change the world.

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Gail Wilson-Giarratano

City Year was built with the conviction that one person can make a difference. Education reform is attainable goal. The vision far elected and appointed officials, the dedication of our educators, and investments by our corporate partners is strengthened by the work of trained volunteers in our classrooms. education reform is a powerful place for service.