City Year hosts national ‘dropout crisis’ awareness drive for Northwestern students

Stephanie Haines

National nonprofit organization City Year will host an awareness drive Monday at the Norris University Center to address the “dropout crisis” affecting schools nationwide.

A little more than half of Chicago Public Schools students graduate high school after four years, according to City Year.

In an effort to raise awareness, six current members of the group will hand out flyers about how students can get involved with volunteer work in front of Norris Bookstore.

“NU students have a lot to give back to Chicago students,” senior recruitment manager Stephanie Chavez said. “They are great candidates to serve a city.”

City Year has sites in 21 U.S. cities and mobilizes over 2,000 volunteers ages 17 to 24, Chavez said. Volunteers work as full-time tutors and mentors known as “corps members” for one or two years to help keep students in school.

Chicago alone has 145 corps members serving at seven elementary and nine high schools, Chavez said. City Year seeks to increase that to 300 members within the next two years to reach out to half of the high school dropouts in Chicago, she said.

William Walden, a third-year Northwestern law student, served in a Chicago elementary school from 2005 to 2007.

He said he heard about City Year while researching the Peace Corps for a year of service after he graduated. At City Year, Walden worked as a literacy development leader during school hours and a service development leader after school. The after-school leadership programs included creating community environmental projects and inviting speakers to promote civic engagement.

Walden said his favorite part of working with City Year was seeing his former students come back to school with developed reading skills and senses of civic duty. Now, as an aspiring labor attorney, Walden said he is confident that his project management and advocacy skills will prove valuable. Most importantly, he said he learned individuals at the local level are capable of small but important change.

“We are not creating the Garden of Eden,” Walden said. “We are just moving the dial.”

City Year works to move this dial through initiatives in and out of school. Volunteers renovate schools and create playspaces in Chicago. In-school projects include biannual rallies rewarding students for perfect attendance, one-on-one behavioral mentoring and tutoring in English and math, according to the City Year Chicago website.

SESP senior Austin Perry took a year off after his sophomore year to work as a reading tutor for freshmen at Chicago Talent Development Charter High School. The experience introduced him to Chicago’s social and educational problems, he said. The issue in Chicago, Perry said, isn’t students’ intelligence but rather schools’ lack of resources.

Because Chicago students are sent to public schools based on where they live, they may not receive academic challenges suited to their abilities, he said.

“I was struck by the students’ brilliance,” Perry said. “And it’s unfair that a systematic limitation doesn’t nourish it.”

Other than the chance to affect change, City Year offers volunteers tangible benefits. College volunteers are eligible for a $5,550 scholarship toward tuition at one of 45 participating graduate schools across the nation, Chavez said.

Chavez is working to get NU on the list of graduate school partners, she said. Furthermore, volunteers do not need a degree or a background in teaching to apply.

“You can get real world experience within biking distance,” Perry said. “There’s more education out there than you know.”

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