“Students who exhibit at least one of three off-track indicators–poor attendance, unsatisfactory behavior, course failure in math and English–as early as the 6th grade–have less than a 25% chance of graduating from high school. Fifty percent of our nation’s dropouts come from 12% (2,000) of our nation’s high schools.” These findings are from City Year, the nonprofit that is showing positive results in reversing dropout trends in the schools with the biggest problems. The organization leverages the contributions it receives from AmeriCorps for a two-to-one match from corporations and individuals to cover its budget. AmeriCorps is funded by our tax dollars.
Okay, so we can identify who will drop out of school, we know how to put these kids on track to graduate, and it will only cost a teeny tiny amount of tax dollars. But beyond having tender hearts, why should we care if kids graduate from high school?
Because according to City Year, high school dropouts are three times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed, high school dropouts are eight times more likely to be in jail or prison than high school graduates, barely 50% of all African American students and less than 66% of Hispanic students will graduate with their class, and the more than 12 million students projected to drop out over the next decade will cost the nation $3 trillion in the coming decade.
So, here’s the deal: Invest a little now, or pay a whole lot later. It doesn’t take much to imagine two alternate futures.
How does City Year accomplish so much with so little? City Year’s 2,000 corps members, ages 17-24, provide the mentoring, tutoring, and role modeling to elementary, middle, and high school kids in our public schools in the 20 cities where kids are most at-risk for dropping out. Corps members are at school to greet students first thing in the morning, and corps members stay after school to help kids with their homework. In fact, to help reverse the dropout rate, corps members track down students who aren’t showing up for school, bring them to school, and interest students in staying in school. According to Diahann Billings-Burford, Chief Service Officer for the City of New York, who spoke at a recent City Year New York event, corps members nearly eliminated absenteeism at a South Bronx school early last fall.
“We’ve cracked the code,” explained Michael Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of City Year, in a private interview with me. “Our unique assets are that our corps members are near peers to the students so they are natural mentors, they serve full time from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every school day, and they serve in teams providing a phalanx of support to the students.” Further, says Brown, “we use evidence-based practices to move the needle.” Brown is passionate and exuberant in describing City Year.
I can attest to the high energy, professionalism, and infectious ebullience that one encounters at every City Year event, activity, and meeting. At events, members are always in attendance to bear witness about their experiences and do loud, commanding team cheers to raise the house. I’ve spent time with Itai Dinour, Executive Director, City Year New York, and members of his team, who have been recognized for their extraordinary achievements in some of the most challenging schools in NYC. And I’ve met with Jeff Franco, Executive Director, City Year Washington and his collaborator Michelle Rhee, when she was DC Schools Chancellor. Diana Koshel, Associate Board Chair, City Year New York recently hosted me at a Women’s Leadership event that was jam-packed with 300 of NYC’s most prominent and powerful women.
I get it that we need to make massive cuts to the federal budget. But our investment in City Year–funded through AmeriCorps–seems like a smart investment to me. Can we afford to sweep this away? Just like any budget, the devil is in the details.
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