As I’ve settled into my new job, I’ve encountered only one major downside: I’ve realized that my former students in Mississippi won’t get all the services they need (and deserve) primarily because their school lacks capacity for various reasons. However, it’s not a matter as simple as plopping down a City Year team. In order to improve conditions for our children in need, we need collaboration amongst adults at all levels. Whereas there was rampant misalignment in goals and priorities down in my former district, the Boston Public Schools and City Year Boston partnership has demonstrated what’s possible as the nation strives to find ways to foster opportunity for under-resourced communities. It’s not perfect yet, but let me give an overview of what can be accomplished when a diverse set of citizens come together to improve conditions for students.
This time last week, I was relaxing after a day of service in Boston. Opening Day was designed to introduce the 2012-2013 CYB corps to the Boston Community through what we do best: taking action. Yes, it incorporated the typical aspects of ceremonial addresses, which were wonderful, but even more inspiring was the way nearly 300 corps members teamed up with just as many volunteers to transform the facilities at one of our partner schools in Dorchester. A lot of people and organizations talk that talk about “collaboration” and “inclusivity,” but as a newcomer to City Year, I was blown away by the “all hands on deck” attitude on display last Saturday as the citizens involved truly embodied a spirit of “Service To A Cause Greater Than Self.”
At the same time, this highly coordinated effort didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Too often, I’ve seen folks believe that hope and prayer alone will help our children succeed. Not so. The achievement gap is real; the detrimental effects of poverty can’t be merely wished away. Having a sense of hope and possibility is crucial, but at the end of the day, changing the trajectory for our nation’s children requires real blood, sweat, and tears. Fortunately, we had 99% perspiration at our service day and the only red was the powerful red of the 265 City Year Bombers.
As I stated above, creating the capacity for 600+ citizens to work to improve a school doesn’t happen serendipitously. For folks in other communities wondering how to affect real change, here is a brief run-down of the players who collaborated to make the day a success.
- AmeriCorps: the federal support and funding is crucial to enabling the City Year team to recruit a diverse, highly talented corps of 17-24 year olds seeking to make a difference in the lives of others. Politicians such as Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney have strongly supported our efforts; many continue to do so through legislation and campaigns such as ServiceNation.
- Boston Public Schools: along with the state of Massachusetts, BPS has made bold decisions and shown commitment to improving all of its schools. This includes dedicating additional resources to designated “turnaround” schools, all of which are getting a City Year team this year.
- DMC School Leadership and Staff: leadership matters. Strong leadership matters. I had the chance to speak with the principal at the school where we served and I appreciated his wisdom about partnering with City Year. Again, leadership matters and his thoughtful embrace of City Year Boston is a fundamental piece of their transformative effort. Teachers also needed to be on board as it’s not always easy to welcome such a high-energy outside entity into your professional space.
- MBTA: the T’s support of CM’s and staff is huge when it comes to transporting ourselves to service.
- Corporate Sponsors: people often have mixed feelings about corporations, as do I, but I admire the way our sponsors not only donate to our efforts, but most also engage in service alongside the corps and volunteers. In this way, we promote a collective ethic of national service, which is in many ways priceless.
- Families, Friends, & Alumni: we had volunteers from the community and our corps’ friends and families serving with us. Since “it takes a village,” I was thrilled to see how motivated various people were to contribute. Moreover, this was a great way to engage with our alumni, who still have a strong ethic of service down to the core.
- CY Team: the movement to attain educational equity has a lot of people working behind the scenes who don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Our Boston Civic Engagement Team worked extremely long days (16 hours!) for weeks leading up to the event planning the 35+ projects, from weeding to restoring the basketball court, to building wood benches, to painting teachers classrooms, and more! When combined with the logistical pieces of our office-based staff, I absolutely marveled at the whole school, whole child wizardry in action on Opening Day.
- Our Corps: I remain inspired by the idealism of the people I get to work with every day. We are going to do great things this year- I can’t wait!
As for me, I worked on painting a new Teachers’ Room, and I ended the day thinking: “I wish I had space like this when I was a teacher.” From both a functional and a morale standpoint, City Year has already set up the school for a more successful year than the last. Bottom line is as follows: “The grass ain’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it.”
We can’t sit around and wait for the stars to align, praying that conditions will improve for our kids. That’s not how change happens. Change happens when a small group of dedicated people comes together to take action. In order to make our students first globally, we must put students first AND collaborate always to ensure progress. We’re creating a movement and we’re impatient. We don’t wait around for things to get better; here at City Year Boston, we make better happen. [see more photos here]
Anthony Britt is a City Year Boston Program Manager. This post represents his own perspective and not necessarily those of City Year or AmeriCorps.