Member Spotlight: City Year Boston

May 2017 Member Spotlight: City Year Boston

SNAPSHOT:

Elevator Speech: City Year is dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. In Boston, City Year recruits, trains, and deploys AmeriCorps members into service in 21 schools across the Boston Public Schools (BPS), where they reach more than 10,000 students every day and collectively serve more than 450,000 hours over the academic year. Diverse teams of City Year Boston AmeriCorps members serve full-time in schools, providing school-wide and individualized support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success. City Year Boston focuses its interventions in three key areas, helping students improve their performance in attendance, positive behavior, and coursework in math and English Language Arts. City Year Boston is part of a national network working in 27 urban communities across the U.S. A proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network, City Year Boston’s service is made possible by support from the Corporation for National and Community Service, school district partnerships, and private philanthropy from corporations, foundations and individuals.

NPEA Member Type: Affiliate Member
Interviewee: Heather Jenkins (Managing Director, Service Impact & Evaluation)
Contact Information: hjenkins1@cityyear.org, (617) 927-2408
Location(s): Boston, MA
Year Founded: 1988
Staffing: At the City Year Boston office, there are 65 FTEs, a small number of part-time and/or seasonal staff, and a robust network of more than 265 AmeriCorps Members.
Students Served: City Year Boston serves approximately 10,000 students in grades 3-10 across 21 Boston Public Schools.
“About Us”: About Us, Leadership, In the News, Our Work (Approach, Impact, Corps)
Get Involved: Contact Us, Apply Now, Careers, Our Partners, Volunteer, Donate
Main Website: https://www.cityyear.org/boston
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat


INTERVIEW:

Click on the links below to learn more, or scroll down to read the full interview.

Q: Please provide a brief overview of City Year Boston.
A: Using a team of 265 near-peer, AmeriCorps member mentors in 21 of Boston’s most under-served schools to address specific areas that lead to students dropping out, City Year Boston seeks to ‘close the gap’ is educational access. To help students stay on track to graduate, City Year Boston partners with schools to focus on attendance monitoring and engagement, social-emotional support, and tutoring in math and English. Using City Year’s “Whole School Whole Child” model, the Boston site’s initiatives include increasing and expanding school-wide activities and events, opportunities for appreciation and recognition of students, and whole class and individualized support in ELA and math courses. The program provides high school and college graduates who enlist in the Corps with six weeks of rigorous, research-based training on the City Year service model, Boston Public Schools (structure and culture), and educational access issues, including specific content on ELA, math, behavior management, trauma response, and developing growth mindsets prior to service and then throughout the academic year. The Corps then works intensively with approximately 10,000 students in grades 3-10 to ensure they are empowered to grow and develop, and ultimately to graduate from high school.

To give you some sense of what a typical day looks like, once they are in full-time service, after completing training, City Year Boston corps members arrive at their schools before classes start to get organized for the day and welcome students and staff to the school. The teams engage in lively “morning greetings” at the entrance of their schools to set the tone for a positive, productive school day. After morning greeting, corps members will go to their assigned class to support their partner teachers for the day. Corps members provide Tier 1, whole class support, and Tier 2, targeted individual and small group support. In their Tier 1 role, corps members will assist their partner teachers during teacher-led instruction and classroom work. This involves circulating to make sure students are on task, providing behavioral redirection, and answering questions. In their Tier 2 role, corps members will work with individual students or small groups to provide students with additional support, reinforce certain skills, and check students’ understanding of content.

At dismissal, our school-based teams facilitate extended day programming. We make a distinction here between extended day and after-school, as our corps and staff are able to carry their learning and observations from the classroom into the extended day program. For example, when helping a 4th grade student with ELA work, their corps member is able to use his/her knowledge of the classroom and the student to maximize the extended day time. There are four components of our extended day program: snack, homework help/academic support, physical activity, and enrichment (e.g. arts and crafts, dance, social justice, teambuilding, leadership development). Back to top.

Q: Please share a little more about the history of City Year Boston. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of your organization?
A: City Year is a national education-focused non-profit organization founded here in Boston in 1988 by Michael Brown and Alan Khazei, and we are very proud of our program’s history. City Year began as a community service program broadly focused on social justice, where program participants were eager to roll up their sleeves, partner with schools, and help them with whatever was needed (e.g. repainting a classroom, building bookshelves) to create more welcoming spaces in schools and communities. Inspired by a visit to City Year during his 1992 Presidential Campaign, then Governor Bill Clinton pledged his support for City Year and national service. Early in his first term, President Clinton created AmeriCorps through the National Community Service Trust Act of 1993. Since the program’s formal inception in 1994, more than 1 million AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1.4 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing more than 2.3 million volunteers for the organizations they serve. Currently AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 Americans in intensive service each year at 21,600 unique sites, including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

While the AmeriCorps program continues to develop steadily, in the last decade, City Year has narrowed its focus to specifically address educational access issues within the communities it serves. With the support of our AmeriCorps members, City Year endeavors to ensure that at least 80% of ninth graders in the high schools we serve move to tenth grade on track to graduate on time. Currently, City Year works with more than 3,000 Corps members at 28 sites in over 300 schools total across the U.S., as well as in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Back to top.

Q: Speaking of growth, please share what plans City Year Boston has for its future. What next steps and goals are you focused on?
A:
 City Year Boston is heavily focused on improving the quality of our service, increasing the impact of our work with our students, and maintaining a profoundly positive experience for our AmeriCorps members and staff. We are creating systems and processes to better educate our Corps members in math and ELA intervention strategies, attendance coaching, and students’ social-emotional development, all with an eye toward ensuring culturally responsive practices are utilized. Concurrently, we are revamping our staff education to better align with the education that we are providing our Corps members and to develop strong school partnerships. Back to top.

Q: NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does City Year Boston currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: We track several forms of data to meet external reporting goals for the Boston Public Schools district, our board, donors and AmeriCorps. This data reflects the actual time that AmeriCorps members spend with students (our goal is 15 hours of quality intervention time with each student) and the outcomes that students achieve based on that time (we use a rigorous expected growth measure) in ELA, math, attendance, and behavior. While this data is collected for reporting purposes, we use the data to inform programming as well. We will revise our education for Corps and staff based on what this data tells us about the effectiveness of what we do and how we do it.

We also track staff and Corps satisfaction data, as well as partner school satisfaction data. This is gathered through start of year and end of year surveys. This data is used to revise Corps and staff education, training, coaching and development, as well as systems and procedures that need adjustment to better support an inclusive work environment. Additionally, this year the new Managing Director for Service Impact and Evaluation conducted Corps and staff focus groups, as well as partner school leader interviews, to gather data for strategic planning. All of the data gathered this year will be used to initiate a Continuous Quality Improvement framework to ensure regular, thorough assessment of the quality of our work in schools and our development of staff and Corps.

To track this data, we use a Salesforce platform, as well as our cloud-based sharing platform, “cyConnect.” Back to top.

Q: What challenges, if any, has your organization encountered in college access work? What has City Year Boston learned from these experiences?
A: While our focus remains on creating empowering, academically rich spaces and communities in schools to address specific areas that lead to students dropping out—and we know intensive work in grades 3-10 meets this need—we also recognize that students often still seek our support in 11th grade, 12th grade, college, and beyond. Especially when 11th and 12th graders drop in to our extended learning day spaces in schools, we need to be able to responsibly and diligently provide whatever help we can. Thus, we have been working on creating resource guides and additional materials while we further define and redefine our approach to this work. Back to top.

A: With regard to partnerships and collaborations, how has City Year Boston developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further City Year Boston’s work?
A: We are in partnership with the Boston Public Schools District to provide service to those schools most in need of the support we offer. We are currently in 21 Boston Public Schools and work closely with school leaders and partner teachers. Additionally, we collaborate with other organizations, such as YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, and Boston After School & Beyond in our extended day programs. Further, we work with colleges, universities and businesses in the Boston area to secure volunteer support for events and professional development opportunities for our staff and Corps. You can see a list of our partners (including partner schools), as well as university partners for our alumni,on our website.

Please email hjenkins1@cityyear.org if you are interested in learning more about partnering with City Year Boston. Back to top.

Q: Heather, please provide a brief summary of how you came to be the Managing Director, Service Impact & Evaluation at City Year Boston. What insights have you gained from your professional trajectory?
A: 
I earned my B.A. in psychology from the University of Rochester, an M.S. in Education from Medaille College, and a Ph.D. in sociology of education from the University at Buffalo, and I am also New York State certified in school and district leadership from Canisius College. My career began at the Nichols School (a private school in Buffalo), where I worked as the Diversity Director for five years. I then served as an Adjunct Instructor at the University at Buffalo (and for some months at Buffalo State College), before I found college access work most directly at Buffalo Prep, an organization still very, very near and dear to my heart. I worked at Buffalo Prep for six years as Director of High School Prep and Director of Academics & Program Evaluation. One of the hardest moments of my life was saying goodbye to my Buffalo Prep students at the incredible event my colleagues threw for me – I think I cried for 4 hours straight!

But during my sixth year at Buffalo Prep, my youngest received her college acceptance and scholarship package, and I realized I needed to prioritize my professional growth. I wanted to use the skills I developed there to make a bigger impact. I decided to look for opportunities outside of Buffalo, which at the time was the only place I had ever lived. When I saw the posting for this role at City Year Boston, I applied immediately. I knew, at that moment, that City Year Boston was where I was meant to be for next phase of my professional life. Thankfully, through my work at Buffalo Prep, my work in middle school, high school, and postsecondary education, and my background in research and evaluation, I created a profile that City Year Boston found appealing. Within four weeks of accepting the offer, I was packed up and on the road to Boston. It was one of the riskiest decisions I have ever made in my life, and by far one of the best.

When I came to City Year Boston, there had never been a person with an education background in this role (Managing Director, Service Impact & Evaluation). To be sure, the people before me did incredible work in increasing and measuring the success of City Year Boston’s impact. But this role represented a really special opportunity for me to think differently and innovate by drawing on my education background, combined with my research and evaluation experience. In addition, I appreciated City Year Boston’s focus on imbedding social justice and culturally responsive practices into our day-to-day lives and work, and most importantly to helping everyone in our community truly feel good about and valued in their work.

If I had to give advice, I would share these three lessons I have learned. The first would be to establish a culture of data and feedback, one where the data and feedback are not simply collected, but are also analyzed and utilized for program improvement. We must be willing to examine that which is not as effective as it could be in order to do better and be better. The second would be—particularly for large organizations—to ensure systems are in place for community and team-building. People need to feel connected to the organization and to one another to be effective, engaged, and fulfilled. The third would be for those in leadership roles to seek out and eagerly accept and utilize critique. If we do not actively ask for it, and create a culture of acceptance, we will not get the important feedback that we need to best serve our staff and those who are served by our organization. We also will not be able to be highly effective in our roles, and as leaders more broadly. Back to top.

Q: How has City Year Boston benefited from membership in NPEA?
A: While personally I worked with NPEA for many years at Buffalo Prep (including as part of the Pilot Project for NPEA Data Counts), City Year and City Year Boston are new to NPEA, and we look forward to become active members of the collective group. We have already been able to list job postings through NPEA, which has given us greater access to a high quality, diverse applicant pool. We are also looking forward to the annual conference in Boston this year, and to the array of professional development opportunities available though NPEA. Back to top.