One of City Year's AmeriCorps members in action at the Stevenson Middle School’s College and Career Prep, before student learning went remote. Photo by David Valdez.

A year ago, school life seemed so ordinary – at Hollenbeck Middle School a team of dedicated mentors greeted students in the morning before they entered class. Roosevelt High School students met with tutors in the school’s quad area to talk about academic obstacles. Mendez High School students collaborated with their mentors to create an enriching after school learning program. Stevenson College and Career Preparatory students prepared for a Talent Show.

Little did I know that soon, I would have to break the news to the teams at these schools that we would be supporting students through online learning for the foreseeable future. This was a version of school service no one could have foreseen.

I serve as a Program Director at City Year, a national education-based nonprofit that places teams of AmeriCorps members in schools to serve as student success coaches who provide social emotional, attendance, and academic support to students. 

My goal is not only to connect students with mentors, tutors, and positive role models, but to leverage these passionate young professionals to empower the students of Boyle Heights, Westlake McArthur Park and East Los Angeles to strive for their dreams, goals, and aspirations.

“The pandemic has… reminded me of the power, passion and innovation in our students, teachers, families, administrators and every single one of our City Year AmeriCorps members.

Jeanny Marroquin

For the last year, the young adults who serve with City Year embraced creativity, innovation, and adaptability. Their commitment and passion for serving the Boyle Heights community showed impermeable in the face of the challenges the pandemic brought to their service year. City Year members transformed a traditional in-school service model into invigorating, fun, and highly engaging virtual spaces that motivated and inspired students.

At Mendez High School and Hollenbeck Middle School our City Year members supported students in virtual classrooms by answering their questions in the chat box, leading whole class warm-ups, conducting social emotional check-ins, and using breakout rooms to talk students through any challenges and navigate learning obstacles.

Due to the pandemic students found themselves experiencing increased feelings of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, isolation and disconnect, and our City Year mentors became part of students’ support systems. In breakout rooms students expressed their concerns about how the pandemic impacted their family, shared the joy of venturing safely outside their home, or simply connected with their City Year mentor. Students counted on their City Year members to not only answer their academic questions but look to them for empathy, encouragement, and empowerment.

Our teams have also had the opportunity to continue to be a resource outside the classroom, supporting community efforts.  In December, as our Stevenson College and Career Preparatory community eagerly anticipated the annual “Winter Wonderland,” a space of joy, laughter and connection, our City Year team launched the first ever “Virtual Winter Wonderland.” Over 100 students, parents, guardians, siblings, teachers, staff, and administrators enjoyed a moment of levity during the pandemic. We felt the magic of this event, from the initial collaboration with teachers, staff, parent center representatives and community-based organizations, through the day of the event and in the weeks thereafter.

At Roosevelt High School, the City Year team completed over 600 phone calls home since schools transitioned to distance learning. These phone calls to parents and guardians provided wellness check-ins, increased communication on student attendance, and ensured that all parents and guardians knew how to activate their Parent Portal. Our teams demonstrated to not only have the skills to lead attendance, social emotional and academic interventions, but the heart to understand that our communities need us to go above and beyond. These efforts unite our community.

Last March, each member in City Year had to  adapt, get creative, be solution-oriented and meet our community’s needs. A year later, our City Year members continue to show up for their students, teachers, and communities.

Whether schools continue to use virtual platforms, evolve into hybrid models, or reintegrate back into in-person learning, City Year’s AmeriCorps members will continue to meet the needs of our school communities. They will be ready to greet students with a warm smile, encouraging students to engage in class. They will provide the personalized support needed to close skill gaps that have been exacerbated by distance learning. As near-peer mentors, they will continue empowering students and offering a listening ear in challenging times. They will be ready to support school-wide initiatives to bridge resources and community needs.

The pandemic has been an opportunity for us to reimagine what education looks like and envision the possibilities inside and outside the physical classroom. It has reminded me of the power, passion and innovation in our students, teachers, families, administrators and every single one of our City Year AmeriCorps members. I know that regardless of what the future of education holds, we will serve our communities.

Sí se puede.

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Jeanny Marroquin

Jeanny Marroquin is a City Year Los Angeles Program Director. She oversees the school partnerships in Mendez High School, Roosevelt High School, Hollenbeck Middle School, Stevenson College and Career Preparatory...

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