National Service in Education


with Michael Brown, CEO and co-founder of City Year


Mar 07, 2018

According to a recent study, students with low attendance rates, poor behavior or course failure in English or math are more likely to drop out of high school. Michael Brown, CEO and co-founder of City Year discusses efforts to provide the academic support and encouragement at-risk students need to thrive in the classroom.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: City Year reports that in many high-poverty communities, at least 50% of students require additional academic, social, or emotional support. However, America´s schools are designed to provide extra support to just 15% of those students. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me for a discussion on efforts to bridge that gap to benefit more students is Michael Brown. He´s the chief executive officer and co-founder of City Year. Michael, welcome to the program.

Brown: Thank you, Robert. It´s great to be with you.

Traynham: So, what I mentioned a few moments go is very unfortunate news, and it sounds like either there´s a funding gap, perhaps a resources gap, but clearly, it´s not meeting a reality here in terms of addressing our students´ needs. Why is that?

Brown: Well, two years ago, the Southern Education Fund found that for the first time in American history, over 50% of the students in our public schools all across the country are below the poverty level. And so, when students are coming from homes from concentrated intergenerational poverty, it frankly makes it harder for them to come to school every day, prepared for school, and succeed and concentrate on their work there. And many of them fall behind and need extra supports and, as you mentioned, our schools were just never designed for that. There literally isn´t enough human capital in the building to support the extra needs that our students need. And Johns Hopkins University found that you can actually predict who´s likely to drop out as early as the fifth or sixth grade by high absences, poor behaviors, or course failure -- getting an F in Math or English. So what we do is we recruit young adults, City or AmeriCorps members, to go into these high-need schools in teams -- 10, 12, 15 at a time. They start before the first bell, they serve throughout the day working with the students who need extra supports.

Traynham: I want to talk about the extra support. I have a friend of mine who´s a teacher who said, "It depends on the day. Some days I´m a teacher, some days I´m Mom, some days I´m Dad, sometimes I´m the person that says, ´Pull your pants up,´ or, ´Did you get something to eat?´ or, ´Did you brush your teeth?´ It´s a holistic approach, if you will, to that child, and I´m really interested, Michael, in your Whole School Whole Child approach.

Brown: Mm-hmm.

Traynham: What does that look like in terms of the volunteers and the services that you provide?

Brown: That is the name of the program that we deliver -- Whole School Whole Child. And so what it means for us is that we´re there for all of the needs of the students, so we start the day --

Traynham: From soup to nuts?

Brown: We start the day standing in front of the schoolhouse clapping and cheering for every single student and teacher and administrator that walks in the building.

Traynham: Wow.

Brown: So, you can imagine if somebody clapped for you if you just walked in the door every day. They know them by name. They say, "Welcome to school. So glad you´re here. Hope you have your homework." You know what´s going on with that student´s lives, so there´s a positive developmental relationship right there with these students. Then our Corps members follow them into the building and they work throughout the day, leaning into the students who have been identified as off-track, pulling them aside, and working on their social and emotional needs as well as their academic needs. And sometimes, that means taking a walk with the student, finding out what´s on their mind. If the student´s acting up or has their head down on the desk, finding out what´s going on. Pulling them aside -- the teacher might say, "Why don´t you work with this student? I´ll work with these students." Giving them the extra supports they need so they can be able to read at grade level, to be able to get back into the class, get back to the board, and be able to basically feel like they can succeed in the classroom. A teacher can´t stop what she -- it´s usually a woman -- she can´t stop what she´s doing to be able to handle all of that, the needs of the classroom. So what we´re finding is you can bring cohorts of national-service young people, idealistic young people who are volunteering for a stipend and a scholarship, and they wear these bright jackets. And they´re kind of like the older brother and sister that you either had or wish you had, and even if you had, you wanted them to pay attention to you. And that´s what our corps members do. They lean in to those students and they say, "We´re here for you".

Traynham: Two things, Michael. One -- I can feel your enthusiasm across the desk here, and thank you very much for that. I assume that the City Year volunteers -- are they volunteers, are they paid? How does that work and how do you get your funding?

Brown: They´re service members.

Traynham: Okay.

Brown: So they get a stipend for a year of service, and if they complete an entire year, they get a scholarship from the AmeriCorps National Service Trust. We´re funded in part by AmeriCorps, an important federal program, as well as school districts support us, and the rest of the funding comes in from the private sector.

Traynham: Two-part question -- for the parent or loved one that´s watching the program now, how can they literally and figuratively pair their loved one up, perhaps with someone from City Year? And the second part of this question, perhaps for folks that are watching who may want to get involved, who may want to become involved in terms of being a mentor or whatever the case may be, how do you do that?

Brown: Well, we´re in 28 communities across the country. We´ve got 3,000 City AmeriCorps members serving today in 332 high-needs schools. We have a plan to scale it to get to over a thousand schools and 10,000 Corps members, so if you´re in a community that you think needs a City Year program, you can reach out to us or reach out to your school, talk about bringing that in. And in particular, if you´re a young person that´s listening to this or know and love a young person, ages 18-25, who might be interested in giving a year of service with us, to go to our website. It´s, and you can apply directly online. We are currently recruiting for our 30th anniversary Corps...

Traynham: Happy anniversary.

Brown: Thank you. ...for 3,000 young people that will start this summer.

Traynham: Michael Brown, CEO and co-founder of City Year, thank you very much for joining us.

Brown: Thank you, Robert.

Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham. ♫♫

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