COVID-19 and Education: Helping Students Succeed
with Stephen Spaloss of City Year
Virtual learning is keeping students safer during the pandemic, but experts are concerned that long-term academic performance may be adversely impacted.
Stephen Spaloss, Chief Equity Officer of City Year, shares how his organization is leveraging the power of young people to tackle the current education crisis.
March 15, 2021
Anderson: While virtual learning is keeping students and their families safer during the Covid-19 pandemic, education experts worry that this generation of young people could face academic declines and delays in social and emotional development. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Leveraging the power of young people to change the world is how City Year is tackling the current crisis of education. Stephen Spaloss is the Chief Equity Officer, and Stephen, thank you so much for joining us.
Spaloss: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So, Stephen, I know that you are so dedicated to City Year that you actually have been with the organization for most of your career. Why are you such a believer? What is it that City Year has done for you personally?
Spaloss: I think it's done a lot for me. I mean, in 1990, I was brought to City Hall by the court system, so I wasn't coming to serve. I wasn't coming to give back. I wasn't coming to try and be a better me. I was just coming to try to continue a life that I thought was the life that I needed to live, and being at City Year and having the interactions and the experiences with people that were different for me, as well as amazing mentors and coaches that supported my growth, it got me to understand that I wasn't ever really being my true self. And so once I realized that, I just sort of wanted to double down on the efforts, and so I stayed, and it's been 30 years now. It's been amazing. Our organization has gone from being just in Boston in 1988, all the way to now, being in 29 different cities across the country with over 3,000 young people serving annually.
Anderson: That's absolutely incredible, and fast forward three decades, 30 years. You said you're now sort of at the helm of the organization, but you're dealing with a new challenge as it relates to Covid-19 and what that's done to the education system. What are some of the young people who are working with your mentors telling them about what they need and what's been affecting them during this time?
Spaloss: Things have definitely changed. When you look at what, not only are amazing teachers and principals and communities are having to face in this pandemic, but also what our core members are facing. The work that they do is to support student achievement in a sense of belonging in a schoolhouse, and so having to do that in a remote space has changed the game for them and a lot of ways, but it also hasn't because really the secret sauce for our young people is that relationship connection. It's that understanding and knowing you as an individual and seeing the potential that you as an individual has. So a lot of what the core members or students, success coaches are hearing now are similar, but some have changed. Like now we are hearing things like food disparity. Now we are hearing things like my mom and dad are having being laid off or having to work extra jobs, or we don't have Wi-Fi, or I can't get access to technology that's going to allow me to even get on the Zoom class with my teacher. But what we are not hearing is the need around knowing that you care, knowing that you see me, knowing that you want to be there to help and support me. That relationship work is still happening, thankfully.
Anderson: So, clearly a huge part of this is about mentorship. But can you get into a little bit more detail about what that looks like between these young people, between these student success coaches? What are some of the things that they're going through together?
Spaloss: Absolutely. I think, really, the key to it all is relationships, so that mentorship is all about me understanding you as that young learner, as that person with potential, as that individual that needs certain supports that are different than others. And so that's everything from me calling home to say, "Hey, I didn't see you on class today. Where were you? I'm missing seeing your face. What can we do to get you to be in attendance tomorrow," to really helping with anything that might be around passwords or getting online just in itself and getting into the actual classroom. And then most importantly, really working with that student to help them identify the challenges and really help them come up with solutions to the problems that they're facing.
Anderson: So, the pandemic is changing as well. There's seemingly a light at the end of the tunnel, vaccines rolling out. How hopeful are you that this work you've been doing in this period to help mitigate some of the damage that could have been caused to these young people, to these students is really going to be effectual once it's all said and done?
Spaloss: Oddly enough, I have a lot of hope. I really believe in the power of relationships, and I understand the importance and the need for them to be present for students and really for anyone. And so because the core members are doing that work right now with students, keeping them connected, keeping them seen, keeping them heard, it's going to allow us, when we do pivot back into school, to be able to lean on those relationships. It's not like I'm going to come back to school enough to create a brand new relationship with you. We've had a relationship. We've continued to strengthen it throughout the school year. We've been on this journey together, and quite frankly, it's going to be exciting when we get to see each other face-to-face again And when we have to do the extra work to catch up and really start to climb that hill of loss, because for some students, it's been over a year since they've been in a classroom. So for students that are facing those types of issues, it's going to allow us to kind of lean our relationship, lean on understanding, lean on your capabilities as you kind of take on those challenges, but continuing to do it together.
Anderson: Absolutely, doing it together. A great point. And, Stephen, if people want to find out more about the work that you're doing, more about City Year, where can they go? What's your website?
Spaloss: Cityyear.org. C-I-T-Y-Y-E-A-R.org, all lowercase, all one word. Definitely come check us out. You can do everything from finding out about the work we do, the different cities we're in, and if you want to, apply to be a part of the program.
Anderson: Stephen Spaloss with City Year. Thank you so much for joining us.
Spaloss: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thank you to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more our great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, Log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.