In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
Since the end of August I've been serving as a City Year corps member at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando. But although I, and the other corps members at my school have been working hard tutoring and mentoring our students, it wasn't until last month that I became "official." Let me explain: One of the traditions across all of the City Year sites nationally is the Opening Day ceremony. We officially kicked off our year of service at Universal City Walk in October, and it helped remind me of what's at the heart of our service.
Just as City Year corps members bring tons of enthusiasm and energy to tutoring and mentoring at our school sites, we make sure Opening Day is fun and inspirational. Being at one of our events is like being at a sporting event. We have pre-ceremony festivities, an evening reception, and a founder's breakfast. One of our partner schools, Oak Ridge High School, jazzed up the event with their marching band. And, since we were at Universal, corps members got a little help from Woody and Winnie Woodpecker who pitched in by clapping, chanting, and high-fiving our guests inside.
Once the guests were in, the ceremony started while the corps members waited outside behind the audience. We waited for several minutes before we could run through the audience toward the stage. The collective anticipation of waiting to run in added a great deal to the excitement and certainly was one of the highlights of my day. When the doors opened and we ran in as the song "Gangnam Style" played, the energy in the room was amazing.
Corps members then introduced the ideals and goals of City Year and their own reasons for serving. Corps member Alex Carvajal spoke to the effect that serving other people has had on his own life which reminded me why I chose to do this. Two others, Mike Fusco and Cindy Thomas, said what I think every corps member believes—that every student deserves the opportunity to succeed regardless of those external circumstances beyond their control.
We met the people who helped bring City Year to Orlando—like Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette and Orange County superintendent of schools Dr. Barbara Jenkins. It was important to me to see powerful and influential people take the time to be at our event and speak to the importance of increased educational equality.
The CEO and co-founder of City Year, Michael Brown, also made the trip to Orlando. He shared how proud he was to welcome City Year Orlando to the City Year network, and its 50 corps members to our national corps that is 2,500 strong. Even though I've only been a corps member for a few months, I feel like City Year is something I have partial ownership of now, so to hear from someone like Brown who has invested a lifetime into this organization made me feel proud to be a part of a movement that will have an amazingly positive effect on more than a million children nationwide.
Most importantly, we heard from a student. Soloman Romero, a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School, gave a testimonial of his experience with City Year. He talked about how much the patience and devotion of last year's corps members helped him learn and then succeed. I know I can't expect all of my students to speak at the opening day event next year, but he reminded me of the potential of all of my students and that they all possess the capability to astonish and surpass any expectations that I could place on them.
There was one somewhat formal part of the opening ceremony: As the end of the event came near, because City Year is an AmeriCorps program, all of us City Year Orlando corps members joined Wendy Spencer, the Chief Executive Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and took the AmeriCorps pledge—our official swearing in:
I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.
As I said those words, I thought about how the students we're working with here in Orlando are at the heart of that pledge. I am here for one reason: to ensure that they get on track academically so that their lives and community become stronger.
Now our group of 50 corps members is officially the founding corps members of City Year Orlando. We have plenty of hard work ahead of us, but as that pledge says, we’re here to get things done.
Photo courtesy of City Year Orlando