Whole School Whole Child Dropout Prevention
Each year, City Year Detroit leverages the power of 100 young AmeriCorps volunteers to help struggling Detroit students stay in school. These mentors work to get vulnerable students on track for graduation, right from the classrooms, reducing a national problem on a local level by intervening before a child becomes a dropout statistic.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
City Year Detroit Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Advancement Allison McElroy
: Our idealistic young adult leaders are young enough to want to change the world, and old enough to do it. They help utilize our partnership with Johns Hopkins University researchers, using proven strategies to identify and work with the students who are most at-risk of dropout. All of our staff and our volunteers use this model to address the increasing national dropout problem.
Every 26 seconds, a child in this country drops out of high school, and, according to statistics from the Detroit School districts, this city’s high school graduation rates hover only around 60 percent.
We also use the best practices that come down from the national City Year network of U.S. locations, and this is the only
Everybody knows that there is an achievement gap among children who attend high-poverty-level schools.
dropout prevention model, that I’m aware of, that embeds a team of eight to ten corps members in each partner school for the entire school year – all day, every day.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
As in recent years, we keep learning the value of the partnerships and relationships that are key to moving forward and making progress during times of instability. The K-12 educational landscape is shifting. Schools are closing and we need the support of our schools’ teachers, principals and administrative staff to make a difference and to help identify which students in which schools we should help every year.
Without our school partners, without the funders who believe in us, we could not do what we do here in Detroit. We have also learned that if you can clearly demonstrate your impact, people will rally behind you with support.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
It’s hard to have so many schools in and around Detroit who want to collaborate with us, when we simply don’t have the funding to make it possible. We have 101 corps members this year and we can only reach 11 schools. We do have a strategic growth plan in place: ideally, we hope to reach 25 schools with between 300 and 400 AmeriCorps volunteers and up to 20 more staff members to oversee them. It will take about $8 million to get to that point, but we hope to be there within five-to-seven years.
What really differentiates this program?
Our young adult City Year corps members are the human capital solution to the education gap that exists here. Everybody knows that there is an achievement gap among children who attend high-poverty-level schools. Especially students of color. Research-based strategies and evidence-based, targeted interventions do work, and our Whole School Whole Child Dropout Prevention volunteers are a huge part of that.
These enthusiastic, young volunteers are school-based, full-time, year-round positive influences. They do what they do all
The small gains and the larger ones that are the result of our trajectory work with students inspire people.
day, every day, including afterschool programs. Each team of eight to-ten corps members becomes a part of their school’s school culture. They are almost viewed almost as part of the staff.
But there is a difference. The members develop sustained relationships with students, and because they are intentionally diverse and closer in age, they become more like buddy figures. They can call an absentee and say something like “What’s going on? I miss seeing you here in class.” Kids respond to this much better than if a teacher, principal or truant officer makes the call. That is powerful. For some of these kids, it’s the first time they have sustained a relationship with a caring adult.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Recruiting the right corps members; 75 percent of them are college graduates. They stay with kids who need them, they persevere, and they believe in our early dropout prevention strategies.
The power of the City Year Network of locations around the country is incredible. We have weekly contact at the national level with colleagues. We exchange ideas and best practices that help us keep improving our programs. Another key, as I mentioned before, is our close, effective relationships with school and district partners, because without their full support, we would not be able to implement our strong model with clearly defined goals.
What are the people in your program most inspired by?
We are all about the kids. Everyone is here for the kids. The small gains and the larger ones that are the result of our trajectory work with students inspire people. The corps members that are helping these kids get back on track inspire people. Our board members and our community members – they get it.
The corps members themselves walk away from this program with changed lives. We hear many of them describe themselves as completely different people when the year is over. Some decide to work in the nonprofit sector, and some want to stay involved in education and youth work. Others realize how badly Detroit needs them, so they don’t leave.
It is so powerful to know that you have made a difference in someone’s life. It’s a two-for-one reward.