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City Year Tackles the High School Dropout Crisis

Kristin Harrison | GOOD Magazine

March 30, 2010

Pico-Union compressed

I recall a woman on the subway, whose 16-year-old son was eager to join, asking us: “What is City Year? Do you only work in Los Angeles? How old do you have to be to join.” We refer her to the City Heroes program, specifically for teenagers to keep them on track, and offer to send her more information.

Back at school, more children begin to arrive, and I walk up to our room to gather my things for the day. As I mingle with my fifth graders, I appreciate the jacket once more—at 5’0,” my students are already catching up to me in height, and with spring approaching, I prepare for them to soon surpass me.

When the yellow jacket is on, they think twice about wrestling each other to the ground. And if I’m not wearing it, I am suddenly undercover, hearing words they are forbidden to say. They know they’ve been caught. And while I didn’t sign up for City Year to be a disciplinarian, I did sign up to be a role model. “Come on, guys, let’s play something else,” I say casually, and so we do.

When our children see me and my eight teammates walk in with our jackets and boots on, we can tell by their faces that we’re wanted there. They want high fives and encouragement, to know that we are there for them. It feels amazing. Sometimes the days are difficult, and we get into bad moods. They don’t see that, they only see the yellow jacket and know we will be back tomorrow.

Occasionally, my students call me by the name of a corps member they knew last year. Instead of being upset, it makes me feel better about what’s to come next year, when I move on and another corps member takes my place. For my students, the yellow jacket symbolizes continuity, a chain of role models committed to being there for them.

As long as they see the yellow, they know I’m there with them. We all are.

Kristin Harrison serves as a City Year after-school coordinator in Los Angeles.

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