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Stories of Impact

Learning Initiatives

City Year Detroit Gets At-Risk Students on Track for Graduation

“When you bring kids into a school and they feel safe, confident, and a sense of belonging — that's when the best learning happens. Those are the types of environments we're trying to create in our schools to help students graduate.”

Andrew Stein, Executive Director, City Year Detroit

Detroit, MI (February 2021)Research by Johns Hopkins University shows that students who are most likely to drop out of school can be identified as early as 6th grade. This is determined by looking at early warning indicators: poor attendance, disruptive behavior and course failure in English or math. In Detroit, a disproportionate number of students exhibit these indicators.

At the same time, research shows that students in under-resourced schools who reach the 10th grade on track and on time are four times more likely to graduate than their peers who do not.

City Year is committed to helping Detroit students build on their strengths, tackle challenges and fully power up their learning to get and stay on track for graduation. The organization’s signature work is the Whole School Whole Child program. Through this program, City Year extends the capacity of under-resourced schools by deploying teams of AmeriCorps members to serve as full-time Student Success Coaches in classrooms.

AmeriCorps Members Ready for Service. Photo Courtesy of City Year DetroitDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.

Each Success Coach is assigned to a class for the entire school year. The Coach supports the teacher and that class of students by providing small-group tutoring; promoting positive behavior, self-esteem and attendance; and participating in afterschool programming that reinforces academic and social skills.

“The role modeling, mentoring and relationships these Success Coaches build with the students is what we’re all about,” says Andrew Stein, Executive Director. “Coaches are there all day, every day, high-fiving students as they come in, asking them about their families, providing one-on-one academic support and building critical rapport and trust. Research shows that when a student's social, emotional needs are integrated into the learning environment the strongest academic outcomes occur.”

These kinds of supports are particularly important in schools that report high dropout rates, and the feeder schools that flow into them. One of these is J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy, a K-8 school on Detroit’s East Side with over 400 students who are at academic risk. Currently, City Year’s Success Coaches support classrooms from grades three through nine, thanks to funding from the Walters Family Foundation.

“This is one of the hardest areas for a kid to be growing up in our country. The poverty runs very deep,” says Stein. “We needed philanthropists and funders who are willing to put resources where there is a greatest need. The Walters are willing to use their resources for this work.”

Madison Wood is Success Coach in the City Year Detroit program and has already seen positive outcomes in her third-grade classroom. “I have witnessed an incredible increase in confidence in students. At the beginning of the school year no one wanted to answer a question. Now the students are eager, raising their hands and volunteering the answers. About 90% of the class wants to participate,” she says. She attributes the success to one-on-one mentoring. “I work with them individually daily to see what actions or steps we need to take so they can be the best they can be in the classroom space.”