High school graduates join City Year to combat educational inequality



Rosa Stern ’16 (second from right) accepts the Coolidge Citizenship Award, which one Boston team wins every year, during the City Year graduation last June.

Susanna Kemp, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Last year, Rosa Stern Pait ‘16 woke up at 5 a.m. every weekday. She put on a red uniform and went to Mattapan, where she was an assistant teacher in a 3rd grade classroom. Compared to working with 8 and 9-year-olds everyday, Stern Pait said that her freshman year of college, which she just finished, was the easiest year of her life.

Stern Pait is one of many alumni who have taken, or will take, a year off after high school to do City Year. City Year is an AmeriCorps program that attempts to bridge the gap between what students need and what schools can provide in at-risk schools in 28 cities across the U.S. The program can be extremely challenging and consuming for its volunteers, but according to past members—and seniors who plan to do the program next year—the benefits outweigh the challenges.

According to Paul Riley, a 2008 City Year corps member and now the program’s Regional Recruitment Manager for the Northeast, City Year aims to help students grow.

“You’re there to provide additional support for them and build relationships with them so that they can hone the skills that they have inside them and feel successful,” Riley said.

Senior Maya Shaughnessy, who plans to do City Year in New York City next year, likes the program’s mission and its holistic approach to tackling educational inequality.

“I’m really passionate about social justice issues, so I think being able to not only talk about educational inequality but being able to talk about it firsthand, with my first-hand experiences, will help me have the tools and resources to tackle it in the future,” Shaughnessy said.

Senior Sydney Chase, who will do City Year in San José, California next year, hopes that the year will give her time to think about what she might major in and decide whether or not she wants to work with kids in the future.

“I feel like a gap year is going to help me steer toward what I want to do. I like to do so many things but I can’t do all of them,” Chase said.

Students who do City Year right after graduating high school are in the minority age-wise, according Riley, who said that about 80 percent of corps members are college graduates. However, this shouldn’t deter high school graduates who want to apply.

“I think the benefits are having this professional experience, but also being on a team, predominantly of college grads, who can offer advice and feedback of, ‘Here are the challenges I faced in picking a major, and here was my pathway through school,’” Riley said.

Stern Pait said she did not feel like her age was a disadvantage, and that the corps members who were college graduates were a good resource for her. During her year, Stern Pait said she learned a lot about the education system in the United States.

“It informs a lot of the way that I think about education and education reform and kind of the way I make political choices and the way I engage in discussions,” Stern Pait said.

According to Stern Pait, although she learned a lot about teaching and American education, she also learned about coping in difficult situations, getting things done, having hard conversations and being responsible, innovative and consistent.

There are more concrete benefits, too. All City Year alumni receive $5,920 to put towards their own education (along with a bi-weekly living stipend), and many colleges and universities offer scholarships to City Year alumni.

According to both Riley and Stern Pait, the work can be draining. Chase expects the hardest part of the program to be the long days, which are generally between 10 and 12 hours. Stern Pait said she always felt like she was “on,” but that it was important to be excited to see the kids each day.

“Even a kid who maybe the day before was really pissing you off, it’s really important to start the day enthusiastically greeting them so that they know they have a clean slate, that it’s a new day, you still like them, even if yesterday they were struggling,” Stern Pait said.

Stern Pait applied and committed to college during her senior year of high school. Looking back, she feels she grew up a lot during her time with City Year, and doesn’t think she would have been happy if she had gone straight to college.

“I think I would have been a lot more stressed out and a lot more worried about different things, and not have had as much perspective and focus,” Stern Pait said. “When I finished high school, I didn’t really know why I was going to college, and I think I got a lot more perspective on that during my gap year.”