As he was preparing to present the City Year corps members at Aki Kurose Middle School with the President John F. Kennedy Legacy Award for their service, Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn listened to corps members tell him success story after success story about students who had made tremendous gains this year at the school.
“President Kennedy inspired an entire generation of young people to work to change the world,” the Mayor told the thirteen young idealists gathered around the table. “‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’ Those are powerful words. That’s what you do. You inspire the students you work with, and that’s important. Thank you for your work in our schools.”
The corps members were excited to receive the award, and they were even more excited about the opportunity to talk about their students’ progress. Corps member Ed Brown told the Mayor about a student whose absences amounted to four weeks of class during the first semester and who has missed only one day during the second semester – and the student called Ed’s cell phone to make sure Ed knew that he was honestly sick that day, not skipping school.
“You’ve learned an important principle of organizing,” the Mayor told Ed. “There’s something very powerful about getting someone to make a personal commitment to someone else. That’s what your student has done, he’s made a commitment to you, and that’s powerful.”
When team leader Nick Hernandez handed the Mayor a chart showing student progress on standardized tests in the school, the Mayor said “That was my next question: how do you guys measure your impact?”
Nick walked the Mayor through the data. “Each corps member has a focus list of “at-risk” students who show early warning signs that without intervention will be more likely to drop out of school. During the first semester of this year, the students on our lists advanced 54% more than the school average on standardized tests.”
Eighth grade teacher Mrs. Wickstead put this another way. “A lot of the students represented by this data are advancing a year and half or two years in a single school year. Many of them started the year very far behind and they’ve made significant progress. They’re catching up to their peers.”
Toward the end of the meeting, the Mayor had to hurry – he had volunteered to teach an eighth grade social studies class in four minutes. So he quickly turned to Aki Kurose Principal Mia Williams and asked, “What do you think? Do you like these guys?”
Mrs. Williams told the Mayor, “Besides making sure we have an excellent teacher in every classroom, this program is the most important thing we can do at Aki Kurose to help all our students succeed.”
All of City Year’s corps members sincerely thank the Mayor for the honor of the President John F. Kennedy Legacy Award. It means a lot to them to be recognized for the hard work they put in every day at their schools. There’s a lot of work for all of us in Seattle – corps members, teachers, administrators, parents, volunteers, school districts, the city itself – to accomplish to ensure that our students have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life. As President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Let us begin.
Text and photos by Adam Nance, City Year Seattle/King County Development Director