Making Literacy Count


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The school year is a little over a month and a half into the swing of things here at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle and students, staff, and City Year corps members are still settling into their new … Continue reading

Dolphin Attendance: “Be Here Get There”


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At the recent launch of the “Be Here Get There” attendance campaign at Denny International Middle School,  Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced, “students with 20 or more absences a year have less than a 1 in 5 chance of graduating … Continue reading

Floyd Jones at Aki Kurose Middle School

Floyd Jones with City Year corps members

A City Year Seattle corps member’s typical work day focuses on interacting with and educating the next generation of leaders. However, recently a group of us had the unique opportunity to connect with a special member of the community. We shared the T-Mobile Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School with Floyd Jones, who is an investment banker by day, poet by night and longtime Seattle philanthropist. He joined City Year Seattle to see our programs in action and how corps members and students use poetry in their service and school work.

The connection between poetry and service is unique. It gives corps members the opportunity to connect with students outside of the usual schoolwork, allowing them to share a passion. It is wonderful when one of our supporters shares that same passion. When Mr. Jones visited with us at Aki Kurose Middle School, three generations were connected through art: Floyd Jones, corps members, and students.

Floyd Jones with City Year Seattle Corps Member

Mr. Jones toured the school, participated in a lively conversation with four corps members, and assumed the role of audience member during a student rehearsal for the City Year hosted Student Arts Slam. Mr. Jones and corps members shared their views on why the art of the spoken language and service are important to each of them. Corps member Kendall Morgan said,

“When I write a rap it is very introspective; it is when I reflect on my life and feelings. At this point in my life, service is my focus so it’s inevitable that it is a part of my music. If you don’t reflect on what you are doing, you lose some of the substance that can be learned. Rap and spoken word are my way of doing that.”

After the discussion, Mr. Jones and the corps members attended the final practice session for the arts slam. Students shared songs, raps, and poems about the events happening in their world. One student dedicated a poem to her mom and focused on the lessons her mother has taught her. Another student shared a piece titled “The Situation,” in which she painted a chilling picture of some of the struggles that middle school students face. She detailed students making choices to either get involved in “The Situation,” which she described as gang life and peer pressure, or pursuing education. It was amazing to see students approach the realities of what goes on in their middle school with so much maturity and understanding.

The intergenerational connection displayed during this visit was astonishing. It is refreshing to be able to be a part of another generation’s experiences and to have representatives of three generations, all sharing a common passion, in the same room.

Text by Kendall Morgan, City Year Seattle/King County Recruitment Project Leader


City Year Seattle - Pi Week Question

A Question of the Day for Pi Week!

Starting on March 14th, the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School hosted “Pi Week.”  To kick it off, the entire student body was ushered into the auditorium for a special assembly, only to hear two corps members talk about Measurements of Student Progress scores and standardized testing. Naturally, the students thought that the assembly was focused on academic success.

Unbeknownst to the student body, the Diplomas Now Team had actually rigged the entire assembly. Without warning, the lights started to flicker on and off in the auditorium. Mr. Geddes, the school counselor, took the microphone, pretending to calm the chaos and fix the lighting issue. Suddenly, the spotlight turned on to illuminate a figure that was dressed all in black. The “masked bandit” crept stealthily on the stage and pie’d Mr. Geddes in the face!

The figure ran off the stage quickly, leaving a large envelope with a note. The note read: “Who am I? Well, you will have to solve these clues to find out.” The students were completely shocked.

Corps member Sean Morrin came onto the stage and explained to students that to celebrate Pi Week, students had been sent on a mystery mission! To solve the mystery, students had to complete four math missions. Those missions consisted of solving grade-level appropriate math problems each day of that week to spell out the answer to the big question: Who REALLY pie’d Mr. Geddes in the face?

Students buzzed around the school, commenting on who they thought was the culprit. “It was Miss Sheera!” “Just tell me who did it!” “I know that it was that one lady, it was…uh..” It was a mystery!

City Year Seattle - Pi Week Question

Day One’s Pi Week Math Mission stated:

Hello Peace Crane Detectives! Want to know who I am? Well, you have all week to figure it out! Complete the first question below and see a City Year member during lunch to receive your first clue! Good luck!

Mr. Geddes begins his hunt to discover who is behind his tragic pie-ing. Later that day, he sees Ms. Barber carrying two suitcases. Mr. Geddes, suspicious, follows her. Ms. Barber walks into an empty classroom and opens suitcases. Inside is a bag of flour, a jar of cinnamon, a gallon of milk, 2 sticks of butter, 5 apples, and a recipe book! Ms. Barber opens the recipe book. The recipe needs: 1 ¾ cups of flour, ¼ cups of teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 ½ cups of milk, ¾ stick of butter, 3 ½ apples. The bowl she is using to mix it all together can only hold five cups. Is there enough room for all the ingredients?

Students hurried to solve the problem in order to receive the letter of the day, which would help them deduce who pie’d Mr. Geddes. The excitement translated into over 80 students participating in all of the Pi Week math problems during math class and lunchtime.

City Year Seattle - Students and Pi Week Questions

“It’s a good thing to have fun once in a while at school, especially in academics,” one Aki student commented.

Another student exclaimed, “It makes your mind go crazy. I like this because it’s challenging to solve problems in math. I also like the way this has been conveyed . . . the mystery of the pie incident!”

At the end of the week, the students filled out the mystery sentence to read:

“Ms. Dalisha is GUILTY!”

Ms. Dalisha, our Communities in Schools Success Coordinator on the Aki Kurose Diplomas Now team, had fooled the entire student body.

To end Pi Week on a high note, each math class with the highest participation per grade level received a snack and soda party. When asked how Pi Week was, one student exclaimed: “From ten to 100, it was a 100! It was hecka fun! We should do it again.”

Text by Sona Thinakaran and photos by Sheera Langbaum, City Year Seattle/King County corps members of the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School

Heading Towards the Finish Line

Focus and Determination

In City Year’s Diplomas Now program, corps members work with students who are identified as “at-risk.” Corps members help students who show key indicators of being off-track and work with them one-on-one to help them through poor attendance, behavior issues, or academics.  In this Starfish Story, corps member Denise Taylor explains her journey to get middle-school student Joshua* back on track.

“I know what the answer is. It’s four. Can’t I just write that?” Joshua* asks me as he rubs his hair. He peers into my face with his big eyes as he sweeps his matted hair back – still visibly wet from swim class.

He’s right, but this is also the ump-teenth time I’ve told him that his work has to be written out so Mr. Moor can gauge our progress. Joshua’s attention span used to vary greatly from day to day. His behavior is mostly due to the fact that prior to this year, he had been out of school for more than a year and hasn’t had to flex his focus and motivation muscles for some time.

“You know what I’m going to say, Joshua. We always write out our work.” I point to the pile of worksheets we’ve been doing together since we started our one-on-ones in an effort to help him to catch up with his classmates.

“But I’m right?” he says with a smile, as he presses his freckly cheeks together to make a face at me.

“You need to be able to demonstrate how to properly solve equations. It’s something all eighth graders need to know how to do.” I nod at the paper.

“Fine. Argh. But I know it in my head,” he says, a little exasperated.

“Think back to what we’ve done and take your time.” I pat him on the shoulder. “You can do this.”

Today is the last day of our sessions. For the past five weeks, I’ve been working with him diligently on his catch-up math materials. He has all of the capability, but at times he had so few of the other skills and knowledge needed to complete his work.

I’ve been helping him fill in those gaps. He was always tired from not sleeping, so I met up with him before school and we made a plan for how he would get more sleep that night. I got creative with his tutoring. Sometimes we would work out an entire worksheet by mock singing out the steps to each equation. I tried to be the most dynamic person he saw each day so he would be engaged when it came to math, for which I knew he had a natural capability.

It was tough, but Joshua was more than up to doing the tasks and he worked so hard to get back on track. Watching him take his final test to demonstrate that he’s up to speed with his peers makes me excited and hesitant. I know I get to keep working with him in this class and in his English class, but I will miss the intensive one-on-one sessions.

“Hey Joshua, take a breath. You know this,” I tell him before the test, thinking back to all the time I’ve spent with him.


“I know you’re going to do great, but you have to finish this test. I’m going to leave you alone to get it done, all right?” I say.

He says – “Yeah, okay. I think I can do it by myself now.”

I know he can.

*Names have been changed

Text by Denise Taylor, City Year Seattle/King County corps member of the JPMorgan Chase/NELA Diplomas Now Team at Denny International Middle School