City Year Hosts a Successful Investing in Education Breakfast

City Year hosted its second annual Investing in Education breakfast at Aki Kurose Middle School on Tuesday, February 5th.  Business leaders, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) educators, and community members joined City Year to explore the benefits of investing in public education. 


Speakers included Mia Williams, Principal of Aki Kurose; Jason Young, Vice President of Handset Marketing of T-Mobile and City Year Board Member; Michael Robinson, City Year Corps Member; Jane Nishita, Market Development Manager of CenturyLink; Gemma Edwards-Aronchick, Program Manager of Microsoft Citizenship and Public Affairs; and Simon Amiel, Executive Director of City Year Seattle/King County.  

Principal Williams welcomed guests to “Peace Crane country,” describing that Aki students come from many diverse backgrounds, with over 20 languages spoken in the school.  She further stated that of the 750 students that attend Aki, 87 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.  Ms. Williams asserted that City Year corps members are “a vital resource to our school.”  She celebrated the energy that City Year brings to Aki, joking that she still hears corps members cheering at 5 pm, long after many teachers and staff have left the school.

City Year corps member Mike Robinson shared his personal experiences working with students at Aki, emphasizing that, as much as City Year affects the lives of students, “[students] also impact us.” 


Jane Nishita, keynote speaker, began her remarks by recalling the inspiring life of Aki Kurose, the Japanese American teacher and internment camp survivor for whom the middle school is named.  She then highlighted a number of successful ways CenturyLink invests in education throughout the Puget Sound region, including implementing employee volunteer programs and partnering with organizations like City Year. 

Building off of Ms. Nishita’s remarks, Gemma Edwards-Aronchick expanded upon the value of partnering with community groups, underscoring the “collaborative spirit” of City Year. 

Jason Young said that City Year’s “get-it done culture” resonated with T-Mobile, who saw investing in City Year as “both a responsibility and an opportunity…to be involved” in improving the lives of students.  Mr. Young emphasized the importance of investing in the future workforce, and he urged civic leaders “to think about how [they] can magnify the impact that City Year is making…here in the Puget Sound, but also beyond.” 

Further delving into the economic benefits of investing in education, City Year Seattle/King County Executive Director Simon Amiel revealed that the more than 12 million students across the nation projected to drop out over the next decade will cost about $3 trillion.  Mr. Amiel explained that in Seattle, City Year’s goal is to saturate the feeder patterns consisting of elementary and middle schools that feed into the four comprehensive high schools that together, contribute 50% of the dropout students in order to “secure our city’s graduation pipeline.” 

We thank our guests for attending the Investing in Education breakfast, and we look forward to future partnerships that will help more students reach their full potential, thereby building a stronger community in Seattle for all of us. 

Written by Anna Akers-Pecht, City Year Corps Member serving at Aki Kurose Middle School.


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

Attendance and Behavior Rally at Aki Kurose Middle School

Dan Do before the Pie

Corps member Dan Do prepares to be pie'd by a student!

Recently, the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School hosted their first ever Attendance and Behavior Rally. The entire student body entered the school gymnasium during the last period of the day as music blasted over the PA system. Some students walked in not knowing what to expect while others danced their way to their seats.

Once the school filled the gym, corps member Sean Morrin took the microphone and greeted the crowd with, “Welcome Aki students! Can you make some NOISE?” The gym absolutely erupted with cheers. The rally continued with the warm up “Shout If,” as students were encouraged to shout if they would answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:

Shout if you want to be rich when you grow up!

Shout if you want to go to college!

The kids were practically bouncing out of the bleachers by the time Sean asked the last question:

“Shout if you would tear up a million dollar winning lottery ticket!”

Around twenty students were tricked and they shouted, but their friends were quick to correct them. The shift in the crowd was tangible and when Sean repeated the question, half of the school was shouting “No! I would not do that!” Sean paused and explained,

“Each and every one of you is sitting on a winning lottery ticket. All you have to do is show up for school every day and do what we all know we have to do to be successful to cash it in. Every day that you do not show up to school, it’s like you are slowly tearing that winning ticket into smaller and smaller pieces. So who wants to cash in their winning lottery tickets?”

It was clear that his message had made an impact. But that was only the introduction.

For the next part of the rally, ten volunteers from each grade level were chosen to participate in a relay race against the other grades. Enthusiastic volunteers lined up for a race across the gym, one student at a time – but with a catch. Each grade level had a different challenge to complete on the far side of the gym before returning to the other:

  • Eighth graders were challenged to ten consecutive jump-rope turns
  • Seventh graders were challenged to do head spins on a baseball bat
  • Sixth graders were challenged to only five jumping jacks

The sixth graders shone as winners, with all ten sixth graders finishing while the seventh and eighth grade were still on their fifth and sixth runners.

After the race was over, Sean asked, “Now, who thought that race was fair?” To no one’s surprise, the seventh and eighth grade did not, but the race was rigged for a specific reason. Sean explained, “Missing school is an unnecessary barrier to learning, and every day you miss makes it tougher on yourself.” In that moment, everything became evident – and the gym suddenly became silent.

In a moment school faculty and staff recalled for weeks afterward, the entire middle school student body quietly reflected on what attendance means to their academic success. To end the event on a positive note, students were drawn at random from a box where students drop their Behavior Bucks—an affirmative behavior management system corps members have developed this year—for the chance to throw a whipped cream-covered paper plate in the face of their favorite City Year corps member. The pies were a splash, and midway through the activity the entire crowd was chanting the names of corps members they hoped to see pie’d next.

Megan after Pie

Corps member Megan Hugel after being pie'd!

The rally was a blast for all who were involved and a clear example of the Aki Kurose City Year team’s dedication, creativity, and overall impressiveness in their service. Extra credit for the event goes to Ed Brown and Chris Wodicka for designing the rally and to Sean Morrin for masterfully facilitating it. The rest of the Aki Kurose team, as always, gave their full support and their willingness to help… and of course get pie’d!

Text by Nick Hernandez, City Year Seattle/King County Team Leader of the T-Mobile Diplomas Now Team at Aki Kurose Middle School

Starfish Story: Attention to Attendance

Corps member working with a student

The difference that City Year Seattle corps members make in the lives of students doesn’t occur at once. Changes in students’ attitudes happen with diligent effort as corps members continually show genuine support for their students. Each corps member demonstrates that education is a priority to everyone, and every effort, no matter how small is creating change.

Poor attendance is one of the three key indicators that a child is at risk of dropping out of school. In our City Year Diplomas Now schools, corps members use cell phones generously provided by T-Mobile, City Year’s  National Leadership Sponsor, to call students who aren’t in class. In this Starfish Story, corps member Sona Thinakaran tackles attendance issues with one of her middle school students.

On Monday, one of my students who has been struggling in school did not show up to first period. I called her house and asked to speak with a parent or guardian, but they were not available. Instead, her grandmother asked me if I wanted to speak with the student.

“Hi Jayne*, it’s Miss Sona.”

“Hi…” she said. I could sense the reluctance in her voice.

“Your grandma said you’re at home. Is everything okay? Why aren’t you at school?”

“I have back aches,” she said.

“Oh, okay. Are you doing all right or are you in a lot of pain?” I was a little concerned.

“I’m okay…”

“Do you think you’ll come to school later, then?”


“Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you, okay? And I really want to see you at school! I hope I will see you later today.”

“Okay, Miss Sona,” she said.

Within the first/second period block of school, Jayne showed up to language arts. She later told me, “I was NOT going to come to school today, Miss Sona. But then you called my house.” The next day, Jayne did not show up to first period again. I called to have a very similar conversation with her. She told me that she would try to come in late. And again, she showed up within that first/second period block. The third day, however, was different: Jayne came to school and was on time to her first period class.

Since January, Jayne’s attendance has definitely improved. She knows I notice when she’s gone, and she’s aware that she’ll get a phone call from me if she’s not in school on time and prepared for the day. Now there have even been times when she comes into her language arts class earlier than most of her classmates and sets all of the other students’ notebooks on their tables, preparing her peers for an easier start to the day.

Currently, she does not have any unexcused absences, unexcused tardies, or unexcused early dismissals, meaning that she is in school ready to learn. Her improved attendance, one-on-one tutoring, and willing attitude to learn are all resulting in improved grades. Since taking the fall standardized test, she has increased from a 214 to a 217 in reading. It may not sound like much, but that’s almost an entire academic year’s worth of progress in approximately four months and it’s all progress that would be impossible if she weren’t in class each day.

*Names have been changed

Text by Sona Thinakaran, City Year Seattle/King County corps member

T-Mobile Goes Above and Beyond

T-Mobile has a way of coming up with incredibly creative ideas when it comes to fundraising for City Year.

In late December, Chuck Stigers, senior manager of Portfolio Risk Operations at  T-Mobile, emailed City Year Seattle about planning a small auction for  an upcoming summit event they were hosting. He anticipated the auction would raise a few hundred dollars, and T-Mobile wanted their contributions to be dedicated to City Year Seattle. Of course we were very pleased to hear the news, and we didn’t realize  that we would be in for a big surprise.

Shortly after this conversation, three members of the T-Mobile Portfolio Risk Operations team attended a summit to meet with their external partners in New York City. At the end of the summit, the attendees split into teams for an organized bowling tournament. The T-Mobile members decided to auction off their amazing bowling skills to the teams and donate the proceeds to City Year. With only three T-Mobile members available out of the 35 attendees, the competition was intense and the bidding was fierce.

The event, which Chuck Stigers originally expected to raise a “few hundred dollars”, raised more than $7,200. Everyone at the summit pooled their contributions together to make this generous donation to City Year Seattle.

We were astounded when we heard the news. But then we remembered that this was T-Mobile we’re talking about, City Year Seattle’s biggest corporate sponsor and a City Year National Leadership Sponsor. In December, about two weeks before Chuck Stigers emailed us, T-Mobile employees ran a holiday sample sale with all proceeds going toward City Year. They prepared for this fundraiser throughout the entire year and in eight short hours, T-Mobile raised $135,000.

And each year at T-Mobile sites across the country, T-Mobile sponsors a day for their employees to join City Year for the annual T-Mobile Huddle Up. During Huddle Up, T-Mobile employees transform a community building to provide a safe space for students after-school.

Yesterday, Simon Amiel, City Year Seattle’s Executive Director, presented T-Mobile with a plaque as a token of our appreciation. He said:

The continuous support from the T-Mobile team is the reason why we’re able to serve  kids in Seattle Public Schools. You are helping us with our mission, and together we are making a powerful impact.

T-Mobile, we are always impressed by your ingenuity and thoughtfulness, and you never fail to surprise and amaze us throughout the year. City Year and the children of Seattle Public Schools appreciate your support so much.

The T-Mobile Portfolio Risk Operations team and Simon Amiel, City Year Seattle Executive Director

Text by Sherry Tiao, City Year Seattle/King County External Relations Project Leader