Year Milwaukee Executive Director Jason Holton is leading a
corps of 60 volunteers that will work with Milwaukee students
this school year.
Jason M. Holton knows it’s going to take a
lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of focus, but he believes it can
be done — so he and a group of 60 young volunteers are rolling up
their sleeves to help at-risk Milwaukee students stay on the road to
The 17- to 24-year-old volunteers have
signed up for City Year, a national service organization affiliated
with AmeriCorps. Holton has been associated with the organization for
five years and is now executive director of Milwaukee City Year.
The 2010-11 school year will be the first
time Milwaukee students will have City Year corps members in the
classroom. Holton promises the volunteers will "put their
all" into helping kids remain on track.
"They want to change the world,"
he says. "They want to have the effects that take nine to 10
years to change, but they want to do it in 10 months. And I love that
They will be concentrating on middle and
high school students who are on the cusp of achievement, but have at
least one risk factor that could derail their success. Holton points
to a Johns Hopkins University study that found if a child has one
"off-track" behavior — such as spotty attendance, behavior
issues or difficulty performing in the core subjects of English and
math — the student is 75 percent more likely to drop out of high
There is often a stigma attached to getting
extra help in school, Holton says, but City Year mentors are
"Near Peers." They are old enough to command students’
respect and young enough to understand what makes kids tick.
"Getting tutored by a corps member
becomes cool," Holton explains. "And it’s another adult
figure telling (students) they can’t wait to see them at school.
They’re there at the first bell and the last bell."
City Year corps members work with each
school in a different way, Holton says, but usually the volunteers are
matched with a teacher and will provide some in-class support. If a
group of students in that class is lagging behind, for example, the
mentors will work with those students to help them keep up with their
peers. There are incentives for the entire class to demonstrate
pro-social behavior, and students who are "doing the right
things" to encourage leadership and consistently attending class
Holton notes that across the country 1
million students drop out of school every year, "and that’s why
we have to do something." City Year, founded in 1988, has 20
affiliates across America, and is seeing results in the schools where
corps members are working. In Chicago, for example, reading levels
improved; in Cleveland, fourth-graders in City Year schools improved
math proficiencies dramatically; and in Philadelphia, suspensions
dropped by 40 percent.
City Year volunteers, who receive a small
stipend for rent and food, have idealism on their side, even though
the task may sometimes seem daunting. Some are high school graduates,
some are college grads, some defer graduate school in order to
"This young generation is saying, ‘I
want to do something and I want to do my part.’ For a lot of corps
members, that becomes a life of service," Holton says.