New York

City to use Americorps to staff struggling schools with mentors

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

The city’s signature school-improvement initiative is getting a helping hand from the nation’s largest service agency, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced today.

Americorps will spend $5.8 million over the next two school years to place a civil service volunteer in each of the nearly 130 schools that the de Blasio administration is converting into “community schools.” The initiative is a campaign pledge for Mayor Bill de Blasio and includes the 94 low-performing schools that are part of the mayor’s much-scrutinized Renewal program. 

Officials touted the partnership as one of many ways that outside groups will flood needy schools with different kinds of support, ranging from expanded social services, extra academic support, and more enrichment activities. The job of each Americorps member will be to tutor and mentor students and provide outreach to parents, with an eye toward reducing chronic absenteeism, one of the metrics that officials are monitoring to measure progress in the schools.

“Sometimes a child comes to school because they’re going to see you,” Fariña said to an audience of service members at Baruch College, where she announced the grant with Americorps director Bill Basl and the city’s Chief Service Officer, Paula Gavin. “Not their teacher, not their classmates, but they’re there to see you. And they look forward to seeing you because you’re closer to them in age, you’re going to greet them in a different way and you’re going to socialize with them in a different way.”

Americorps, a public and privately-funded federal agency established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, has long connected people to work in New York City schools, including as teachers through Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows. More than 8,000 members are currently working in New York City, many of which work in schools through other education nonprofits like City Year, Blue Engine and Citizen Schools.

As part of their service, most members receive small stipends to cover living expenses and a $5,730 scholarship for college credits or to pay back college loans.

City officials said about 150 people would make up the first-year cohort and that one member will be placed in each of the 128 schools that de Blasio is converting into community schools, at some point during the 2015-16 school year. The remaining members will work centrally in the education department’s new community schools office or on “beautification” projects in different schools.

Although Americorps is often seen as a program for young adults between jobs or before entering college, Fariña said she’d like to use recruit parents for the roles, too.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could train many more of our parents through Americorps so that becomes another way to get back into the work world?” Fariña said later at an education conference at New York University.

The announcement comes with less than three months left in the school year and most Renewal schools still have not finalized partnerships with main community-based organizations, a central component to de Blasio’s plan. The city is providing funds to hire a full-time community school director who will serve as the liaison between the school and outside organizations in each school.

De Blasio is planning to spend $150 million over three years to convert 94 long-struggling schools and use a $52 million state grant over four years for the remaining 34 schools.

 Although they are receiving different amounts of support and resources at different paces, the schools are symbolic of the new administration’s move away from closing the city’s bottom-ranked schools, an approach favored by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio’s approach, especially for the his Renewal Schools initiatives, has been the subject of steady criticism from opponents, such as charter school advocates, who say his plan lacks the urgency and aggressive changes needed to turnaround long-struggling schools. As the issue has become fodder for a debate over renewing mayoral control in New York City, de Blasio has responded in recent weeks by showcasing schools where more significant changes have taken place and sharpening his rhetoric around ridding the schools of low-performing teachers.

More than 40 of the 128 schools are further along in the process and have already partnered with a community-based organization. Officials said the pairing process for the remaining schools is in its final stages and could partnerships could be announced as soon as the next few weeks.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.