The Value Of Mentors: Multiplying Hard Work & Dedication

steph_starfishstory_CYCHIWith January being National Mentorship Month, we will be sharing a few success stories with you from our corps members. In this post, we share a success story of Stephanie Marban, a corps member serving at Telpochalli Elementary School in the Little Village community in Chicago. Continue reading


Raising Confidence | Friday Report from the Field

This week, corps member Alex Galarce serving on the McCormick Foundation Team at Manley Career Academy shares with us his story of making a difference.

It was the first day of homework help, and we were as ready for it as we could be. I was in charge of math tutoring, and I was as nervous as the first day we got to Manley. I knew the material. I knew (some of) the students. I didn’t know what the students were going to get stuck on, but I was pretty sure I could figure it out. Still, the anxiety lingered.

Two girls came in for math help. They were both juniors, in Algebra-2/Trig, which is the standard Junior-level class at Manley. It’s not an easy subject, and I remember having trouble with it myself in high school. They took out their sheets, and I peeked at them. It was a review on linear functions. Nothing I can’t handle.

These girls were smart. Real smart. They just needed some one-on-one help and guidance. They needed some of the questions rephrased, and someone to go over the concepts with. And I was happy to do it.

It was like night and day. When we started, they were too scared to start the first problem alone, and by the end, when I explained what they had to do next and why, they said things like “Oh yeah, of course.” One of the girls said to me, “You make me feel smart.” That remains the nicest thing that any student has said to me, and it sometimes gets me out of bed in the morning. Next time, she probably won’t need me, or will only need me for reassurance and quick questions. And I’m looking forward to seeing that.

Alex serves on the McCormick Foundation Team serving at Manley Career Academy in Chicago’s North Lawndale community. He is originally from Lake Zurich, IL and graduated from Lake Zurich High School.

Starfish Story: A Story of Making a Difference

Below, corps member Faven Habte tells of how she made an impact on a student at the Johnson School of Excellence in the North Lawndale community. Give it a read. Get inspired.

“Working in a 7th grade science class, I interact with many students who sometimes have difficulty with the topics. One of my focus students in particular is what I would consider a silent struggler. Although she is on task, focused, and listening each and every class, I could tell from talking to her and looking at her work that she wasn’t completely grasping the concepts. Watching this, I decided to spend an entire class period working solely with her on the areas that she self-designated as her weaknesses.

Corps member Faven Habte serves at the Johnson School of Excellence in the North Lawndale community.

After pulling online resources and games specifically for her, we spent an hour reviewing food webs and data analysis. Not only could I see her face light up with each new connection that she made, but she pushed herself further to form a relationship between herbivores and her personal eating preferences of corn with seasoning salt. She even asked to complete all 3 online food web games when I thought she would stop after finishing the first correctly.

I gave her five sample questions to see how much of the information we reviewed had soaked in. I was impressed by her ability to not only choose each correct response, but also to provide reasoning for why each answer was correct or incorrect. With time running out, I asked her what she thought about this period, and she responded simply by saying, “I liked it Ms. Faven, I feel like I learned something.”

Want to know a little more about the CYCHI Johnson team and their service?? Read on about the talent show they hosted for Johnson students! This was the feature story in the team’s February service briefing. Each of our 13 school teams are responsible for creating a monthly service briefing that profiles the team and the work they’re doing at school. The service briefings are sent out to parents, staff, and administration.

Big thanks to Johnson corps members Faven Habte and Jaymie Jenks who are responsible for creating the service briefing and all of its content.

Johnson’s Got Talent!

You knew that the Johnson School of Excellence was full of teachers. You knew that Johnson was full of students. But did you know that this school was filled to the brim with STARS? This became quite apparent to all who had the pleasure of attending the “Johnson’s Got Talent Show.” The audience was wowed with performances of singing, dancing, piano playing and even a cheer! It was an incredible night for everyone involved.

“Johnson’s Got Talent” had 20 performers, all of whom worked extremely hard to prepare for their chance to be in the spotlight. All of these students bravely signed up for auditions and the Johnson City Year team was blown away at the amount of pure talent held by Johnson students. The selected performers then spent an additional six weeks rehearsing before school with City Year members, as well as Mr. Cvyngros, the Johnson music teacher.

As the day of show became closer and closer, these dedicated performers began attending after-school rehearsals so they could practice in front of each other. As you are well aware, singing in front of one or two people is quite a different experience from singing in front of 20 of your classmates! However, the performers were fearless, and showed up every day to practice all aspects of the show.

Finally, the night of the show arrived and the performers greeted it with mixed feelings of nerves and excitement. The audience entered, welcomed by student “backstage managers” who handed out refreshments, gave out programs and ushered them to their seats. The first performance, a trio singing “This Little Light of Mine”, set the bar high for the show. The rest of the acts followed strongly, leaving the audience amazed after each one. As the final act took their bow, all of the students knew they had pulled off a fantastic show.


Starfish Story: A Story of Making a Difference

Below, corps member Nana Otutua-Amoah tells of how she made an impact on a student at Manley Career Academy in the North Lawndale community. Give it a read. Get inspired.

Corps member Nana Otutua-Amoah works at Manley Career Academy High School is the North Lawndale community.

“A famous Ghanaian proverb says “Anomaa, oko na oba wo ha osi ne dan”.  The direct translation in English is “By going and coming, a bird weaves its nest”.  Prior to my City Year experience, this quote, like many others, was something memorized and not yet experienced.  It wasn’t till about a month ago that I realized that this quote mirrors my current state at City Year


My name is Nana Otutua-Amoah and I serve in the North Lawndale community. I have been in Chicago for about 13 years and I know Chicago as my home.  I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools.  I attended schools on the north side of Chicago.  My interest in City Year was heavily due to my passion of working with children.  I can truly say that thus far, my City Year experience has been very unique and continues to be a learning experience everyday.  My daily routine at Manley Career Academy involves making attendance related pone-calls, having lunch sessions with students, in-class support, and tutoring after school.  By the end of the day, I have worked with students for about 8 hours.  There are no typical days at Manley Career Academy , each day is different and brings about a different success and failure.

 At the beginning of January, all of my focus list students were failing.  This was partially because most of them also had an attendance problem.  There were two students on my list who were in school on a regular basis but NEVER finished their homework or came to after-school tutoring for help.  I decided to devote the next two weeks to them and reminding them everyday to come in for after school tutoring.  It was crunch time at Manley since report card pickup was right around the corner.  Shortly, *Alex, started taking my advice and coming regularly to tutoring.  After one week of catching up and finishing incomplete work, Alex raised his grade from an Incomplete to a Proficient (from an F to a C).  You should have seen the look in his eyes when he turned in the last assignment that gave him a C.  Alex went around the whole classroom yelling “I got a C” and “I’m passing Ms Uhl’s English class now thanks to Ms. Nana”.  That moment meant a lot to me, but I know it meant a lot more to him.  He was very proud of himself and wanted to share the good news to any and everyone.   This took place exactly a month ago.  Alex now does all his work and does not hesitate to ask for help when he needs it.  His current grade is a B in his English class.  I asked him what made him complete his work now and he simply said that because he knew it was possible for him to pass the class.  Although he does not have an A yet, I believe that me being his City Year tutor is a constant reminder of the self-motivation he should have when it comes to his work.  I constantly remind him that he made the effort to come to after school tutoring to ensure that his grades are better and that is the first step of being successful in high school. 

 Ms Uhl and I, at the end of every school day have brief conversations about students and the ways in which we can be more helpful to them.  A few days after Alex received a C in her class, we discussed other students on my focus list and how we can improve their grades.  There was a concern that had been on my mind, so I asked Ms. Uhl how she remains positive over 5 years when she does not see everyone pass her class.  I was worried because I felt like I was doing the best I could to encourage students to come in for help after or before school, but only the same students showed up.  She simply told me to celebrate the small wins and use that as a personal motivation tool so that I can be persistent in all that I do.  Alex passing this class has made me seen how effective being persistent can be.   My back and forth travel to Manley has come to mean something, something tangible and something that has encouraged me to look more into the field of education.  Although I have made various other connections with students, I cherish this tangible evidence of Alex improving in English class. 

It does not take a bird one trip to build its nest.  So, I must remind myself that it does not take one trip to Manley to encourage a student.  The bird is persistent and with numerous trips is focused on his goal.  My goal is to not give up hope for any of my students.  I hope my persistence and faith in these students encourages them to believe in themselves.”

*Student’s real name changed.

Starfish Friday-Stories of Making a Difference

The City Year Team serving at Orr Academy High School

City Year corps members deal with a lot. Between creating new attendance initiatives, running after school programs, and planning school-wide events, there’s not a lot of time to stop and reflect how each one of them is making a difference in the lives of the students they serve everyday.

Well have no fear, the City Year Chicago blog is here to help. Occasionally we will be posting Starfish StoriesCity Year‘s stories of making a difference — from the field. Good things are happening at City Year Chicago, and what better way to tell our stories than to hear it from the corps members themselves. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your Starfish fix.

Terri Alford and Ry Finerty, Corps Members serving at Orr Academy High School in the West Garfield Park Community.

A starfish story: making a difference to Chicago’s students.

Tim Nystrand serves on the Joseph Freed and Associates Team on Chicago's west side.

While serving in the Read 180 classroom of Howe School of Excellence, I work with a number of focus students on a daily basis. The students are 6th and 7th graders that are between two and six years behind on their reading skills. I serve a number of roles in the classroom, but my primary duty is to read one-on-one with students everyday and help them with word recognition, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

One of my students chose to read a book that told the story of a girl who was deaf and had trouble communicating with her father who refused to learn sign language. The book was engaging, and I could tell this student was compelled by the compassion he felt for the main character to read the story; even though, the book was a bit above his reading level. He struggled to finish it, but he did.

During class the next day, he asked me to come to his desk. He then demonstrated that he had learned to spell his name in sign language. He did this quickly and proficiently: he had mastered the skill.

It gave me great joy knowing that the book I helped this young man read sparked a genuine interest in reading, something that he has continued to show more and more in Read 180.

Tim Nystrand, City Year Corps Member

A Starfish Story demonstrates the difference that City Year corps members make with the students and communities they serve. Like the young girl who saved dying starfish by tossing each one back into the ocean, corps members see that value in making a difference to every individual they serve.