5 Ways to Survive Your “City Year”

By Latrice Stevenson and Minju Zukowski
First-year AmeriCorps members, CSX Transportation team serving at Kimball Elementary School

It's March. City Year AmeriCorps members are now eight months into our service year and all we can say is that battling the nation's dropout crisis is exhausting. Whether it’s explaining what City Year is, maneuvering boisterous students, or making teamwork happen, this guide will help you survive “City Year.” Incoming corps members, it’s almost your turn to be on the front lines, so study up!


Explaining What City Year Is

Any time you put on the infamous City Year red jacket and ride public transportation, you are in danger of being asked, “So what is City Year?” Fear not! Instead of casually ignoring the question or saying “This is actually my stop” (when it isn’t), you can embrace the opportunity to talk about your lovely students and how you work nonstop from sunrise to nightfall. Believe me, the more you say “City Year is an education based nonprofit helping to decrease the dropout crisis”, the easier it gets. You actually come to enjoy it, and for all we know, that small encounter may be the ripple to an aspiring Change Agent.


Surviving Extracurricular Responsibilities

Even after a long day with rambunctious students, many corps members choose to take on additional leadership opportunities with City Year. These opportunities include planning weeklong day camps during spring break, prepping for service projects, or speaking about their experiences at events. It’s important to remember that these are extra opportunities to network and sell yourself. Corps members have had the opportunity to shake hands with presidents, mayors, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies simply by taking the extra time and effort to put themselves out there. You might be tired after service, but you never know what introduction to someone new can get your foot into a door you’d never think was open to you. So grab a cup of coffee and get ready!


How to Survive Living on a Stipend

Unfortunately for corps members, we do not live a life of luxury on our stipend. But while on a budget, you learn to get creative. However, living in the Nation’s Capital has its own luxuries. Museums, zoos, and many historic monuments and events are offered free of charge for those that want to explore the nation’s history and delve into the many unique cultures that reside within it. Here is a great resource for finding free adventures in the city.


How to Survive Your Students

Having 25 to 50 students under your wing can be a daunting feeling. How can I possibly reach every single one? Easy. Get to know them. Not just as your student, but as a person. A genuine relationship with a student goes a long way. Once you learn what they love to do, who their football coach is, what kind of music they like, what their favorite (and least favorite) class activity is, or get the number of the parent who will show up at the school, everything falls into place.


How to Survive Your Team

During your service year, you serve on a team with 7-10 other corps members at your respective school. Wherever you are, you better believe that your team will be there as well. To survive (with) your team, you must have the uncomfortable talks and have to provide the constructive criticism that will help your team grow closer. Definitely use “I-statements” early and often. Instead of saying “You’re the worst teammate ever,” try saying “I think you’re the worst teammate ever.”

Lastly, definitely play the game “Mafia” at every team training.


Are You Ready For City Year?

Being a City Year is one of the most challenging experiences one could ever have professionally. At least once a week, you think to yourself, “Why am I doing this again?”

So how do you survive your “City Year”?

You reach for all of the good moments from a bad day. You look for the progress, sometimes slow progress, you see in your students. The lifelong bonds and friendships you will make within your unique and beautiful corps are amazing. Take pride in being one of the few, one of the elite, to stand on the frontlines to make sure at least one child can have a better future. Through all the fatigue, stress, and emotional breakdowns, you remember you do City Year to see your students thrive and grow, and you inevitably end up thriving and growing too.

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