"As I changed the minds of my students, they created a transformative impact on who I am today," said City Year AmeriCorps alumna Kyrah Lee at the launch of the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS) at the White House, describing her two terms of service in a Washington DC public school. Over the course of these two years, by working with students, educators, and community members across lines of difference, Kyrah also developed the motivation and skills to help others bridge divides and work together to solve problems, something she will continue as she pursues a career in mental health and education. Authentic service opportunities like the one Kyrah experienced not only benefit students but also help strengthen the social fabric of our country by creating a generation of bridgers.
On July 5, the White House launched a national public-private collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education, AmeriCorps, and more than 70 education and youth development organizations to help local communities address mental health and interrupted learning challenges among students. Over the next three years, NPSS seeks to recruit and deploy an additional 250,000 adults to serve as tutors, mentors, and student success coaches who will partner with educators and parents to help students thrive. To support the recruitment and retention of volunteers, local organizations can apply for funding from AmeriCorps’ $20,000,000 Volunteer Generation Fund.
While the goal of 250,000 additional adults is ambitious, the good news is we can build on existing, effective programs to achieve this mission. Higher education and national service can play a critical role in reaching this recruitment goal.
Many college and university campuses already have high-quality programs that deploy college students to serve in local schools and community centers as tutors, mentors, and recreation specialists. For example, the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement at Cornell University provides community-engaged learning experiences where Cornellians can serve as STEM educators, nutrition counselors and advocates, and college enrollment advisors in schools throughout New York State. College students can also provide critical capacity-building projects for school districts. These experiences address local needs while helping students learn about their passions and career interests.
During her junior year, Cornell student Ashley Loke reflected on her experience as a tutor at a local elementary school: “[This experience] has not only allowed me to impact the youth of the local community but also made me realize how invested I am in ensuring that everyone has equal access to quality education.”
As AmeriCorps CEO Michael Smith shared, “We have nearly 70,000 AmeriCorps members, including foster grandparents, that are playing critical roles in 12,000 schools across the country…. This partnership will allow us to double down to do that work.” At Einhorn Collaborative, we’ve seen firsthand through our partnerships with City Year, Playworks, and other national service organizations the positive impact that AmeriCorps members have in addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of their students while creating learning environments where young people feel like they are welcomed and belong.
Engaging more Americans to support students isn’t just about overcoming interrupted learning whether due to the pandemic, mental health reasons, or other challenges. Our work over the last decade helped us see that when there are more caring people inside a school, more relationships flourish. We know that authentic relationships are foundational to mitigating mental health challenges and creating educational environments where learning is most effective. Yet, according to the CDC, only half of high school students report having supportive, caring relationships.
We are excited to continue our support for the national service and community-engaged learning fields and look forward to the innovative partnerships that NPSS will nurture to fuel more opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to participate. As a result, not only will students benefit, but so will individual volunteers and their communities, helping to strengthen the social fabric of our country.
As White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice made clear during the launch of NPSS: “It’s in these times we also realize our interdependence. Each of us can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child. Let’s get to work.”
We hope more Americans will follow in Kyrah’s and Ashley’s footsteps and learn more about how they can get involved in supporting students across our country, while enriching their own lives and communities.