UMass seniors embark on experience to ‘give back’

By Eleanor Harte

(City Year/Flickr)
(City Year/Flickr)

At 27 locations across the country, over 2,500 people spend their days in challenging situations, aiding students in high-need classrooms through City Year.

A number of seniors at the University of Massachusetts will be spending the next year serving with City Year in public schools across the country, joining the many UMass alumni that have already served with the program.

City Year is an education-based non-profit founded by two Harvard University undergraduates in 1988. Corps members are placed into classrooms in high-need public schools, where they assist a teacher in a classroom and host before and after school programs for the students. They also run small groups during the school day, working with the students to provide targeted, individual attention.

One recent graduate, Gabriel Tejada, applied to City Year in November 2013 because he said he liked the culture of idealism.

“It has a great mission statement and seemed like it would be real world experience,” he said. Tejada, a sociology and Spanish major, graduated in May and began his position in Brooklyn, New York in August.

Members are between the ages of 17 to 24 and perform a number of duties related to service, leadership development and civic engagement over a period of 10 months. The corps helps students with their education and personal development. They are paid a bi-weekly stipend, which varies depending on the service city.

Nicki Ambrose, a management and resource economics senior from Rockport, will be starting with City Year this summer in Seattle.

“I had a corporate internship in the summer, and I realized that I’m not ready for nine-to-five office life,” Ambrose said. “Also, for four years it’s been drilled into us how lucky we are to have a great education and this seemed like a good segue to give back.”

Kalpita Patel, a senior biology major from Burlington, applied to City Year and Teach for America, a similar program with one major difference – TFA members are the sole teacher in the classroom.

“I decided to be the helper rather than the main teacher because I don’t feel qualified to teach a classroom yet,” she said.

City Year corps members are dedicated to working long hours. Tejada arrives at work before 7:15 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 10:30 p.m. some days.

“I knew it would be long days and I have those but I’m fully enjoying it,” he said. “I’m getting out everything I’m putting in.”

Patel is aware of the long days and feels prepared to handle them.

“I’ve been doing things like this for a long time,” she said. “It keeps you own your toes, and there’s not a lot of downtime, which I like.”

Patel has spent a lot of time educating her peers at UMass and making an impact on her community, as well as working with kids in need.

“I felt like City Year was the answer to all of that,” she said.

Tejada works with sixth graders, providing in-class support to teachers and students and also offers tutoring help. In addition, he sits  with students and is available for one-on-one instruction. He works with the 10 other corps members at his school and with the 300 spread out over New York City.

Tejada believes New Englanders are especially suited for the life that comes with City Year.

“(New Englanders) have a reputation of being gritty and low maintenance, which is what City Year needs. Their philosophy is that you have to be flexible, can easily adapt, and don’t care as much about your personal needs. It’s not about you.”

Patel and Ambrose don’t have concrete plans when their time with City Year is up. They’re thinking about graduate school and career plans, but for the next year, they know they will be in a classroom, helping some of the students that need them the most.

Eleanor Harte can be reached at [email protected].