While in college, I studied criminal justice with a specific focus on the school to prison pipeline and juvenile delinquency. As a senior, I remember sitting in the library daydreaming about where life might take me next. I had no concrete plans and I was terrified. I remember getting an email from a program called City Year, where pictures showed young people wearing red jackets, being idealistic and serving youth.  I always had a passion for service and giving back, so I decided to apply.

I served my first AmeriCorps year with City Year in New Hampshire. It was the most rewarding year of my life, where I experienced firsthand that change is possible. My partner teacher and I collaborated to ensure that our students were confident, appreciated, and understood the academic content. The year was not always easy. It did not take long to see how easy it would be for a student to fall into the trajectory I spent four years in college studying. Many students faced hardships that I, as a 23 year old, could not even begin to fathom. Some were angry and did not know how to cope and therefore got labeled the “bad” students, a name that is hard to shake. As an AmeriCorps member in the classroom, I learned that teachers are responsible for so many students beyond just academic learning.  At times, it can be hard to know every circumstance of each student that leads to their behavior and then translates to attendance and grades. Being a City Year AmeriCorps member gave me the opportunity to provide additional support to the teacher and classroom, and get to know each individual student on a personal level. I saw tremendous growth in my students that year. I also felt tremendous growth in myself.

My first service year made me responsible, professional, and capable. I knew my journey could not stop. I applied for an opportunity to serve on the start-up team to help launch City Year’s 28th site in Memphis. On my graduation day from City Year New Hampshire, I committed to serving a second year with City Year Memphis as a Team Leader.  In Memphis, I found a new feeling of inspiration. As a Team Leader, I led a team of 7 AmeriCorps members at Brownville Road Elementary School. One of my responsibilities was to travel from class to class to observe and coach my team. Every day, I was fortunate to see the passion of so many teachers and young people alike. My AmeriCorps members were making a real difference and I was so proud. Experiencing this passion every day created an itch to be back with the students, back in the classroom. At the end of the school year, I did something that I NEVER anticipated and signed on at my partner school (Brownsville Road Elementary) to become a 3rd-grade teacher.

            While teaching is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I am grateful for the training and preparation I received from City Year. City Year taught me how to build relationships and the importance of trust and understanding. I walk around my classroom giving high-fives and praising students for their hard work. When I encounter a student who is struggling to meet expectations, I sit with them and make a plan. I come in every day with love for my kids, ready to teach, because it is the City Year way. While others may disagree, I promise you, I do not have one “bad” student in my classroom. I know that my students can and will change the world. No matter where life takes me, City Year will follow. It is undeniable, and I would not be where I am today without it. 


Janelle Mulvaney
City Year Memphis Alum
Full-time 3rd-grade teacher

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