Members of City Year were honored to meet President Obama in Boston on March 5, 2014. We presented the President with letters from City Year AmeriCorps members in each of our 25 cities about the impact they’re making in the lives of students.
This letter to President Obama is by Evelyne Santiago, a team leader with City Year Los Angeles.
Dear President Obama,
My name is Evelyne Santiago and I’m a native of Los Angeles, California. I serve as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Los Angeles because I’m the product of what happens when others invest in your potential. Without the help of my family, teachers and community, I would have been unable to become the first person in my family to graduate from college.
I am currently in my second year of service as a Team Leader with City Year Los Angeles at Belmont High School in the Pico Union neighborhood. Here, the graduation rate hovers around 50%. Every day is a different challenge both physically and emotionally.
Yet every day, we return to Belmont ready to serve another day regardless of what the circumstances might be. Each day, I work with my team to focus on improving attendance, behavior and course performance. Our days involve creating and implementing individualized interventions for our focus list students.
Our team also works to identify poor behavior and foster achievement. Every other Thursday our team hosts 50 Acts of Leadership, a program that develops the leadership and social skills of our focus list students. Students engage in conversations and activities that range from defining leadership to learning how to ask others for help. I truly believe that our near peer mentorship style is the key to our success. Our students are able to look at their corps member and relate to them. We also implement school wide strategies that create a positive culture and the right learning environment to support the whole child and the whole school. Last December our team hosted “Holiday Fest,” an event that drew out almost 200 Belmont families for a night of games, food, and community building.
When I think about the impact I’ve made, I think about Samantha. Last September, Samantha had an F in her English class and would typically be absent 2 or 3 days a week. Her teacher didn’t know that Samantha was missing school to translate for her mother while she ran errands and paid bills for her family. Samantha spent a lot of time committed to others. What she needed was someone who was committed to her.
So we got to work. We made a to-do list of all of her assignments. We kept a tracker of all the days she consecutively attended school. We did pullout sessions every day for six months to work on reading comprehension and critical thinking. We worked with her teacher to make up her work.
It all paid off. By the end of the year Samantha raised her F in English to a B and had 93% attendance. On our last day together Samantha gave me a note. It said, “Ms. Evelyne, thank you for caring for me. Thank you for everything. Without you I don’t think I would have made it through this year.”
As a 10th grader, Samantha still visits me in the City Year room and updates me on her grades and her life. She’s capable of setting goals for herself and helping her peers.
Mr. President, thank you for believing in the power of national service to solve the high school dropout crisis and for enabling more young people like me to be part of the solution. Together we can change the trajectory of America’s youth.
Yours in Service,
Evelyne Santiago, City Year Los Angeles