Bringing STEAM Education to the Heart of Silicon Valley

After the bell rings, it’s time to unlock the potential in future scientists, artists and engineers. AbbVie partner City Year shows how it’s done.

Published October 8, 2019 / All Stories

A Focus on Under-Served Schools

On a sunny afternoon in east San Jose, California, students at Aptitud Community Academy at Goss are not quite done learning.

The school day is officially over, but the classrooms at this K-8 public school are still bustling with students engaged in immersive art education and projects. They’re focused on the “A” of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) education as part of a special afterschool program.

The younger students create art on their own, while the older students study paintings and discuss how they’re composed, from the way the light hits to what the subjects’ wardrobes represent. However, they all have one thing in common – they’re led by energetic young adults wearing signature yellow jackets that represent City Year.

As a national education nonprofit, City Year partners with systemically under-resourced schools like Aptitud Community Academy to provide students with additional support, so they’re more likely to graduate prepared for college and a career.

Come along on a typical “day in the life” of a City Year AmeriCorps member, learning how they impact students and help create change in San Jose schools and beyond.

Boosting Graduation Rates

With help from a $10 million grant from AbbVie, students across much of San Jose now have access to new afterschool STEAM programming – a milestone for City Year as it celebrates 25 years serving students in San Jose.

The AbbVie funding is also expanding City Year’s reach to serve more than 18,000 students in 36 schools in Chicago. Additionally, the support will strengthen the organization’s national math and literacy service across City Year’s network.

The impact of City Year is felt through increased graduation rates, like at William C. Overfelt High School in San Jose where City Year AmeriCorps members support ninth graders. The school had a graduation rate of 83 percent in 2019, outperforming the district’s average of 76 percent, according to City Year data.

It’s because of support from partners like AbbVie that City Year can continue to enhance what it offers students and create a tangible impact, especially in schools like Aptitud Community Academy where 93 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch and 55 percent are English language learners, says Pete Settelmeyer, City Year San Jose executive director.

“We want to help address the inequity built into our education system that leaves many students of color and low-income students without access to the support that all children need to develop their talents,” Settelmeyer says.

The organization’s long-term impact goals include reaching 50 percent of off-track students in the communities it serves, as well as serve in the cities that account for two-thirds of the nation’s urban dropouts, according to the 2018 City Year annual report.

City Year AmeriCorps member Serilla Chavez provides one-on-one homework help to a student in the classroom in San Jose, California.

A ‘Near-Peer’ Model

The City Year model is centered on young adults who dedicate a year of service to schools across the U.S., most often after completing high school or college and before entering the workforce.

These City Year AmeriCorps members serve full time in teams at a partner school where they’re embedded for the entire school year, serving in 350 schools in 29 cities and touching the lives of 226,000 students each day. AmeriCorps members are often closer in age to students, and they’re able get to know students in the classroom, in the hallways and before and after school.

For corps member Serilla Chavez, the experience was so rewarding that she returned for a second year of service. Seeing the students make improvements over time drew her back, Chavez says.

“When you show the students their progress, you notice the expressions on their faces,” she says. “Seeing how much they’re improving really changes their outlook.”

Gloria Quintero, impact manager at City Year San Jose, enjoys providing social-emotional learning opportunities to students.

Realizing Their Bright Futures

Building relationships with students allows for a deeper connection and a chance to understand gap areas, whether that’s discovering that a student is interested in coding or needs extra support in science, says Gloria Quintero, impact manager at City Year San Jose.

Additionally, Quintero focuses her efforts on social-emotional learning, which research shows to be just as critical as academics when it comes to ensuring students develop the skills they need to thrive in school and in life.

“We’re able to bring lessons that help students grow as people,” Quintero says. “They’re learning how to play well with their friends, they’re learning how to vocalize their emotions, they’re learning how to tell other people that they don’t feel good today so they might be a little bit quiet.”

The students at Aptitud Community Academy have come to recognize and trust City Year members as an important part of the staff and someone they can approach anytime, says school principal Maria Teresa Manzanedo.

“These relationships extend beyond the daily lives of our students,” Manzanedo says. “It helps students realize they have bright futures.”

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