City Year volunteers help in urban schools

Members of the new City Year Milwaukee branch are excited to start the program. Photo by Emily Waller /

The words “City Year is always ready!” echoed throughout Cathedral Square last Friday as 60 corps members were inducted into City Year Milwaukee, the newest addition to an organization providing tutors, mentors and role models to children in urban public schools.

The day marked City Year’s 22nd anniversary, and 1,750 volunteers were inducted at celebrations across the country.

The Milwaukee branch is the 22nd site, with 20 domestic and two international locations. The first site was established in Boston in 1988. It later received the support of AmeriCorp, a U.S. federal government volunteer program created under President Bill Clinton, in 1993.

The newly inducted class has spent the past six weeks training for its 10-month term of service and has been in classrooms since the beginning of the school year. Members will complete 100,000 hours of service working to decrease dropout rates at six Milwaukee public schools.

The schools involved are Alexander Mitchell Integrated Arts Elementary, 81st St. School, Northwest Secondary School, Roger St. Academy, Roosevelt Creative Arts Middle School and South Division High School.

Michael Brown, CEO and co-founder of City Year, said immediate action must be taken within the public school system.

“We can discover who might drop out by middle school based on their attendance, grades and behaviors,” Brown said. “There is a 25 percent risk of a student not graduating with their class.”

Brown said the goal is to reach half of all “off-track students.”

“In order to do this, we need more than four times the corp,” he said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he couldn’t be happier City Year chose Milwaukee as a site for its organization.

“We are in a race with other countries and their dedication to education,” said Barrett, a Democratic candidate for governor. “This is the cavalry that will allow our children to compete in this world.”

Gregory Thornton, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, agreed with Barrett, saying the “cavalry has arrived.”

“Everyone keeps saying our public schools need some kind of ‘Superman’ to come in and help the system,” Thornton said. “But I would not trade these 60 red jackets for one cape.”

The red jackets he referred to were worn by the inductees during the opening day celebration.

When prompted by phrases such as “City Year, how ya feelin’?”, members collectively responded, “Fired up!” When asked if they were ready to be role models to students across Milwaukee, they yelled, “City Year is always ready!”

Members expressed various motivations for joining City Year.

Emily Hoch, corps Team Leader, said she joined because she wanted to become a more balanced individual.

“I graduated college and wanted more,” Hoch said. “I wanted an equal equation of education and getting my hands dirty. … City Year has already helped me do this.”

Emilie Eschbacher, a fellow member and a 2010 Marquette graduate, said she joined to help others receive worthy educations.

“My brother and sister didn’t receive the best schooling,” Eschbacher said. “I want others to receive better than what they did.”

She also said her City Year experience has been rewarding after just one month.

“The kids already know me by name,” Eschbacher said. “Hearing them say, ‘Ms. Emilie, Ms. Emilie,’ is an incredible feeling.”

Jason Holton, executive director of City Year Milwaukee, encouraged the corps members to be strong leaders.

“You need to say, ‘I will embrace this challenge with conviction and courage to be more than just a bystander,’” Holton said. “As corps members, you have the power to change the definition of what’s possible.”

Barrett agreed with Holton, assuring the members they are accomplishing something great.

“The luckiest people on the planet are those that do something that sets their souls on fire,” Barrett said. “You all are doing just that.”