The AmeriCorps-affiliated program City Year announced on Wednesday it is sending its members to Hall High School in Little Rock for the first time this fall. A $150,000 grant from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and the philanthropic group Fifty for the Future will fund eight AmeriCorps positions for three years.
Former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark is a Hall High graduate and the founding board chair of City Year Little Rock. Speaking at the announcement, Clark said the idea of quality public schools is paramount but private contributions serve an important role.
“I don’t think you have to just look at it as a private investment. I think you look at it as public support, public concern and not just tax dollars,” he said after making remarks to onlookers in the school’s library.
“I’m a big proponent of public schools. [A shift away from them] is one of the real changes in America since my time as a student. We all went to public schools, this was our school. This school was our reference for life,” said Clark.
54 City Year members are expected to serve in seven Little Rock schools next year as tutors and mentors. The organization already has a presence at Baseline and Mabelvale elementary schools, Cloverdale and Mabelvale Middle schools, and J.A. Fair and McClellan high schools.
50 for the Future president Jay Russell credited success at other schools with encouraging donors to contribute for the Hall High School three-year plan.
Russell credited a rise in literacy and math assessment scores at certain schools to the work of City Year members, “We have seen the impact in schools that are most in need.”
Alicia Gonzalez is one of the 54 in Little Rock’s City Year contingent serving public schools. The graduate of the University of California – Riverside is in her first year with the national service network.
“It was definitely a matter of wanting to put myself in an uncomfortable situation and choosing to serve in a place where City Year members are most needed. The students that we will serve here need a cheerleader and extra support perhaps that they’re not getting in the classroom or at home,” said 22-year old Gonzalez.
She has been spending time with younger students at Baseline Elementary. Gonzalez acknowledges helping 9th graders at Hall will present a different challenge but says her core mission remains the same.
“I want them to always know that you can have that ability for success,” she said. “We are considered tutors as well as role models. Our mantra is covering academics, attendance, behavior and course performance. All of those are very tightly connected and knit.”
City Year Little Rock began in 2004. City Year members are part of the AmeriCorps program which was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.