City Year: Completing the Diplomas Now Puzzle

Written by corps member Liane Toohey serving on the Comcast Team at Browne Education Campus
I remember well the day, roughly 2.5 weeks into the ten months of my corps year, that I got my placement on a team. I was handed a candy bar wrapped in a “golden ticket” bearing the words Browne Education Campus and was instructed to go find my teammates. Knowing that two teams served at Browne –one for grades K through four and one for grades five through eight –I had to ask my new team leader which one I was on.
“Oh,” she replied, “you’re on the Diplomas Now team.”
I must admit, at the time my knowledge of what it meant to be on a Diplomas Now team extended only as far as “I’m working with the older kids,” and I certainly couldn’t have told you how my role on a Diplomas Now team differed from the other type of school-based team, Whole School, Whole Child.
I quickly learned that Diplomas Now is a partnership between City Year, Communities in Schools, and Talent Development.  Rather than merely working in the same school, we collaborate closely to generate and implement data-driven interventions to help students improve their attendance, behavior, and course performance and stay on-track to graduate.
Take, for example, our approach to combatting poor attendance. Research from Chicago Public Schools found that attendance was the strongest factor predicting course performance, and both poor attendance and poor course performance put students at risk of dropping out. One hypothetical student at Browne is flagged by Talent Development’s attendance tracking system as being at risk of dropping out due to chronic absences. As a result, Communities in Schools visits his family at home and suggests some external resources that may be of assistance. His City Year corps member uses her unique role as mentor and role model to generate a serious conversation with the student about the importance of being in class and how improved attendance can help him reach his goals. She also calls his parents whenever he is absent to gain a better idea of what is keeping him from class. The continued tracking of his attendance by Talent Development tells the team how effective our interventions are and whether we need to alter any of our strategies.
To support these strategies and reward students who are coming to school consistently, the Diplomas Now team also hosts a biweekly “VIP Breakfast Lounge” where we provide home-cooked food and games for students who had perfect attendance for the previous two weeks. This incentive, combined with the rest of the Diplomas Now attendance interventions, resulted in an increase of 10.3% in the number of students getting perfect attendance for the first month of the program.
I went into Diplomas Now blind. Now, halfway through my year of service, I have come to view my role as a City Year corps member within Diplomas Now as one piece of a puzzle. Communities in Schools and Talent Development are the interlocking and complementary pieces, without which we would not be complete. And together the picture that we form is one of nurturing and success.

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