Be ashamed to die…

By: Josh Young

“Be ashamed to die before you have won some victory for humanity.”
This quote can be found on a small bronze plaque inside the main entrance of Trevista at Horace Mann ECE-8th.

Tucked between two display cases, the honorary plaque mostly goes unnoticed amidst the background of the occasional chaos that transpires in the public education setting. Even passing by on a daily basis, I often do not stop to appreciate or think deeply about its significance. However, I like to think it can act as a subtle reminder to myself and fellow corps members as to the fundamental motivation we have in doing this type of work. I believe this quote captures the essence of the collective ethos of those who choose to serve with AmeriCorps or other organizations similar to City Year.

Attributed the school’s namesake, influential antebellum education reformer Horace Mann, the aforementioned quote exemplifies his personal commitment to improving the United States public education system. Somewhat ironically, Trevista at Horace Mann presents an example of the troubling trend of educational inequity in our nation today – a trend that is disproportionately affecting public schools in low-income communities.

Trevista operates directly adjacent to a City of Denver public housing project and 98% of students receive free or reduced lunch. The school is also in its first year of turnaround, which means the year began with an almost entirely new staff and administration. As Colorado Public Radio has documented in their continuing series on Trevista, the turnaround process for failing schools can be a complex and arduous undertaking. Nevertheless, despite the tumultuous history at Trevista, my involvement at the school has only reinforced my convictions in combating educational inequality. And while each day presents a new challenge, the progress I have witnessed throughout my service year gives me confidence the students of Trevista will have a bright future.

In his role of politician, reformer and public school advocate, Horace Mann held strong sentiments not only on the importance of cognitive development in students, but also supported a balanced concentration on character building and behavior improvement. These beliefs are closely aligned City Year’s “Whole School Whole Child” model, which places emphasis on attendance, behavior and course performance. In our capacity as corps members, we facilitate daily literacy and math interventions, as well as work towards building a positive school culture that is especially imperative in turnaround situations. Furthermore, we act as a mentors and support systems for students facing additional issues outside of the classroom. The fluid nature of our everyday role as City Year corps members allows us to easily to adapt to both the academic and socio-emotional needs of students. In turn, this has led to increased student engagement and more effective learning environments as the year has progressed.

As the days grow longer and the time until our City Year graduation continues to dwindle, will my fellow corps members and I be able to say we have won a victory for humanity? Maybe. Maybe not. I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘victory’.

But more pertinently, what I hope we are able to say is that through our collective actions as mentors and tutors, we each have enriched the lives of at least one student. – at least equipped our students with necessary academic and life skills needed to excel in high school and hopefully beyond – at least provided our talented students with the encouragement and guidance to see the great potential within themselves. I believe if we are able to make such proclamations at the conclusion of our service on June 7th, our City Year will be nothing to be ashamed of.

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