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Eight Forty-Eight

New program connects recent college graduates with younger students to offer guidance

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College graduation is just around the corner. For some that’s the moment when pent up hopes for a career run into the realities of actually finding a job. For one recent local graduate the process has been different. It inspired a whole different career path - one she’s pursuing with gusto.

For WBEZ, Erica Hunter reports on a mentoring program in Chicago.

All through her time at Northwestern University, Angie Rankin had her sights set on a career in the corporate world.

She never thought her days would start like this.

Rankin’s outside Orr Academy in West Garfield Park jumping and cheering with 10 other 20-somethings.

They’re dressed in khaki pants, polo shirts and matching red jackets.

They’re trying to pump up these sleepy-looking high school students as they straggle inside.

And it’s serious work.

Rankin is one of 11 City Year mentors—trained and assigned here as role models for students and as helpers in classrooms.

“I’ve been put in a lot of situations where I’ve had fights in class, I’ve had people walking around or cussing the teacher and challenging the teacher,” said Rankin.

Orr is a Chicago Public high school run by AUSL, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.  Most reading and math test scores here fall below the state’s goal and only about half of the freshmen are on track to graduate.

Rankin spends her days helping out in English, history and science classrooms, getting students caught up on missing work, monitoring the halls between classes, and talking with students during lunch and sometimes after school.

She got here by a crooked route.

During her senior year, Rankin applied for a corporate job that included a stint with a teacher-training program.

As she prepared the application, she found herself much more excited about the teaching part than the business part.

Rankin didn’t get that job but she paid attention when she heard something called City Year was coming to recruit on her campus.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from college, and my dad is one of those people who are like these kids.” Rankin said. “It took someone taking an interest in him and actually caring, genuinely caring, about what he’s doing with his life as a teenager to change it around. This whole idea of being in City Year, for me, is paying it forward.”

City Year is an international non-profit with 20 sites across the U.S. and two overseas. It places young adults in schools for one year, 45 hours a week. They earn just a little over minimum wage.

Chicago has 125 City Year Corp members –in 13 Chicago Public Schools. Six are high schools.

Lisa Morrison Butler is director of City Year Chicago.

“Where maybe, there’s anywhere between 26 to 33 children in the classroom, a City Year Corp member is able to cut the adult to student ratio in half,” said Butler. “We’ve really focused our efforts, the last couple of years, on certain neighborhoods, that we think, are really grossly underserved, and so right now we are in North Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, and West Garfield Park, and in those neighborhoods, we tend to go into the toughest schools.”

In West Garfield, Orr Academy has a new principal. Tyese Sims has only been at Orr a few weeks, but she says she’s talking to coaches about adding City Year mentors to work with athletes who are having trouble in class.

A City Year mentor’s main job is in the classroom focusing on what they call the ABC’s—attendance, behavior and course performance.

Social science teacher Judith Montes says City Year mentors helped her set routines and expectations for her freshman class.

“It’s crucial with freshmen to set up how high school should be, and just those students who might fall down the cracks because they need that extra attention.  If I have my hands busy then I know that my City Year person has me on the other side of the room helping maybe clarify some of the directions that I gave in class or giving extra help if the student doesn’t understand,” she says.

But the mentor’s job often spills over.

Rankin recalls the day she noticed a student come in with a large band-aid on her face.

Rankin says it took her an entire class period to get the student to open up. She said her mother had hit her.

Rankin talked with the student about her home and school life, and got advice from a teacher to help the girl resolve problems with her parent.

Rankin says she always keeps an eye out for that girl and other students.

Like Tywan, who, she says, is a pretty good student who’s usually at school.

But today, he’s absent.

Rankin says it’s these moments that make her know she’s in the right place.

“I don’t care if I make a lot of money, to me that doesn’t matter, but if I know that 20 years down the line this kid is going to remember oh I had this one City Year girl, he might not even remember my name but, if he remembers how I made him feel and how what I did in his life has helped him change, him or her, then I feel good about it. I feel like I’ve done my job.” Rankin said.

Rankin recently applied to become a teacher trainee through a program with the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

She’ll find out before the end of the school year if she’s been accepted.

Music Button: Kabanjak, "Rubicon", from the CD Tree Of Mystery, (ESL)

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