UT students should help make lasting change with high schools, middle schools

Matt Snidal

Here at UT, we say “what starts here changes the world.”

Before starting my freshman year, I put that saying into practice with an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. I joined an AmeriCorps program called City Year, which focuses on getting students on track to graduate from high school.

Through this program, I tutored sixth through eighth grade students who were seen as at-risk of dropping out or not finishing school on time. Every morning, I welcomed students into the building, and during class I kept them focused on the material. At lunchtime, I mentored a small group of students, helping them develop leadership and behavior skills, and after school I helped run a study hall.  

Because I worked alongside a teacher, I was able to focus on students who most needed the additional support. This allowed me to build relationships with them, learn about what was distracting them from finding the academic success they were capable of and determine the strengths they had to overcome these distractions.

The work was hard, but also incredibly rewarding. By the end of the year, I saw students who were once disruptive in class become the ones most eager to raise their hands and answer questions. Best of all, the reward is ongoing. I am excited to say that after my graduation from UT in May, I’ll head back to the neighborhood I served and watch my former eighth grade students walk at their high school graduations.

City Year puts AmeriCorps members in the position to make lasting change. Diverse teams of young leaders are sent into schools and work together to create an environment that will breed student success. Not many opportunities like this exist. Many of us will leave UT and go on to work in companies filled with middle-aged people and with missions we may or may not be passionate about. City Year allows young adults to enter a community of other young professionals all focused on making visible change in the world, something we as UT students all strive for.

City Year also prepares its AmeriCorps members for success after their year of service. Not only does the program provide transferable skills, but it also prides itself on creating leaders in the professional world. It partners with companies such as Comcast and Deloitte to host professional development and networking events. While making change in the world is what makes City Year such a valuable experience, these added benefits prepare AmeriCorps members for future careers where they can continue to make change.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity I had to serve with City Year. Perhaps the biggest downside to my upcoming graduation from UT is that I will be leaving an environment filled with young individuals on the path to success. But City Year allowed me to exist in an environment like that for an extra year. I encourage my fellow UT students to consider City Year as they plan out their post-graduation or gap year plans.

Snidal is a sociology and youth and community studies senior from Chicago, IL.