Coming Back

I remember when I first walked in to the City Year San José/Silicon Valley office on W. Santa Clara Avenue in San José. The feeling of welcome, happiness, and most importantly belonging. I knew that I would want to stay with this organization for a long time.

Romel Antoine leading the corps through City Year's Opening Day Ceremony


I began my first year of service as a Service Leader, an AmeriCorps member with some added responsibilities, that would serve as a leader within our site. My first year would not be easy. I was placed in a charter school on the East Side of San José, Rocketship Si Se Puede. Charters are known for their high-stakes, fast-paced, no-excuses environments and this one was no different. I briefly worked as an assistant to the PlayWorks Program Coordinator but then shifted into a role that gave me the opportunity to lead the school’s Reading Center. During the school day I saw every single student in the school (sometimes 50 at a time) making sure that they were reading level-appropriate books, taking quizzes (honestly), and generally keeping the center tidy. When I first made the switch from P.E. coach to Reading Center Coordinator, the school informed me that the goal for the year was to have the school collectively pass 40,000 quizzes. During the after-school program I tutored two small groups of 5 students who were performing far below their grade level in literacy. I was charged with moving these students 1.5 grade levels by the end of the year. These high standards didn’t stand by themselves. I was given an extreme amount of support through regular observations, coaching, and feedback that would help me adjust my instruction in these literacy groups to ensure student achievement. At the end of that year when the results came in I was floored! As a school we had passed 39,000 quizzes and 100% of my students showed dramatic gains in their literacy skills.

I knew that my job wasn’t done yet.

I applied and was then accepted to take on the role of Team Leader (TL) in my 2nd year. Being a TL would require me to lead a team of 8 peers through their first year of service, work in tandem with the Program Manager, and communicate frequently and effectively with the school’s administration. This year has challenged me greatly and has molded me into a more effective leader. When I look back on my relationships with the school administration, teachers, parents, team members, and (most importantly) students I can’t help but feel a sense of passion for the work that we have done. Our City Year team went into that school everyday for 11 hours and gave it our all. We knew that each person in that community laid an immeasurable amount of trust in the work that we did. The 120 students in our after school program counted on us to engage them, teach them, and shape them into excellent students. We piloted a trailblazing model (created by our team) to help maximize the impact of the work that we were doing and although the new model was 10x more rigorous than the ‘norm’ we excelled. I am eternally grateful for every member of that team that has stuck through to the end. It was not easy.

But I still was not done.

Earlier this week I was offered the opportunity to build upon my 4500+ hours with City Year, to increase the capacity of young people committed to the idea of ‘giving a year to change the world’, and most importantly to accelerate the learning of the underserved students on the East Side of San José. That feeling that I had when I first walked in to City Year has changed. After two years of relentlessly committing myself to the service of the organization, of growing my competency as a leader and developer, of cultivating long-lasting relationships it has indeed changed. It has gotten even stronger!

My future at City Year will not be easy. I will face constant challenges and inevitably pose the question; “Are we making a difference?” But out of every challenge comes a lesson and if any of the challenges I’ve encountered in the past give any insight to my future I know that the answer will be a resounding “YES!” The exceptional idealism, unbridled optimism, and masterful dedication of young people will continue to inspire our movement to success.

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