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City Year program boosts attendance at LIC school

Long Island City’s Albert Shanker Middle School had one of the worst attendance rates in New York City before the 2009-10 school year, but a newly implemented after-school program called City Year is having a huge impact and city officials are taking notice.

“We were on the city’s chronic lateness and a chronic absence list and [City Year] got us off the list,” Shanker Principal Alex Angueira said. “Twenty-five percent of our kids are coming to school on time more often as opposed to the past .... We have other things that we’ve done, but [City Year was] a major factor.”

City Year is a full-time, youth service organization in which young people ages 17 to 24 volunteer their time to manage and implement community-service activities in neighborhoods across the nation. The organization has been around for about 20 years and has been active in New York since 2001, according to officials.

Its local chapter began working with Shanker Middle School ´╗┐part time on weekends in 2007, but launched its Heroes after-school program at the middle school in September for students on a daily, full-time basis.

Angueira said this is not a typical program and City Year volunteers do much more than helping students with their homework.

“They come in at 7 a.m. and they greet our students at the door and from 7:30 to 8 a.m., they have board games for them,” he said. In fact, the volunteers even call students when they are late or absent and when school lets out, they help students study, teach them life-management skills like managing a budget and engage them with community-service activities like planting trees or feeding the homeless.

“It makes the kids want to come to school,” Angueira said. “My attendance with students has gone up tremendously so they had a tremendous impact, and with the tutoring program, I’m hoping to see an impact with [standardized test] scores coming out.”

City Year has been so successful in the past that city officials want to implement it citywide. Shanker Middle School was one of the pilot programs introduced in September.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) visited the middle school Monday to see the program in action for herself.

“I’ve been supporting the program since I’ve been speaker,” she said. “I was excited about coming out and seeing the work hands-on .... The kids are clearly excited and engaged and the data speaks for itself .... It works.”

City Year Service Manager Nicole Tsang, 25, who has been working with the program for four years, said the goal is not only to help students succeed academically, but also to teach them to be active leaders in their own communities.

“[We want the students] to speak up for something they hold true to themselves, realize the values that they find important and realize that if there’s something that they see that’s wrong, what can they do to make it right,” she said. “At the end of the year when they graduate, hopefully they turn to all those subjects and really understand how to recognize things that they want to see happen again.”

Quinn said she thinks the reason City Year works is because it uses goal-oriented young adults as mentors.

“They’re talking to people who just graduated from college, just graduated from graduate school,” she said. “I think that gives them a wonderful picture of what their futures could also be like.”

Reach reporter Chauncey Alcorn by e-mail at calcorn@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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