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My Hero's Journey

By Bianca Dorsey, Communications Intern

During one of my weekly training sessions at City Year Cleveland, I was introduced to “The Hero’s Journey,” what some anthropologists consider to be a universal pattern existing in narratives throughout history. On this journey, a character is presented with an unfamiliar circumstance, and by either persevering or being defeated, the character is transformed.

The Hero’s Journey parallels my experience with City Year.

For 10 months, I had the privilege of working with 35 amazing ninth grade students, passionate educators, and hard-working corps members. It was both the challenges and successes I experienced during this time that made my Hero’s Journey worthwhile and meaningful.

Call to Adventure

City Year hires mentors ages 17-24 to serve as academic coaches in underprivileged schools across the United States in an effort to help lower dropout rates

I decided to join City Year to give back to the community. After opting to take a gap year between college and law school, I applied and was offered a position in Cleveland, OH.

Crossing the Threshold of the Known and Unknown

My entire corps year was a journey into the unknown for both my students and myself.

A few days before school began, I learned I would be coaching ninth-graders—a prospect that both excited and scared me. As the students transitioned to high school, they would be adjusting to new rules, peers, and authority figures (including City Year corps members who were not much older than themselves).

For the first two weeks of the program, and on a weekly basis during the school year, we participated in training sessions. Past corps members, educators and community leaders gave presentations on topics including lesson planning, effective interventions, and student-teacher relationship building, and measured our progress with assessments. It was helpful to hear from individuals who were once in my position and had been successful, as well as from professionals who were making a difference in their communities every day.

Once school began, I became responsible for academically coaching 35 students. I helped my ninth-graders improve through interventions, tutoring, mentorship, after-school activities, and other initiatives by focusing on City Year’s ABCs (Attendance, Behavior, and Coursework). Each of my students received an hour of intervention time at least twice a week, covering the material taught in class and occasionally, college prep activities. I assessed the students on their understanding, and reviewed the results with their teachers.

I also served as the parent and family engagement coordinator, a new role designed to encourage more parent involvement in the school. During the school year, I planned activities like a Spirit Week and a block party welcoming families to the school.


Though City Year provided me with introductory training, nothing could have truly prepared me for the challenges of working in an inner-city school. Many of my students performed significantly below grade level (as low as 2nd grade). Some also struggled with difficult personal lives, which understandably followed them into the classroom.

Kevin was my biggest challenge. Although he appeared older than his 14 years as the tallest student in the ninth grade at 6 ft 6, he tested at a fourth grade reading level. In addition, he was dealing with personal problems that impacted his behavior inside and outside of the classroom. So, needless to say, Kevin struggled with his academics.

Despite these issues, while working with him I learned that, like all kids, he was capable of excelling. Together, we saw improvements in his reading abilities and test scores. As an added bonus, we developed a strong bond as I helped him improve academically and provided him a shoulder to lean on when it came to the struggles he faced outside of school.


By the end of the first semester, I’d not only seen progress in Kevin but also in my other students. But halfway through the semester, I experienced a setback. Kevin stopped coming to school. No one, including the principal, was able to tell me where he was. I was worried for Kevin and the impact this absence would have on his education.

It was one of the most discouraging times during my time at City Year, but luckily I had a support system. My team leader shared with me her own experience in her first year as a corps member and was able to offer me valuable advice on how to handle the situation while continuing to help my other students succeed. Relationships I made with teachers in my school were also helpful. They provided me a shoulder to lean on and worked with me to improve my lesson plans for my other students. Most importantly, I had support from my City Year team. They helped me to get through this tough time, and for that I am forever grateful.

Thankfully, after missing more than a month of school Kevin finally returned. And luckily, he was able to pick up where he left off. We were able to continue improving his education, and I was able to make additional progress with the rest of my students. I am proud to say that over 50% of my students—including Kevin—showed academic improvement by the end of the year.


As the year came to a close I realized it was time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. Though I loved being in the classroom and would miss my students, I wanted to expand my knowledge of the education sector as a whole. So, I applied for and was offered an internship with DFER.

As a DFER intern, I’ve been surrounded by intelligent, experienced people who truly care about providing the best education for all our kids. Through this experience, I have been able to gain insight on the country’s education system from multiple perspectives and share my own experiences at City Year with my colleagues.

Our nation’s education system has a long road toward improvement ahead, as I’ve seen firsthand in the classroom, but my City Year experience and work at DFER have shown me why this journey is so crucial. So many of our kids—kids like Kevin—are struggling, but each and every one of them can learn. Our country fosters incredibly talented and intelligent youth, and if we continue to push for meaningful changes to our education system, our next generation of kids will have bright futures ahead of them. I’m committed to helping push for these changes for years to come.

Bringing Diversity to the Classroom

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DFER News Roundup

DFER News Roundup

By Stephanie Doctrow, Communications Coordinator and Web Editor and Bianca Dorsey, Communications Intern


  • Our August Reformer of the Month is Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee, a progressive champion running for lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. Learn more about McKee at The DFER List!

DFER Seen & Heard:

  • EdWeek’s Arianna Prothero discussed WA’s charter school authorization process with DFER-WA’s Lisa Macfarlane. 
  • DFER-IL’s Rebecca Nieves Huffman commented on CTU President Karen Lewis’ controversial salary to NBC Chicago.
  • WPRI’s Ted Nesi reported on Cumberland Mayor (and August Reformer of the Month) Dan McKee’s addition to The DFER List.
  • “Steve Barr Tries to Bridge Union-Reformer Divide in Reboot of California’s ‘Democrats for Education Reform,’” Charles Taylor Kerchner writes for EdWeek.

Advocacy, Policy Briefs & Such:

  • Statement | Democrats for Education Reform Names Michelle Brisbane as New York State Director

DFER Blog:

  • DFER-CO’s Jen Walmer commends Denver Public Schools’ new Denver Plan 2020. 


Denver Plan 2020 Fights for Great Schools in Every Neighborhood

By Jen Walmer, DFER-CO State Director

DFER-endorsed DPS School Board Members Happy Haynes, Anne Rowe, Barbara O'Brien, Landri Taylor, Mike Johnson and Rosemary Rodriquez unveiled the new Denver Plan 2020 this week. Based on a vision called “Every Child Succeeds,” their comprehensive plan to move the needle for Denver's kids shows that we have elected leaders willing to challenge the status quo. We commend their leadership and their call to action to ensure the district realizes its goals by 2020.

The Denver Plan has at its core the goal of Great Schools In Every Neighborhood.


Dem Haters

By Charles Barone, Policy Director

Most of the commentary on Michelle Rhee’s announcement last week that she was stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst focused on her style and personality. It’s important, however, to focus on the results of her work, specifically the longer-term impact of the policies she put in place as chancellor of DC Public Schools.

We’ve seen a lot of spin in the reporting of D.C. results, such as that recently by G.F.


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