By Rudabeh Shahbazi


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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — “The only thing worse than kids giving up on school, is if we give up on them.” That is the motto for City Year Miami, an organization devoted to fighting the student dropout crisis in Miami.

City Year is a national nonprofit organization, which partners with Miami-Dade Schools to help keep kids on track to graduate.

An army of volunteers recently visited Madison Middle School in Miami to give the school a makeover.

City Year staffs the schools with AmeriCorps members to work one on one with students.

“We know teachers have a lot of responsibility and large classrooms, and we provide support with extra people and an extra set of hands,” says Karen Velazquez-Vargas, Executive Director of City Year Miami.  “One of the greatest benefits we bring is ‘near peers’ who are an additional layer of support from someone who can understand the students because they were just there a few years ago.”

The AmeriCorps members, ranging in ages from 18 to 25, are easy to spot with their enthusiasm and signature red jackets.  Each of them is committed to working full time for one year, tutoring students in intensive math and literacy.

Erum Kidwai, fondly known as ‘Miss E.’, loves her job.

“Just being able to talk to them and have them tell me about their day and what is happening in their lives, and tell them that even when they don’t think that a subject is important to them right now that they will need that.”

The bond she shares with her students says it all.

“Miss E is like a sister that I don’t have,” says Armani Brazil, a seventh grader. “My favorite subject is civics because I get to be with her, and she kind of breaks down civics to me. If I don’t understand the question she takes me to the side and breaks it down so I can understand it.”

When the students and AmeriCorps members play a game of cards, it may seem like fun and games. However, these interactions are part of the plan, building relationships, and trust that leads to successful results.

Erica Edwards has a great relationship with Kidwai as well. “We have a good bond and everything, we laugh and we talk.”

The students are not the only ones who benefit from the program. As Kidwai states, “They are really sweet and very willing to work with if you are able to build that relationship. It could be hard with some kids, but once you break through that shell it can be incredibly rewarding.”

City Year Miami is operating in its eleventh year and is in 18 middle and high schools in Miami-Dade.

Applications for City Year are being accepted now at www.cityyear.org/miami

Rudabeh Shahbazi

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