City Year debuts in Denver, dispatching 50 tutors and mentors to 5 high-needs DPS schools

City Year, an AmeriCorps program that focuses on mentoring at-risk students at high-needs schools across the country, has come to Denver.

Fifty young adults ages 17 to 24 are now serving as tutors and mentors in five Denver public schools.

The current City Year schools are: Montbello High School, North High School, Rachel B. Noel Middle School, Lake International Middle School and the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman.

"Our goal is to work with kids who are at most risk for dropping out," says Jeff Park, executive director of City Year Denver. Park's background is in education; before leading City Year, he helped start Skyland Community High School, which has since been shuttered by DPS. He went on to start more schools in the Mapleton district.

In Denver, City Year members will work with the five schools to identify struggling students and improve what the program calls their "ABCs:" attendance, behavior and coursework. It starts with attendance, Park says. City Year members follow up with absent students, calling their parents to inquire why they're out. It's already making a difference; Park reports that Montbello's attendance has improved from 82 percent to 92 percent.

Park expects more gains to follow. Denver is City Year's 21st location and the twenty other cities have seen impressive results: Last year, City Year reports that 90 percent of third-through-fifth-graders improved their literacy scores, 55 percent of middle school students improved their attendance and 90 percent of ninth graders said City Year members helped them better understand their coursework.

Part of City Year's task in Denver will also be to "build a positive school culture," Park says. Four of the five DPS schools have recently gone through painful transitions in an attempt to boost performance. At Montbello, for example, the traditional high school is being phased out in favor of three smaller schools: a college prep academy, a high-tech early college and a branch of the Denver Center for International Studies school.

"One of the reasons we're in the schools we are is because they're all going through a cultural transition," Park says. "We hope to help make those schools feel welcoming."

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