greg_anger_cc_bw.jpgMIAMI — Hooting and hollering and singing and dancing are quite common at the front gate of Edison Middle School just before 8 a.m. every school day.

But the students aren’t the ones making the noise on their way to homeroom. Their eight mentors are — corps members with City Year, a national program designed to help keep at-risk kids in school.

Some students dart by, opting to avoid City Year’s morning ritual designed to welcome them to school. Others return high-fives and stick around to chat with corps members, who are dressed in crisp, white, button-down shirts, khaki pants and brown boots.

“I love getting to know the kids and talking to them and telling them how I can dunk a basketball from my wheelchair,” said Greg Anger, 23, a City Year corps member from Wisconsin who joined the program at Edison Middle, 6101 N.W. Second Ave. in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood,  just last month. “I love their energy.”

Founded in 1988 in Boston, Mass., City Year currently serves 24 cities in the U.S. and has two affiliate locations in Johannesburg, South Africa, and London, England. The education-focused, nonprofit organization recruits young adults aged 17 to 24 to take part in a year of full-time service to keep elementary, middle, and high school students in school and on track to graduation.

Prospective corps member applying through the City Year website and, if selected, are paid a small bi-weekly living allowance provided by AmeriCorps and City Year to cover rent and basic expenses.

The program was first launched in Miami in 2007 through the efforts of local author Brad Meltzer and his wife Cori Flam Meltzer, and started out with 82 corps members serving at eight Miami-Dade County public schools, said Caryn Lavernia, program director with City Year Miami. Jerry Calbert, City Year team leader at Edison Middle, said the organization has several programs at area elementary schools and is interested in expanding to more middle schools and high schools.

We’ve grown so much in so little time,” said Calbert, who started his stint with City Year in 2011 as a corps member at Charles Drew Elementary School, 1775 N.W. 60th St. in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Corps members usually serve for one year but Calbert said that he “wanted to come back because this work is meaningful.”

Today, City Year Miami has 185 corps members serving at 15 public schools. In its five-year history, City Year Miami has sent 566 corps members to serve at 52 Miami-Dade County public schools, according to Lavernia.

“We will reach one million hours of service to the community by the end of this school year,” she said.

City Year is not hosted in Broward and Palm Beach counties but the program was recently launched in Orlando and Jacksonville. 

City Year Miami staffers said they would like to continue to grow the organization in South Florida. Locally, the program receives funding from AmeriCorps and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, as well as corporate and private sponsors.

Edison Middle School Principal Keith Anderson said he has seen the benefits of the program firsthand.

“City Year has been tremendous” at Edison Middle School, Anderson said. “It has uplifted the school’s culture and spirit.”

Edison Middle signed on with City Year two years ago, shortly after Anderson became principal.

“We were a school in need looking for additional services that would benefit ou

Besides the morning greetings in front of the school, the activities of City Year corps members include providing one-on-one or small group tutoring sessions in English or math, facilitating activities and games that keep students excited about staying in school during the day, calling students who are frequently absent, helping teachers in the classroom.

Through these engaging activities, City Year is seeking to improve the attendance, behavior, and course performance (or ABC’s) of students in an effort to encourage them to stay in school, Lavernia said.

Through a collaborative effort with the organizations Talent Development and Communities In Schools, City Year also provides the Diplomas Now initiative which uses research data to develop tutoring, mentoring, monitoring, and engagement activities, as well as support services for students. Of the 15 schools in the program, six take part in the Diplomas Now initiative, including Edison Middle, Lavernia said.

Anderson said the initiative has really made a difference at Edison Middle. “Teachers benefit from the support they receive,” he said, and the students “definitely need the one-on-one mentorship.”

Sitting on the bleachers in the Edison Middle School gym, City Year corps member Sarah Dugan opened a folded piece of paper and gazed with pride at the cartoon character drawn on it.

The drawing was a gift from the student sitting next to her — a boy Dugan had spent the past week mentoring during lunch.

“I’m going to frame it,” said Dugan, 18, of Massachusetts, who started working with the students at Edison Middle in August at the start of the new school year. 

Fellow City Year corps member Chauncy Dean, 21, also of Massachusetts, said the students get to see that “the opportunities are there if they stay in school,” he said.