When you put on the red City Year jacket, you become part of a legacy of young people committed to helping our students thrive.
My name is Michael Harding and I am serving as a tutor and mentor with the nonprofit educational organization City Year in my hometown of Philadelphia. City Year brings together diverse, committed teams of young adults to serve in high-need schools across the nation who provide academic and social-emotional support to students by working alongside teachers and staff.
Here in Philadelphia, we currently have teams in 19 different public elementary, middle, and high schools. City Year members are there to serve full-time throughout the academic year, as a valuable resource that helps boost student learning and achievement in and out of the classroom.
As mentors, our goal is to support students as they envision and actualize a world in which they see opportunities to learn new things, expand their minds, and have fun making memories. Mentors should serve as sources of encouragement for our students, but more importantly, they should help provide the tools through which our students claim their own voices and become their own source of empowerment.
"I see my younger self in my seventh grade students at Thurgood Marshall School."
My year of service has afforded me a unique chance to serve as a role model to young Black and brown students who not only look like me, but are going through many of the same experiences I did at their age. I see my younger self in my seventh grade students at Thurgood Marshall School. At the same time that my students are discovering who they are in this world, they are learning how to navigate the tangential effects of growing up with socioeconomic disadvantages that threaten to curtail their educational growth.
When I was entering my teenage years, I was fortunate to have Black male mentors who pushed me to pursue my best self. Even more importantly, these mentors — who were hardworking teachers, coaches, and counselors — looked like me while simultaneously reflecting a world full of endless possibilities. They expanded the scope of what I thought I could achieve in life. My mentors instilled in me the understanding that feelings of powerlessness were not invitations to indifference, trepidation, or hopelessness, but rather calls to action. They convinced me to never succumb to fear or self-doubt — but instead to use these feelings as motivation to persevere.
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Whether during a lunch meeting or tutoring session, I remind my students of the obtainable and their innate abilities to achieve more than they think is possible. I tell them that success will not simply be handed to them, but earned through diligence, perseverance, and with love from a strong support system.
My experience with City Year has strengthened the understanding I have about the critical importance of Black male educators, counselors, and role models in the schoolhouse. My year of service is a medium through which I can relate to students on a personal level and leverage our commonalities to support them as they nurture and forge their own futures.
If you are a young person considering a career in education or mentorship of any kind, I encourage you to find ways to get involved and consider applying to City Year Philadelphia. Take a moment to think about someone who made you feel like you could pursue your dreams. Students need an encouraging voice, compassion, and unconditional love. I can attest that some days are hard, but our youth are absolutely worth it.-30-
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