By Jan Bennett
City Year’s “Ubuntu” Philosophy
Students, schools, education reform, policy and educational politics … there seems to be a never-ending stream of checklist items for America’s schools. With the mounting complications for our education system, it is easy to lose sight of simple solutions – us. That’s right, you and me. In past SOTRU School Spotlights, educational initiatives such as American Graduate and Grade Level Reading have been explored, highlighting efforts to close the gap on various educational concerns. For this week’s School Spotlight, we’re highlighting another community based effort to improve education, City Year.
According to its Web site, City Year is a country-wide school-based service organization providing “teams of diverse young people called corps members [who] serve full-time in schools for 10 months working to improve student attendance, behavior and course performance in English and math.”
The commonality found in City Year’s members can be summed up with one word: Ubuntu. A shortened version of meaning for this a Zulu proverb is “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” One member said her reason for joining was because she thrived in a community environment where a shared goal and vision became a catalyst for action. Through working at the school, these members have learned “how to effectively connect students, parents, and community resources to ensure students excel.”
There are many service opportunities provided by City Year corps members. Whether it’s one on one tutoring, assisting teachers in classrooms or helping with homework centers in after school programs, these corps members are making a difference.
Although the City Year model is new, support for community schools is growing. According to the article, “In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed his support, saying, ‘Where schools truly become the centers of the community, great things happen.’”
Megan Malone, a City Year corps member says of her time so far with City Year, “Serving with City Year in a community school, I am reminded every day of Ubuntu as I experience firsthand a model that illustrates the importance of connecting our humanity to those inside the school and in the community. I have no doubt that helping students succeed requires a community effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of our shared vision and collective action.”
Delving into school and the politics behind education, it is quite easy to lose focus on what all of the fuss is about: our children and how best to provide them with a quality education. The notion of Ubuntu should ring true for all citizens. Perhaps understanding the philosophy behind “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours” will help us all get there.
There are so many great ways that education is changing, and seeing people in communities mobilize change through their own actions is an encouraging start. The “it takes a village” approach, I am finding, is an earmark in many great educational solutions that are rapidly popping up. What other community actions do you know of that have made a difference in your schools? We are always interested in passing along success stories of community, so write it down and send it our way.