It Takes a Village: City Year’s Role in Dropout Prevention


Watch: City Year corps member Sara Ross describes what her team does at Broadmoor Middle School and how they make a difference in students’ lives.

Editor’s note: The latest installment of our American Graduate series takes us to Broadmoor Middle School in Baton Rouge, La., a school that is using data to improve student attendance, behavior and class performance. Watch the report here.

Wherever you go in East Baton Rouge’s Broadmoor Middle School, it’s easy to pick out a member of City Year — the service organization whose aim is to keep kids in school. Each of the near-peer mentors is dressed identically, from the pressed white dress shirts, to the red, fleece vests, khakis and brown boots. And there’s another identifying factor: one or more teenagers in close orbit.

Broadmoor 8th Grader Saleem Nafal and City Year corps member Jonathan Morris head off to a one-on-one study session. Photo by Mike Fritz, PBS NewsHour

Broadmoor 8th grader Saleem Nafal can often be found with City Year corps member Jonathan Morris. He and “Mr. Jonathan” work on English and math — two subjects the young man knows will go a long way in helping him achieve his goals. Nafal is already looking toward college at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and a career as a dentist.

Nafal is determined to do something his father did not — graduate from high school — and that’s why he takes his dad’s advice to heart: “Stick in school and do your best.” Even though Nafal gives a shy smile when admitting his grades weren’t so good last year — he proudly shares that his report card is now populated with A’s and B’s. He doesn’t like to think about what his grades would be like if he didn’t have extra help from Mr. Jonathan.

“It would be just like in 6th grade. My grades would be down and my dad won’t be happy and Mr. Jonathan won’t be happy,” said Nafal.

It has taken a village to put Nafal and Broadmoor Middle School on a path toward positive change. In an era when many low performing schools around the country choose to dismiss half the staff and change principals in an effort to improve test scores and student achievement, Broadmoor has taken a different route.

It has adopted the Diplomas Now reform model, a data-driven program of curriculum reforms and support services that joins City Year corp members with resources from the Johns Hopkins School of Education and fellow non-profit Communities in Schools to work with administrators and staff. Together they closely examine students’ attendance, behavior and coursework — the ABC’s that can determine a child’s likelihood of dropping out. When they find a student in trouble, they work together to create a plan supporting positive change.

And it may sound unexpected coming from a 7th grader, but Jamyrion Avery is very glad there are more people keeping an eye on how he does with those ABC’s.

“It’s better,” said Avery. “They make sure I do the right thing.”

Avery’s face lights up when he describes how proud his mother will be when he puts on his cap and gown. He’s equally keen to talk about his favorite classes.

“Science and social studies,” said the Broadmoor 7th grader. “We’re learning about the 13 colonies. We’re learning about the cells the membranes, nucleus.”

Jamyrion Avery enjoys a laugh in class at Broadmoor Middle School in East Baton Rouge, LA. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

But his experience at school hasn’t always been this positive. Last year there were some fights.

“I don’t like people to holler at me,” Avery said. “You can tell me in very a calm voice and I will do the right thing. I like to do fun stuff, I don’t like to be bored. I get frustrated a lot.”

Avery credits City Year corps members with helping improve his behavior, teaching him how to constructively deal with his frustrations. And, he says, corps members offer welcome support with his schoolwork.

“If I need help in class they take me aside and break the stuff down a little easier so I can understand. ”


American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions the dropout crisis.