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The City Urban Perspectives

Alumna Serves With City Year Seattle

At a Seattle elementary school, this alumna finds joy working with kids

By Hope McPherson | Photos courtesy of Rubi Diaz

City Year corps members in their red jacketsThe City Year team is a tight-knit group that keeps busy with a variety of service projects for local schools.

Doris Kearns GoodwinRubi Diaz plants a garden with the students of Roxhill Elementary.

Four fifth-grade girls are facing Rubi Diaz ’14, each with a copy of The Giver by Lois Lowry in their hands. “This book is a little higher than their grade level,” Diaz explains. “But they all agreed to challenge themselves and have been enjoying it so far.” The girls nod.

Although not a teacher, Diaz spends her days working with a classroom of students and supporting their teacher at Seattle’s Roxhill Elementary School. As one of nine City Year AmeriCorps members serving Roxhill, she is part of an organization dedicated to helping students stay on track in order to graduate from high school on time.

Founded in 1988, City Year is active in 27 U.S. cities, with international affiliates in the U.K. and South Africa. In Seattle, during the 2015–16 academic year, 84 corps members are serving full time in 10 schools in low-income neighborhoods. There are good reasons for that. Students attending schools partnering with City Year are two to three times more likely to improve on state English and math assessments than schools without City Year AmeriCorps member, according to a 2015 study by Policy Studies Associates.

And no matter the city and school, members — mainly recent college graduates — commit to serve an entire school year. Diaz, well into her second year, is planning on a third. “These kids stole my heart,” she says.

Working with third- through fifth-graders at Roxhill Elementary, City Year AmeriCorps members are assigned to a classroom where they focus on the “ABCs” — attendance, behavior, and coursework. Diaz works with 17 fifth-graders not only in the classroom, but also in small groups and one on one, focusing on one of those ABCs. She also works with families. In January, she coordinated the school’s “Festival of Lights,” an annual program where families come together to share their cultural heritage through food, music, and fun. “Rubi volunteered to lead the event,” says Roxhill Vice Principal Liz McFarland, adding that the event was more successful and streamlined than in previous years with Diaz at the helm. “She worked really hard and even got AmeriCorps members from other schools to help.”

Lauren Treacy, City Year program manager at Roxhill, agrees: “Rubi has been a pillar of support and leadership for the rest of my corps members on how to develop student relationships and run effective programming. Rubi’s and the City Year’s Roxhill team contribution to the school and individual students is immeasurable.”

Diaz says she also emulates her SPU professors to inspire her students. “When I do crazy stuff, it’s because Dr. Christine Chaney (SPU professor of English) was always doing intonations with her voice, speaking with an Irish accent,” she says. “The kids love that. When I see all the great teachers who influenced me, I can return the favor.”