Volunteers Paint Up LA Academy Middle School
“MLK Day has always been an important day of service for City Year,” said Allison Graff-Weisner, executive director of City Year Los Angeles. “One of the ways we make a difference for students is by beautifying the campus to demonstrate that this is the place they want to show up everyday.”
Volunteers painted 28 educational murals around the campus, including a portrait of Aristotle at the school gate, and 75 college pennants, which, according to Graff-Weisner, were supposed to create a “college-going culture.”
City Year, whose major mission is to recruit young people for a year of full-time service to keep at-risk students in school and on track to graduation, is now working together with 17 schools in Los Angeles.
Lucy Montiel, 20, said she became a member of City Year because she knew how important their service is to students.
Montiel was raised in Mexico.
“When I came [to the U.S.] in second grade, I didn’t know any English," Montiel said. "My teacher didn’t speak Spanish. It was tough learning it. I remember a guy coming in class to help me twice a week and we would read together. I really appreciated it. I just want to help people like he helped me.”
Graff-Weisner said City Year alumni benefit from helping others.
“They vote at a much higher rate than their peers," she said. "They are civic-minded and civically engaged. They are much more likely to have friends from diverse backgrounds. And they really stay connected to the idea of service and giving back in their communities."
Elizabeth Warden is a member who helps students with their English at Markham Middle School in Watts. She wakes up at 5 a.m. on school days, and gets off at 5:30 p.m. Her average service time at school, excluding travel, is 10 hours.
“It’s a really demanding year of service, but it’s rewarding,” she said.
Warden graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in journalism last year. Although she focused on education reporting before, mentoring at Markham has brought her new topics, issues that hadn't occurred to her when she was a reporter.
“When I actually met students, that was what turned me around,” she said. “When you read newspapers, you don’t really think about the students’ angle. You just think; why are schools failing, why is this happening, why are kids dropping out? And you don’t think about what students go through.”
Warden said there shouldn’t be stereotypes associated with these students. They should be treated as “real students.”
Volunteers that participated at the day's event included neighboring community members, students from LA Academy Middle School and staff from a variety of companies.
Jason Jurczyk brought his three children to paint murals because it was “an exciting thing to be part of it.”
His youngest daughter, Sophie, was only tall enough to reach the tiles under the murals, but she made every effort to make sure that the tiles were beautifully painted.
“I like doing this,” she said.
Reach reporter Kay Chinn here.
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