Changing the World
By Carol Olechowski
Emily Park, B.A. '11
“Give a year. Change the world.”
Last summer, recent University at Albany graduates Alice Wong, Emily Park and Dimitri Pinnock responded to that call by committing 10 months to City Year. The program, which hires young adults who tutor and mentor students to get them “on track” for graduation, operates in 24 U.S. cities; London, England; and South Africa.
New York City native Wong provides classroom and lunchroom support at P.S./M.S. 206 in East Harlem, assisting students with reading and writing skills and “other subjects, depending on what they are learning when I am with them.” Wong, who majored in mathematics and minored in business administration at UAlbany, creates “‘mini’ lesson plans tailored to my students’ specific learning styles. I can already see little improvements when reading with one of my third-graders, and it is such a nice feeling to know that I am making a difference.”
The experience has confirmed for Wong that working in education “is what I want to do. I have been able to learn different teaching techniques, as well as how to work with children with special needs by creating a bond with them and giving them a little extra attention.” After completing her City Year commitment in June, Wong plans to earn a master’s degree and her teaching certification.
Dimitri Pinnock, B.A. '11
At Sheepshead Bay High School in his native Brooklyn, N.Y., Pinnock shares with about 60 freshmen “ideas and strategies” that helped him to succeed while studying history and biology at UAlbany. He understands “firsthand” the struggles “of trying to succeed in an urban school setting. The students look up to me. I look like them, I went to a similar high school and I graduated from college, so they are always receptive to my tutoring and my advice on issues they are facing.”
As role models, City Year corps members are held to strict behavioral standards: They are not permitted to smoke, swear or even chew gum. Each wears a bright-red jacket that sports the City Year logo. For Pinnock, the jacket “represents the commitment I have with this great program. I wanted to serve my community and establish a better academic experience for students by placing a high value on education and coursework, and by letting them know they can accomplish anything in the world.
Pinnock’s mother “held me accountable” for schoolwork, encouraging him “to be an overachiever. She wanted me to excel, and I want my students to excel, also,” said Pinnock, who plans to take the MCATs next summer in preparation for medical school.
City Year “has taught me to become more of a leader,” he added. “I can use this skill in initiatives I set up to involve more minorities in medicine, and also in reducing health disparities around the world.”
Park, a first-generation Korean-American from New York City, admires the ninth-graders she tutors in math, English and science at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. “They don’t have perfect lives, yet they come to school every day, excited to see us and wanting to better their futures through a beautiful thing called education,” observed Park, who earned a degree in sociology and psychology at UAlbany.
Alice Wong, B.A. '12
Jefferson students “are rising to the City Year challenge.” One success story, “Juan,” was formerly “late to school every day. He would fall behind on all his classwork and never complete his homework. He is never late anymore and even attends our after-school program. We motivate him, and he’s proud to know that his mentors believe in and care about him,” said Park, noting that City Year “has opened up my interest to studying education reform in graduate school.”
Diversity is one of City Year’s greatest strengths. “I have met so many people from so many different places,” Wong commented. “Our different experiences with children have allowed us to bounce ideas off one another and learn from each other.”
Added Park: “We are all so different, yet we work together cohesively. I know that, after this experience, we will all be able to bring the concept of teamwork and our own strengths to any fields we pursue.”
For more information about City Year, visit www.cityyear.org.