Grantee Spotlight: City Year

How young leaders giving a year of service help keep kids on track to graduate

Schools partnering with City Year were up to three times more likely to improve on math assessments and twice as likely to improve on English language assessments.


By Bill Kiolbasa, Portfolio Manager - K-12

Graduating from high school is a crucial milestone and a key indicator for whether a young person will succeed in life. Yet 13 percent of American high schools, often in low-income neighborhoods, graduate fewer than two-thirds of their students. Countless factors, mostly outside of the formal classroom, influence a student’s educational journey and our school district systems are simply not designed to address all of them.

City Year helps bridge the gap between what individual students need and what schools are resourced to provide. Over the past three decades, this national nonprofit has partnered with the federally funded AmeriCorps program to place young adults in schools for a year of full-time service. These 18-25-year-old “near-peers” are recent graduates from high school or college who serve as tutors, coaches, and mentors. They work with students from third through ninth grade because kids who reach 10th grade on time and on track to graduate are three times more likely to earn their high school diploma. In partnership with teachers, City Year AmeriCorps members track the “ABC” indicators – attendance, behavior, and course performance in math and English language arts – which are research-based early warning indicators that help identify students at risk of dropping out.

The results are clear. According to research by Policy Studies Associates on 600 schools in 22 school districts, schools partnering with City Year were up to three times more likely to improve on math assessments and twice as likely to improve on English language assessments, as compared to similar schools without the program.

At Ballmer Group, we identify leading national organizations with demonstrated impact such as City Year and give them operational support to reach more communities. A thriving social services sector is vital to advancing economic mobility in the United States, yet even the strongest nonprofits face funding restrictions that prevent them from covering the full costs of sustaining and expanding their work.

We initially supported City Year with challenge grants that were designed to match funding from school districts. This helped attract more participating districts while creating a sustainable financial model.

Now we support City Year in Washington state, Los Angeles County, and Southeast Michigan, our priority regions, as well as nationally. We value their continuous use of data to measure, evaluate, and improve their programs and their close collaboration with public school districts.

Through City Year’s work, thousands of students nationally get the support they deserve to help earn a high school diploma.