MANCHESTER — The city’s business leaders and politicians enjoyed breakfast Tuesday, sitting at lunch tables in the cafeteria of Beech Street School with welcoming placemats made by the elementary school children.
“When I grow up, I want to be an inventor,” said one with purple scrawls and a green and black drawing of a teleporter. Others wanted to be chefs, an architect or a construction worker. Riley Silver wants to be a gamer.
They are the hopes and dreams of students in one of the city’s poorest schools, dreams nurtured by City Year volunteers, whom the school could not do without, according to Assistant Principal Christine Brennan.
Nearly 60 of the volunteers are found in six of the city’s poorest schools, providing mentoring, inspiration, help with homework, tutoring, friendship and old-fashioned cheerleading to keep at-risk children on track with their schooling. The program’s long-term goal is to reduce the high school dropout rate while producing community leaders.
First year volunteer Gabby Betances told the crowd of about 100 that it was about ending educational disparity, overcoming social injustice and changing the world.
Jodi Harper of Granite United Way, who was a City Year volunteer for seven years, said it is a way to change the lives of thousands of kids for the better.
Brennan, in a plea for contributions to the group that is funded with a mix of public and private dollars, said one in four children in Manchester lives in poverty.
“We owe it to our children,” she said.
If the trend continues, Brennan said one in four children attending Beech Street School today will not graduate from high school. And those without a high school education will be unable to find a job that will pay enough to provide for a family.
Mayor Ted Gatsas, a huge fan of the program, which has been in Manchester for the past four years, said at Beech Street School 96 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 87 percent are English language learners.
“This is probably one of the best programs I have ever seen,” he said.
Principal Patricia Snow said the City Year team believes in the kids and inspires them to do their best and “truly makes a difference” at the school.
And, sometimes, a volunteer provides that adult role model a child needs.
Gov. Maggie Hassan said she fully believes in the power of City Year’s work, a program that has improved attendance and children’s behavior. She said her mother was a high school teacher who taught her one of the most important things for a child was to have a grown-up in his or her corner each and every day. City Year, she said, does that.
Harper said more than 90 percent of the students saw their literacy scores improve with the volunteers’ help, and 20 percent of them progressed beyond their grade level.