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AmeriCorp member Seun Odueyungbo with her students at Bakersville School in Manchester, NH. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

AmeriCorp member Seun Odueyungbo with her students at Bakersville School in Manchester, NH. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

‘City Years’ help NH kids thrive

Volunteers in elementary school classrooms help with academics and more

When the new school year gets underway, a new team of City Year volunteers will be arriving in six Manchester elementary schools.

At the Bakersville School, City Year volunteers will help with math and reading, and with other, less-tangible things: strategies for getting to school on-time, an attentive ear for conflict-resolution, a reminder of innate potential, a game of ball.

In any given year, between 80 and 85 percent of the children at Bakersville qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the student body of 410 children represents families from 20 countries of origin. In these halls, you might hear swatches of Vietnamese, Swahili, Amharic, Portuguese.

Which makes Bakersville “an awesome place to learn, as well as work,” says principal Judy Adams.

Some 16 languages are spoken here. About 40 percent of Bakersville’s students have learned or are learning English as a second language.

City Year volunteers become an important part of the team — working alongside teachers and staff — to help these kids succeed.

Daisy Meha is 11 years old. She dreams of becoming an ultrasound technician. Seun Odueyungbo of Northwood spent her City Year in Daisy’s classroom.

“She’s serious when she needs to be serious, and she likes to be there for us, and talk to us,” Meha said.

“They make very good connections with kids,” Adams said of the City Year volunteers.

One Bakersville student, who had been reading below grade level, recently caught up.

The student told his teacher: “‘My City Year person told me we could do this, and we were going to read every day together until I could move up to the right level. And we did.’

“Every day,” Adams said, “you would see them sitting in the hallway reading together.”

City Year is a national program that sends skilled volunteers into high-need schools.

“I know I make a difference,” said Melissa Slanetz of Keene, a City Year volunteer. Some students she works with, she said, “don’t have parents who tell them they are smart and capable.” So she makes a point to tell them.

“None of our students get missed,” added Erika Swiger of Asheville, NC. “We give them all of our attention whenever we are with them.”

Adams and her teaching staff are looking forward to welcoming the new group of “City Years” in September.

“Bakersville it’s a wonderful school. It has awesome children,” Adams said. “But it is also a challenge to meet the needs of all children and establish those connections with them — and that’s where City Year makes a huge difference for us.”