City Year is a national non-profit which places young adults for one year each in high needs schools to keep kids on track to graduate. City Year corps members do tutoring and mentoring and lots of other work within the school to support the students, particularly those who have an early warning sign that they might be off-track.
This past week in Boston, City Year held its national Summer Academy, a weeklong training and community building conference for people from City Year sites across the country.
Upon the conclusion of Academy on Friday, City Year Jacksonville’s team, of which I am a proud member, headed off to the airport to catch our 6:00 p.m. flight. Upon arriving at the airport, we discovered that the airline had delayed the flight. Unfortunately, the delay meant that we wouldn’t be able to catch our connecting flight, and that connecting flight would have been the last of the day to Jacksonville from that particular city.
Since the delay of our first flight would make it impossible to catch the second. Our team got in touch with the company that does the booking for airline travel for our organization. Through much maneuvering, we were able to get refunded for the original tickets and rebooked on another flight through another airline.
For reasons I don’t entirely understand, our group of 12 was split into two groups of six in the computer system during the rebooking process. As the departure time for the new flight got closer, the first six people finally got their boarding passes and were able to go through security to get on the flight.
As the departure time ticked even closer, the second half of the group still hadn’t gotten our confirmation and boarding passes. At this point, Kelly, a ticket agent for JetBlue got involved. At first, she simply gave as updates on our status in their computer system—apparently, our seats had been reserved on the flight, but tickets had not technically been purchased, yet, so boarding passes couldn’t be printed (a purgatory I hadn’t previously known was possible).
Our group members were on the phone with the travel booking company to try to work through whatever the series of technicalities that were preventing the tickets from being finalized. Eventually, Kelly the ticket agent offered to take the cell phone from the person in our group who was on the phone with the travel booking company and work with them directly to get things figured out.
By this point, it was getting very late: T minus 20 minutes or so until we had to be on the flight. Upon determining that the obstacles with the current reservation-in-limbo were insurmountable in the remaining time, Kelly canceled it and began the process of reserving new tickets for the six of us. This is quite a process: grabbing IDs from everyone to get names and addresses spelled correctly, juggling credit card info (and overcoming the additional obstacle of credit cards requiring approval for transactions this large) and getting our passes printed.
A final sprint to the finish
By this point, were at about T minus 8 minutes.
She ran out from behind the counter (it would have been cooler if she had leaped over the counter, but sadly, she didn’t). She told us to follow her and she sprinted towards the security line where she cut us to the front of the line. There were some more slowdowns going through security and she eventually went through security herself and ran us to our gate, with me barefoot and carrying my City Year Timberland boots. We arrived right at the last moment we could have gotten there, according to the time posted on all of the screens.
Upon arriving at the gate, it turns out the time had really been wrong on the screen and the flight had been delayed a few minutes and that they were just about to begin boarding. We got on the flight and had a pleasant journey home to Jacksonville.
Through a series of circumstances outside of our control (and some behind the scenes circumstances I still don’t entirely understand), we were at-risk of not making it home to Jacksonville that night. We were working hard to get things straightened out, and the people at the travel booking company and other airline staff were doing a solid job of trying to get us to our goal.
However, as the situation got more dire, Kelly jumped into action, clearing obstacles and roadblocks to help us meet our goal of getting home. It turned out we had a few extra minutes to spare at the very end (but we didn’t know that until we got there, and we wouldn’t have gotten there without Kelly’s support).
Here’s a quick thought-experiment:
Let’s say that my group of travelers are students (7th graders, maybe).
The other ticket agents, the TSA people, the people on the phone at the travel booking company, etc. are teachers and other school staff.
The airplane is “on-time and on-track arrival in 8th grade.”
In this scenario, who is Kelly?
Kelly is a City Year corps member.
Let’s go through the story one more time:
Through circumstance that are out of their control (and may even be unknown to them), some 7th graders are at-risk of not making it to 8th grade on-time and on-track. They are working hard to reach this goal, with the support of countless teachers and school staff, all of whom are working as hard they can to support the students (and they have LOTS of students). Some of the 7th graders are eventually able to meet their goal.
However, some of the others are still not quite there. A City Year corps member sees this and does whatever she can to clear obstacles out of the path for these students. As they get their attendance, behavior, and course performance on track, they realize that in fact they were further along than they had thought and are able to finish the year successfully, and move on to eighth grade ready to learn!
This year, I hope to support my team of City Year corps members as we work to develop into a whole bunch of Kellies.
Don’t get me wrong–corps members won’t wait until 20 minutes before a student fails 7th grade, and certainly won’t shove other students out of the way to clear a path.
What corps members will do is identify students in need of an extra something to overcome the obstacles in their path and corps members will do their best to provide whatever this something is: math tutoring, a reminder to go to class, a simple pat on the back, whatever is needed.
Having just completed a City Year in Los Angeles, I loved your post and the overall metaphor. Thanks for sharing!
What a clever metaphor, Zack! Great post.