A freshman at Mendez High School in Los Angeles slumped in his chair, made no eye contact with anyone and said nothing during class. He was the student teachers couldn’t connect with, though they tried.
“I pulled him aside many times. He wouldn’t talk about what was going on in his life. One day I saw him start to tear up and I could tell we were starting to get to him,” said educator Kenn Campa. “There are no magic words that turn a student’s life around. It takes a steady drumbeat of support and encouragement.”
Campa is a program manager with City Year, an education-focused nonprofit organization that partners with public schools to help keep students on track and in school. That is a huge challenge in some communities. About 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The ninth grader at Mendez won’t be one of them.
“It took about a year for him to become more responsive to teachers. He started participating in a few of his classes and eventually all of his classes,” Campa recalled. “I was shocked when he ran up to my car, so excited, and started talking about wanting to get into computers and technology. It was a 180 degree change and it wasn’t just one person who made a difference, it was our entire team working every day for that result.”
To support City Year’s work in classrooms, Starbucks partners and customers take on service projects in schools from coast to coast.
“It makes me feel loved that someone cares enough to come to our school and help even though they don’t know us,” said Amali Ramirez, a student at Mendez High.
On April 2, over 400 partners and customers volunteered at another Los Angeles school, Roscoe Elementary, building picnic tables and benches and painting 29 murals. Partners and community members did similar work in Miami on April 5. Store partners in Washington D.C. have service projects planned for Saturday, April 12. The volunteer efforts are a part of Starbucks 4th annual Global Month of Service, an initiative to help address the needs of communities in which the company operates.
“To know that there’s a local Starbucks that is engaged in each community that we’re in is truly special,” said Artie Dohler, district manager for Starbucks South Florida stores. “Some of these schools are in communities that don’t have the budget to do extra things teachers need to engage students in learning. When paint is peeling off a wall, school morale suffers.”
Starbucks community service work with City Year in Miami started small five years ago, he said. The first year they landscaped an elementary schoolyard and painted a few walls inside the building. Next, Starbucks and City Year volunteers painted inspirational murals. They began repairing donated furniture and remodeling teachers’ lounges. More partners joined the effort and some customers drove as far as 50 miles to participate in the projects. Today, there’s a waiting list of schools wanting volunteer help from City Year and Starbucks.
“The reputation of what we’ve been doing has been vocalized throughout the community and now more students and parents are showing up. They don’t just want to see a school’s transformation, they want to be a part of it,” Dohler said.
Recently, 200 Starbucks partners took on the challenge of building an outdoor classroom at Miami’s Lakeview Elementary School. They installed a dry-erase board on the outside of a school wall and built seating areas for students. They also set up rain barrels to support an herb garden project teaching students how to create sustainable gardens and protect the environment.
While educators appreciate the work, Dohler said it “means even more to partners” who work in Starbucks stores near the schools they’re helping.
“Parents come in and give our partners an update on how the garden they planted is doing or tell them how much the kids like the mural they painted,” he said. “They have a relationship that goes beyond coffee. Partners are invested in the community and students’ success, just as parents are.”