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American Graduate Event Highlights Service-Education Connection

by CNCS Staff

On Saturday, PBS stations across the country aired programming to highlight solutions to the nation’s high school dropout crisis during the second American Graduate Day. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) joined our partners at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and WNET in New York in support of the effort.

The seven-hour special highlighted community partners, educators, and celebrities involved in education and youth intervention programs to help keep at-risk students in school.

In addition to transforming communities in need, service opportunities change the lives of the AmeriCorps members themselves, said Director of AmeriCorps Bill Basl.

“This experience of serving others has enabled them to prioritize things in life that are important,” he said. “(Service) enables them to see why they need to further education (and) further training.”

AmeriCorps alums Jamiel L. Alexander (left) and Germain Castellanos (right) pose for a photo with Wes Moore (center) after their interview about how national service is helping address the high school dropout crisis.Basl and AmeriCorps alums Germain Castellanos and Jamiel L. Alexander participated in discussions about how national service is helping address this crisis in education. Both Castellanos and Alexander shared pieces of their personal stories about how they overcame personal challenges to graduate high school before returning to their communities to help others reach that same goal.

After being kicked out of his high school and working dead-end jobs, Castellanos told the story of how he got involved in national service through the Illinois’ Youth Conservation Corps. He now leads the SHINE Educational Leadership program at his old high school in Waukegan, IL to help seniors stay on the path to graduation.

“Service gave me the opportunity to show people how to serve and how to lead,” he said. Castellanos’ transformation earned him the Illinois Governor’s Journey Award in 2008. 

Alexander still lives and serves at the Crispus Attucks YouthBuild Charter School AmeriCorps Program in York, PA, 13 years after completing his court-ordered community service there. He now serves as the Manager of Youth and Family Programs at Crispus Attucks, and has been a featured speaker at the March on Washington 50th anniversary and the Franklin Project.

“I was misunderstood as a youth and the opportunity of service really kept me engaged in the community and I became more socially aware and more socially conscious,” said Alexander. “As I went from negative to positive, the more I began to give and help others, I began to help myself.”

CNCS programs like AmeriCorps are a necessary part of advancing education and curbing the country’s high school dropout rate, said Patricia Harrison, president and chief executive officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“Through all of these organizations, the power of the average man or woman to make a difference against these horrible statistics is just very exciting,” said Harrison. “This is our DNA.  This is who we are as a people. … No one achieves the American Dream on their own.”

During the program, several CNCS grantees, national service members, and partners turned to Twitter to voice their support:

  • Citizen Schools (@cschools): Middle school engagement is a key indicator for dropping out. We need to give kids a vision- Commissioner of Ed. John King #amgrad
  • Sarah Dixon (@MNAlliance): @amerigrad @LaurenWankoNJTV Our AmeriCorps Promise Fellows are using an evidenced based data driven model to solve the dropout crisis in MN!
  • William Ramsey (@NuwiZEdom): Thanks @amerigrad for the platform to share the Corporation for National Community Service! I'm a PROUD @americorps member! @nationalservice
  • American Graduate (@amerigrad): "All of us are the village. Each one of us in every community... Each one of us has responsibility to play that part"- Alma Powelll #amgrad

AmeriCorps Director Bill Basl was captured for this Twitter post about the American Graduate event on September 28, 2013.

To learn more about AmeriCorps, the role it plays in improving education, or how you can get involved, visit our AmeriCorps page. And you can learn more about the American Graduate initiative and watch the complete event online at the American Graduate Grad Day page.

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