Parkway grad gives back through Americorps program

Parkway Central graduate Ben Rubin, (second from left) is pictured with fellow Americorps members.

Ali Gold Sophomore, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

Not only is 22-year-old Ben Rubin living in the city of his dreams, but the 2009 Parkway Central graduate also spends every day educating kids in underperforming schools. Rubin has taken a job at  Chicago-based City Year, an Americorps program that places young educators in underperforming schools to help at-risk students. The ultimate goal is curb the current national dropout crisis.

“I really want to provide [these students] with the tools and skills they need to go to college and beyond,” Ben Rubin, a former congregant of Congregation B’nai Amoona, said. “I had a great education throughout my life, and I don’t think without it that I would have had the opportunities I’ve received, or been able to go to the college I wanted to go to. So I want to get them on track, and get them to where they want to be.”

From a young age, Rubin had always read hoards of books, on everything from history to basketball. As a freshman in high school, he decided that reading and teaching himself was not enough and made the choice to go into education.

“He loved sports, so to encourage reading I was always buying books about sports that he was interested in,” said Rachel Rubin, Ben’s mother. “Then reading became a path to further his interests and education.  When you are interested in the world around you, reading becomes a way to gain knowledge.” 

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Once he reached high school, Rubin continued to foster his interests by enrolling in honors classes and working to maintain high grades, Eventually, he was accepted, and attended, University of Illinois. Now, Rubin wants to give back to students who would not otherwise have a chance at success.

“I think City Year will be an invaluable [experience] to Ben because he is living and seeing a slice of life that he would never otherwise been in touch with,” Rachel Rubin said. “I really believe Ben will become a citizen of the world, not just of his own community [through City Year]. He is a compassionate person and I think this helps him understand the struggles people have.”

In total, there are 206 corps members stationed in Chicago who work with 5,000 students in grades fifth to ninth. The main goal of the organization is to ensure that 80 percent of students in these underperforming schools reach the 10th grade on time and on track. Studies show that students who progress to 10th grade alongside their peers are four times more likely to graduate than those who fall behind or have to repeat grades. 

“City Year Chicago will focus [its] service in schools where the dropout challenge is most concentrated, ultimately serving in schools that account for two-thirds of our city’s dropouts,” said Johnny Barr, Senior Director for External Relations for City Year Chicago. “City Year truly teaches me the idea of “Ubuntu,” a South African saying that my humanity is tied to yours. We want everyone to be successful – schools, students, teachers, parents, corps members – their success is tied to ours and we have a responsibility to work together.”

While Rubin is part of a group working in Chicago, there are also 2,500 corps members providing aid to 150,00 students nationwide in 25 cities. All of these educators are working toward the same common goal — to provide aid and education to as many students as possible.

“The best part of my job is that moment a student takes the confidence [which] the Corps Member works so hard to give him/her; the moment a student takes control of his/her success and pride in his/her studies,” Team Leader for the Exelon Foundation Jessica Son said. “I do what I do for those moments. My job has taught me the power of human connection. It takes just one person believing in another for a person to succeed; it’s crazy!”

To demonstrate their belief in their students, corps members arrive early at school and participate in “Morning Greeting,” a daily routine used to welcome students to school. It consists of corps members standing at the entrance performing chants, dance routines and music. Once the day begins, corps members serve alongside assigned classroom teachers. At lunch, corps members provide leadership training to students. 

Once the school day is over, the corps members’ day has just begun. They stay after school every day, providing after-school tutoring, clubs and homework help. The day ends at five o’clock with a final circle, which is meant to provide clarity and unity.

“I have learned so far, that kids just need people to care about them,” Ben Rubin said. “Even the toughest kids, the ones that you may think don’t want to hear anything you have to say, just by being there and caring, and showing a personal connection, it makes a great difference.”