City Year Jacksonville, Jaguars Foundation team up to boost student literacy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.City Year Jacksonville and the Jaguars Foundation are helping students at Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School improve their reading skills and boost their overall grades. The goal is not only to help them succeed in the classroom — but in life.

If you visit Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School shortly before the first bell, chances are you’ll be greeted by City Year Jacksonville team members clapping and chanting, “Good morning, good morning!” as students enter the building. These “morning power greetings,” are the group’s unique way of hyping the students up for a great day of learning.

Once inside, City Year Jacksonville team members work with students hands-on during and after school. Moments like these are why Eileen O’Connell and Quintin Griffin love what they do. Griffin is CYJ’s Impact Director of Secondary Schools.

“Definitely working with students,” Griffin said. “Seeing the smiling faces and seeing kids run up and sharing their stories.”

O’Connell is the school’s Impact Manager.

“To be able to come here and be a part of the Matthew Gilbert family and be able to learn the culture and traditions here and be a part of that,” O’Connell said. “And also claim that as my family as well.”

The group works hands-on with students to not only improve their overall grades but to instill a love of reading. With the Jaguars Foundation partnership, Griffin and O’Connell say funding for a book fair this Spring will be provided. Along with assistance in English Language Arts.

While the pandemic was hard on countless students, City Year Jacksonville says its focus is to help them learn skills they can carry with them through life.

“Create those good learning habits, understand what reading means to them, and why it’s so important outside of their life,” Griffin said. “And just help them gain and learn it again.”

As for those “morning power greetings”, O’Connell says they aren’t just a boost for the students. They make the team members feel good, too. O’Connell recalls moments last week when students couldn’t wait to share their memories of Thanksgiving break with their CYJ mentors.

“Oh my gosh, I want to tell you about break! There was this, this, and this, and I got to eat this,” O’Connell recalled students saying. “And it was just so cool just having that presence in someone else’s life and being able to be part of that is just awesome.”

Helping students overcome challenges, one mentor at a time.

Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School is one of 11 schools serviced by City Year Jacksonville. The group is always looking to add to the team in hopes of reaching more students. City Year Jacksonville mentors are 18 to 25 years old.

If you’re interested in applying or seeing the data results of its impacts, click here.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.