A National Service Podcast

Host Ken Harbaugh sits down with policy makers, military leaders, academics, and changemakers for inspiring conversations about national service and what it will take to move our country forward.

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Episode 3: Closing the Learning Gap

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Today, Ken explores national service in education by interviewing Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America, and Rey Saldaña, CEO of Communities in Schools.

The alumni testimonial features Cristina Flores, AmeriCorps alum who served three years at the Austin-based education non-profit Literacy First. Cristina is now a program officer at the OneStar Foundation in Texas.

Ken Harbaugh: A service year is a chance to serve your community and country while developing real-world skills. Explore thousands of paid service year opportunities at ServiceYear.org/podcast.

Welcome to Rebuilding America, produced in partnership with New Politics. We’re here to talk about national service: what is it, why do we need it, and can it rebuild America? Today, national service in education.

You’ll hear my conversations with leaders of two national organizations focused on improving educational outcomes. First, Teach for America, the pre-eminent program recruiting corps members to teach in underserved schools. Then, Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that empowers students in low income communities to stay in school. Between these two conversations, we’ll also hear a testimonial from Cristina Flores, an AmeriCorps alum who served at the Austin-based education non-profit Literacy First and is now serving as a program officer at the OneStar Foundation in Texas.

Elisa Villanueva Beard started as a Teach for America corps member in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1998. She now serves as CEO of the organization, which reaches 355,000 students each year in 2,450 schools. I asked Elisa to start at the beginning of her TFA journey - that first year in the classroom in Phoenix.

Elisa Villanueva Beard: I felt inadequate and really worried about whether I was going to be able to meet the challenge for my kids. I knew what they deserved, and so it was a lot of that sense of responsibility and then feeling like I wasn't equipped or had the resources. I had anticipated having a class that was in the mid-20s and that very first day of school, I went out to get my kids and realized that I suddenly had 36 kids, first graders, mind you. I walk into class, I don't have enough desks. I don't have enough materials for everybody. That sort of describes very well what I undertook that first week, which was a lot of adapting, really getting to know my kids, figuring out what was going to make our classroom work. And quickly figured out that my kids are brilliant and have so much to offer and that I was going to have to be really innovative and creative in figuring out how to meet all of their needs.

For example, I didn't have any books or many materials for first grade. I didn't have a curriculum, and so I had to start, how do you teach first grade without books? And so, I went off and figured out that I could check out books from five different libraries, 30 books at a time, and I created my own library and just feeling deeply challenged at every level than myself, doubting if I could meet the moment and then really feeling the stakes of it all.

Why I persevered or what sort of was the fire in my belly that kept me going was that, you quickly realize that our kids truly can do anything. They're just as smart as any other kid. They don't have the access or opportunities and, when you meet them where they are, you have extremely high expectations of them. You love and support them as a full child. They rise to the occasion.

KH: TFA's mission statement begins with those kids. It talks about the goal of ensuring that we reach a day where every child receives an excellent and equitable education. But I find the second half equally intriguing, which focuses on the corps member. The idea that you are creating and nurturing leaders who begin in the classroom. They may well go on to do other things, but that two-year experience is a beginning of a lifetime of advocacy. Why is that so important to the mission of TFA?

EVB: Yeah. As we all know, in order to ensure that every child is able to have an equal chance in life, be able to thrive, have economic mobility, all the things, the way we see it is we have to take on change at a systems level inside of education, outside of education. That's sort of the way we see the problem. We know that it's going to require many interventions in order to get to that change that is needed. What TFA offers is bringing in leaders who have a track record of leadership, are all about justice, are humble, are courageous, and really want to see something different. What we've been able to achieve over 30 years is really an army of folks who are lifelong advocates and change agents for kids and for this mission. To your point, 85% of the folks that we attract into this work were not going to teach, they were headed to other lucrative careers. We disrupt their life path and they come to realize, "Gosh, one of the greatest injustices of our time is that not every kid has an equitable and excellent education," and they want to do something about it. What's remarkable is that, at the backend of that, now we have over 60,000 alums, 80% of them have committed their lives to either working in education or have a career serving a low-income community. Maybe they did want to be a doctor, but they have gone into and become a doctor, but have opened a clinic in a low-income community and so the impact of that kind of leadership and the work that can partner with others to have real change is, we've seen produce incredible results.

KH: You used the word humble when talking about your corps members. I want you to expound upon that a bit, especially in light of one of the more salient criticisms of AmeriCorps, which is that it uses good intentions to take the place of experience and listening and a commitment to the profession of teaching. Can you share a story of one of those thousands of communities that Teach For America has gone into and helped rebuild or build a baseline of trust and how humility has been an integral part of that?

EVB: Sure. I often talk about our work and the leadership required as both needing to be courageous because it takes real courage to confront realities and imagine something different and you/ve got to sort of go for it. But it also takes incredible humility because you quickly realize that the systems and where we work, it's very complex. We work alongside incredible people who I truly do believe are trying to do great things for kids. It is marrying these two ideas constantly is just so critical.

I mean, I'll talk about Washington, D.C. as one example of incredible partnership between the work that TFA does alongside many others. For that system that has made incredible improvements, still has a long way to go and in all of our systems no one's arrived anywhere, but that system was led by a TFA alum at the chancellor level for a decade. What we saw transformed in that was from disruption to then real partnership with other educators to be able to move the needle as fast as they did and as much as they did, it was one of the, and continues to hold progress, amongst the most highly fast-improving systems in America for five years. And so that's a system that I think gives us hope in what's possible and when different groups come together to work together and learn from each other. Because, we never say TFA is the answer to anything. We're one part of a solution that comes together with many others to live into the promises that we make to our children and continue to do that. We have really evolved in even our own work, Ken. Today, we are amongst the largest, most diverse provider of educators in low-income communities. And so, for the last six years, about 50% of our corps are people of color, 50% white. Many are from the communities where they grew up and we've had a concerted effort around that, and we know that that matters because research shows how important it is for kids and how much they benefit when they have teacher diversity, especially for kids of color. There's real research that shows that this impacts their academic and social-emotional outcomes in the short and long term, and this is in the backdrop where 80% of teachers in America are white. And so, we're helping to contribute to the diversity of that and work across all lines of difference in our country to strengthen and unify communities and the country at large.

KH: How do corps members themselves talk about interweaving those lines of difference, as you described them? Is it important to them that they are part of a larger nationwide corps? If so, how do they balance that feeling of belonging with the belonging to their immediate community?

EVB: I would say that our corps members work really hard and are motivated by their community where they teach, really building and laying down roots with the children's lives, the family's lives, other educators, and really being grounded in that. I think what's helpful is when our corps members also know that there are people doing what they're doing all across this country. We work in 37 states, plus Washington, D.C. Our network is now 65,000 strong. And so, the benefit of being part of a larger effort is that you know that there's an ability to learn from each other. But in terms of where the change happens, where your heart is, it's definitely locally, alongside many others ,and deep in the issues community by community, school by school.

KH: That 65,000-strong network now includes members of Congress and alumni running for Congress. That has to be uplifting, invigorating for the brand new corps member embarking on this new mission to realize that, as you put it on your website, it really is just the beginning.

EVB: We know this is officially a two-year commitment, but our observation has been over time as our corps members get proximate to their students, to their communities, to the problem, the complexity of the problem, and also the solvability of the problem, and their hearts and minds are truly transformed because of their connection to the human experience, but also starting to understand how the inequities play out and what is actually possible to change and their role in that. And so, it becomes a lifelong commitment. As I said, about 60% of our corps members end up staying in teaching for a third year on average. But then the vast majority stay in the work for the rest of their lives.

KH: We spoke with Congresswoman Houlihan for this series and as you were describing that focus on the local community when you're a corps member, it made me think of our conversation and how her time in the classroom is something she still refers back to. It still informs how she thinks about the biggest issues of the day representing her district in Pennsylvania, and now being a driver for a massive expansion of national service opportunities. That directly comes from her experience as a TFA corps member.

EVB: Yes.

KH: But I've got to ask how the current realities have affected your work because, they certainly are impacting legislation and what people like Representative Houlihan have to think about when they are imagining a future of education, how we need to prepare for a post-pandemic world in which we've experienced what are expected to be massive learning losses. How is TFA preparing for a post-COVID world?

EVB: Yeah. I mean, as you just said, this pandemic has revealed so much. The truth of the matter is that, even before this pandemic, so many, too many children were being left out and left behind. Especially children of color, children growing up in low-income communities. I think what is clear-eyed to everybody today is just how starkly the inequities exist when you look at health, economic, racial disparities. They're really front and center and we're all really grappling with that and what we're called to do in this moment to meet the moment. 55 million children were affected by school closures and the learning losses that are predicted are really stark. I mean, we are truly at risk of leaving an entire generation behind. That's what we're facing and really centered on. And so, for us, we knew that we were going to have to do our work completely differently. What we did is, for the very first time, we had to pivot and create a virtual training format, where we trained all of our teachers centrally all across the country through a virtual training. It took nine weeks to stand up a new curriculum and execute on that. We focused on our teachers, how to develop a vision for student learning that's grounded in child development, best-in-class research-driven approaches to teaching, trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, and then around systemic racism and inequity in order to prepare our teachers. And so, that is the way that we pivoted and we are working with our teachers now to also support the schools, entire schools, where we work to ensure that they're getting the resources they need in order to meet the moment. I'm concerned of all the kids that aren't even engaging. In April, there was an estimate done that about 27% of middle schoolers essentially disappeared. We could not find them, were not engaged at all in virtual learning, so we really need to figure out, how do we engage our students? Figure out what they need, and then just go all in and all of us come together because this is an opportunity, it's an obligation as a country to really step in. Then also, as you say, start to reimagine what is possible, because what we don't want is to go back to the normal. Because the normal before the pandemic wasn't working for all kids, and so it's a one-in-a-hundred-year moment for us to also really think about school differently and what it's going to take for us to educate every child in our country.

KH: Since this is a national service podcast, can you tell me about the partnership with AmeriCorps, both on the tactical level, how much involvement they have with corps members, but also on the emotional level, how your members feel about being part of a national service corps?

EVB: AmeriCorps is one of our most important, powerful, critical partners in this work. There is just something powerful about having a bunch of young people every day waking up impacting and serving our communities and we are proud to be part of that. One of the big things that we think and talk a lot about is, how do we just allow more people to have access to serve our country? One of our observations is that A, this generation is so eager to be part of the change. They want to create the world, they're so values-driven. They understand that there's need for real change and want to be part of it and want to drive it.

KH: What are TFAs acceptance rates today?

EVB: For the past few years, they've ranged from 12 to 15%.

KH: That is tough. I mean, that's like Ivy League level in terms of the competitiveness to get some of those slots, right?

EVB: Yeah. I mean, the big thing for us is that we are sending folks to teach in some of the most under-resourced communities where there's just a lot of need. We have now 30 years of data that helps us know, what does it take to really be successful in this context? It's not for everybody and, as I've said now I think a few times, our first promise is to students. So we're really obsessed with figuring out, getting the right person selected who can really be able to rise to the occasion, thrive and be part of this and really committed to see it through. Because, I mean, it is one of ... I mean, you heard me say, I cried every day. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I never worked like I did that first year of teaching. There's so many reasons to give up, because it's so hard. You're just like, "Oh my gosh. But it's not fair that I don't have enough books. It's not fair. This doesn't make sense." Or, "That doesn't make sense." And it's so easy to point fingers, and what we need is people who can really focus on, "What do I have control over?" Take real personal responsibility, and then have a tendency to want to work with others to get things done and realize, "I'm one person, but I care about this school, I care about my classroom and I have the resilience and the determination and the humility to know that I need help and I need to lock hands with everyone else to get these things done." That's really hard, and it's especially hard when the majority of the folks we recruit are right out of college. It's their first job and it's the first, most impactful, incredible commitment and the hardest path to take probably.

KH: Cristina Flores is an example of someone who joined an AmeriCorps program in education right out of college. She had graduated from Texas State University and found an AmeriCorps position with Literacy First, a program in Austin geared towards early childhood literacy.

Cristina Flores: So some of the things that I did on a day to day basis as a bilingual early literacy tutor at Literacy First was Monday through Friday from 7:30 to 3:30, I worked with a caseload of 10 students. I saw those 10 students every single day for 30 minutes. I saw kinder, first, and second grade students, and I worked with them on, depending on their grade level, worked on the alphabet, letter sounds, syllable and phoneme blending, also phonics and reading fluency. So from 7:30 to 3:30, did a lot of the one on one tutoring. So it was a very data driven position, which was great because not only for myself to be able to see whether what we were doing was actually working, we also had the bar graph that the student can also see all of their gains as well, which really was motivational for them. So the primary mission of the program was early literacy and getting these children up to grade level in reading before third grade. I know for my experience a lot of the schools really appreciated having AmeriCorps members and the reason why, at least for my experience as a tutor- I mean, teachers have, I think, 20 plus students sometimes, and that's a lot. And a lot of the students that we served enter kinder, first, and second grades already... I think 75% of them are already behind before they even start school. So it's a lot to ask for an individual to manage a full classroom and to really be able to have the capacity and the time to serve each individual when there's a lot of requirements and a lot of other things that are going on. So being able to have an AmeriCorps member to really work together with the teacher and provide support and really give a very data driven intervention for the child that's very individualized for just 30 minutes to really help identify where we can support the child, is very helpful. And I think also another aspect of what I really felt like was impactful is that the child is also able to work with an individual that's going to be there at the same time for the same amount of time and really build some healthy relationships and really have someone there that really believes that they can read and really encourage them and be their cheerleader. So I felt called to serve because I really wanted to serve kids and explore a career in education and in nonprofit. But I ended up serving three years with the same program because the more I got to know about AmeriCorps and the impact that it has, the more I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the relationships that were being built with the students, with the program, the people that I was meeting from various backgrounds. And I also just really felt like I was growing so much as an individual and as a young professional. I had no idea how much that decision was actually going to change the trajectory of my career and my life really.

KH: After the break- my conversation with Rey Saldaña, President and CEO of Communities In Schools.

But first, hear Emily Cherniack talk about the work her organization New Politics does to lift up servant leaders into elected office.

Emily Cherniak: New Politics, which is an organization that I founded and now run, we are a nonpartisan organization that aims to revitalize American democracy by recruiting, developing, and electing servant leaders who put community and country first.

We help these outstanding leaders who have served in the military, or national service programs like AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, run for office because we believe leaders who have dedicated their lives to serving our country are the kinds of proven leaders we need in politics.

We think that leadership should transcend "party". So we'll talk to, and consider, supporting anyone who has served and embodies those servant leadership values.

I would say to anyone who feels disillusioned and hopeless about our politics to not lose hope, because there are a wave of leaders coming up through the pipeline who have what it takes to change our politics. These are amazing servant leaders from across the country who are stepping up and answering the call to serve again, and as candidates and campaign staffers and volunteers. Leaders like James Talarico who is a Teach For America alum, and in Texas was the youngest state rep to be elected and he has already done some big wins with bipartisan efforts on education reform.

Or you look at David Crowley who is a Public Allies alum and Milwaukee state rep who, after scoring big wins for his community, is already positioned to even make more meaningful change as the first African American elected to the County Executive in the history of Milwaukee. They embody what it means to put the country first and they are sort of the hope and the inspiration that I feel when I think about the future of our politics for America.

KH: If you’re thinking about getting involved in politics, visit newpolitics.org to learn more about taking the next step in your service career.

Rey Saldaña started as a Communities in Schools student himself in San Antonio, going on to study at Stanford and serve as the youngest city council member in San Antonio's history. He’s been at the helm of CIS since this spring. I started our conversation by asking him how he found his calling to serve - how did he make his way back to CIS as leader and where did that civic drive begin?

Rey Saldaña: So I'm first generation American, which means that my father came to this country as an undocumented American, lived in the country most of his life as undocumented. And the moment that really captures what would be catapulting me into what I love is the fact that when I was in elementary school, he and I were studying for the citizenship exam. So all of a sudden I was learning all about the US and government and the different branches and name the 13 original colonies. the questions we ask of most Americans, that I think initially planted the seed in me that I wanted to get involved in government and in service some way. And so when he eventually raised his hand to become an American, swore his oath, I knew that there was a debt that I had to pay back to this country. And the second moment would be me leaving home. So I was lucky, and I say lucky in a very intentional way, because there's not a lot of folks within the school and the school district that I went to, low income community on the south side of San Antonio, it's a Title 1 school district that I attended, public school. Not many students who graduated high school at the probability and the rate - I graduated with 300 students, but that freshmen orientation was about 550. So the second moment in my life was actually going away from home, and sometimes you don't know what you don't know, but I got accepted into Stanford, and that was kind of a huge, huge deal for me. And getting on a plane for the very first time to Palo Alto, California, where Stanford is, and seeing a new world that I'd never seen, access to opportunities in places that I would have never imagined existed. So that was the second moment, and leaving home was the only way I could come home, which is what I decided to do when I came back, which was run for office. So I think the moments of helping my dad become a citizen, leaving home, and then eventually coming back to run for office, it was in those experiences that I got to know what it was that I truly wanted to do in service.

KH: You said leaving home was the only way I could come home. What do you mean by that?

RS: I mean that zero to 18, because my parents didn't really make a lot of money, I didn't know much outside of the city of San Antonio. That I could have lived contained in my world, perfectly happy not knowing that there was a brighter future for me, more potential. I say that because when I met my CIS coordinator for the first time in high school, she was the person that exposed me to colleges outside of the community college down the street, which is where most of my classmates and students that I'd known who had went to college would go and attend. So I really felt like when I had gotten accepted to Stanford that I would never come back to San Antonio, that I was moving on to bigger and better things. And I think there was a sense of appreciation I got by leaving, and it was just a kick in the face to know what me and other students I had grown up with in my neighborhood were missing out on. And I just couldn't stand for it. It just burned this fire inside me that I was upset about, that most of the classmates I sat in school with in high school and middle school, they were just as smart, if not smarter than me. And I was sitting in classes at Stanford where you would assume the smartest people in the world are attending, and it is true, but not any smarter than the folks who I was going to school with on the south side of San Antonio. And I just felt a pull to want to come back and to see that I was creating opportunity in the one place I truly cared about, which was where I'm from.

KH: I'd love to talk about Communities In Schools and your experience with that organization. Clearly it shaped you as a young person in that program. It inspired you. You left and came back. Tell me about Communities In Schools and what it's doing in San Antonio and beyond.

RS: Yeah. Well, Communities In Schools is a national nonprofit that is working in 25 states, all across the country, we are in 2,500 schools. And started really right after the riots of the 1960s, when then the Kerner Commission was trying to understand what kind of problems existed in the inner cities. So coming from that era, we've been around for about 43 years. And the concept is very simple. Our innovation is the people that we train to work inside schools to identify the most at risk students. And at risk you can define in a number of different ways, whether it is an income measure, or it is a behavioral measure that has been tracked by the experience in the classroom or academic, and at risk can also be that these are students with a great deal of potential if they have a trained adult in their life telling them that we believe in you. And so we have 3,500 all across the country. I was lucky to run into one of those, we call them site coordinators, they are the CIS employees that work inside schools along teachers and counselors and principals. But I ran into a site coordinator when I was in high school. And I didn't know she was part of CIS, I didn't know she was trained specifically to find students like me. I just knew that she worked in a hallway that between classes I would poke my head into, and she would ask me about coming in and talking about what problems I were dealing with in classrooms, outside the school, in the community. And she was a person I developed a relationship with who helped cultivate me. And that's how I found CIS. And that's how today 1.6 million students across the country who are at risk, at risk of dropping out in some cases, because we know the red flags some of these students that we serve with are waving. But that's how I found CIS as a high school student.

KH: We're living through a moment now where there is a growing awareness that, because of COVID-19, because of massive systemic inequalities, there is going to be a major effort to unite around tackling these challenges, to tap into new sources of human capital. And one of those strategies that's being talked about, at least in Washington now, is national service. Engaging a generation of young people to do everything from contact tracing to helping address the massive learning loss that we're probably going to experience post-COVID, to partnering with organizations like Communities In Schools. How has national service and programs like AmeriCorps impacted the work that your organization and sister organizations do?

RS: Great question Ken, and here's what I didn't tell you when I rattled off some of the statistics of the reach and the impact of Communities In Schools. I said that we're serving 1.6 million at risk students, these are students who are living in poverty, but the true number of that across the country is closer to 15 million students. And I told you that we deployed 3,500 trained site coordinators. We're in 2,500 schools. But there are 80,000 Title 1 low income schools that need the services of a trained professional working in schools where we know we have students who are suffering, and sometimes in silence, with issues of poverty, the impacts of COVID-19, the inequalities that have been surfacing in a number of ways through the social and racial equity issues that folks are now raising their fist in anger about. That what we need are those adults who are coming into those lives of young people, and recognizing that the work is not complicated, but it is very hard. And that I want to pull apart. I say it's not complicated because we know the work that needs to happen. We know the students, we could zoom in by zip code, by school district, and then when we're in the school or the school district, we can tell you the students who are the most often in, not only the principal's office, but interacting with the court system, or who come in as homeless or foster youth. We know where these students are. That's not the complicated piece. The complicated piece is getting people into the work of service of these young people to ensure that we are capturing the ingenuity, the innovation, and the potential of so many young people who don't get a fair shake, who are left to probability and statistics. So the sense of how CIS and its work can grow, is only through the support of partners like AmeriCorps which we work with in Louisiana, in and around New Orleans, because we need to triple, to quadruple the reach and the impact of the schools that we're in or the communities that we're in. Again, we're in 25 states, we're not in all 50. We don't need to be in all 50, but we do need people who are stepping into the service, who are stepping into the work, to ensure that we are guaranteeing something as essential as the American dream, because we are not to a lot of young people.

KH: One of the criticisms you sometimes hear about AmeriCorps, when talking about the people who choose to, as you put it, step into that work, is that it has a missionary element to it. It's often the case where AmeriCorps is made up of, at least this is the stereotype, relatively well-off suburban, often white, kids doing a year of service in a community far removed from their community, often a low income urban community. And that missionary flavor to the experience doesn't do enough to engage people from those disadvantaged communities in the service itself, they become the object of the service, not the agents of change. How do you respond to that criticism?

RS: You know, I think about the problem that you lay out, with respect to folks feeling like there is this potential like a savior complex that comes in.

KH: There you go.

RS: No matter the picture or the demographic of the people who are coming in. The problem isn't necessarily the face or the color of the person as much as it is the philosophy behind why we're doing the work we're doing, and I see it in other nonprofits and other organizations who come into low income communities. But the question is, how do we want to transform a community? And oftentimes the theory of change is to do it from the outside, we come in, we deploy a medicine and that medicine can cure the ills of a community or of a person. And what we're not thinking about is perhaps the long term effect that might happen when you start to think about transforming communities from the inside out. I'll use specific examples that I have seen manifest in my community, or in my life, where what happens when you empower young people - and I will say, as an organization, we are still learning how to do this ourselves, especially at a moment when, after the murder of George Floyd, I started hearing from the alumni of our organization who, our organization is 80% Black or brown, these are students who were part of our organization, went through the program, are successful in a lot of ways, and wanting to now come back to their communities. And we at CIS are trying to figure out exactly how to plug them into positions of leadership, to help them attend that school board meeting about how bad the school discipline policy is and how it's affecting Black and brown students disproportionately. But they're the ones at the mic. They're the ones who want to take lead. We're just oftentimes a little bit reluctant to let them have the mic. I've been given an opportunity to lead this organization now at a time that is probably as critical as ever that we understand that long term picture, that if you're going to work on communities from the inside out, it's going to be a long term play. So whether you are AmeriCorps, or a Teach for America, or Communities In Schools, at the end of the day, if you are in for this fight, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. But we need to recognize that at some point we are handing this off to the folks who are making decisions at the community level, who are going to be attending the city council meetings, the legislative halls of Congress to make and inflict these changes. But it is a long term play and I sometimes worry that when we evaluate groups like AmeriCorps or others, that it is a one to two year timetable, and we're not taking into account the amount of community organizing that's happening because those folks are feeling like they are being invested in and their lives are turning around.

KH: When you talk about long term effect, I think your life story is a pretty good example of the long tail of that kind of investment, isn't it?

RS: I hope so. And when I think about how we emulate examples, and we use the rule of large numbers, the more communities that we're in, that we're having a positive impact on young people, like me, there is this fire in their belly to want to come back to their communities. And so if you take a picture of cities all across the country, rural, suburban, urban, there's enough work to go around, and better that we are helping to inject that fire in the belly to the people who are already in those communities, because they will be the ones to turn those communities inside out.

I remember giving a talk to a community here on the south side of San Antonio, but it's very similar to a lot of others that suffer from this problem that a poet named Alice Walker talked about, which is that the most common way people give away their power is by thinking they don't have any. And so when we remind them, I was reminded of that as a high school student, and when we remind them of that, it stays with them.

KH: Rey talked about the value of empowering people to serve and uplift their own communities - what he called the ‘inside-out’ theory of change. Next week on Rebuilding America, we’ll dig into that idea even more. We’ll hear from Fagan Harris, president and CEO of Baltimore Corps and advocate for local community-based national service, and from Cheri Selby Pearson, executive director of Public Allies’ North Carolina state program. They talk about how their organizations get at the roots of the problems they’re trying to solve by investing directly in community leadership.

Subscribe to Rebuilding America to get all ten episodes in your podcast feed as they come out every week. And don’t forget to rate and review - it really helps other listeners find the show.

Are you or someone you know taking time off instead of returning to college this fall? You can spend your gap year getting paid while safely serving your community and helping respond to COVID-19. A service year is a chance to serve your community and country while developing real-world skills through hands-on service. Explore thousands of paid service year opportunities at ServiceYear.org/podcast.

Rebuilding America is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, made in partnership with New Politics. Our producer is Isabel Robertson. Associate producer is Leon Pescador. Audio engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Rebuilding America, a podcast about national service.

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Episode 6: The Fourth Estate

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Ken talks to Steve Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America, about national service and journalism.
Listen to Episode 6: The Fourth Estate

Episode 5: The Military as a Model for Building Trust

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Ken talks to General Stanley McChrystal and Secretary Leon Panetta about military service and national defense and what insights they can offer into service more broadly.
Listen to Episode 5: The Military as a Model for Building Trust

Episode 4: Think Global, Act Local

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Ken explores national service on a local level, learning about two organizations that get at the roots of problems by investing directly in community leadership.
Listen to Episode 4: Think Global, Act Local

Episode 2: Healing America

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Ken investigates the possibilities of national service in healthcare, both to address the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Listen to Episode 2: Healing America

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