Guest post: How to walk in the moccasins of our students


It’s important to recognize the challenges that our students have to overcome in schools and beyond. That’s why the Jacksonville Public Education Fund continues to elevate the voices of those who work directly with students. Erica Rickey, City Year Team Leader at Smart Pope Livingston Elementary shares how corp members walk in the moccasins of students on a daily basis.  

City Year is an organization that deploys diverse team of young adults to serve full-time as mentors and role models to help keep students in school and on track to graduate. - Ale’ta Turner


Oh Great Spirit, grant that I may never criticize my brother or sister until I have walked the trail of life in their moccasins. - adapted from the Cherokee prayer.

At the center of City Year’s culture is a growing collection of stories and quotations from many cultures that we call “Founding Stories.” One is the foundation for the idea of “moccasin-ing” others — that means making an effort to see things through their perspective. No one can accurately assess anyone else’s situation unless they are living that person’s life, unless they are walking in that person’s moccasins, per se. Moccasin experiences are critical to learning and gaining perspective, which is why we hold them to be so important in our City Year culture. They help you discover the essence of another person, they clarify unfamiliar situations, and they lead to stronger bonds and communities. With this moccasin spirit in mind, I would like to offer you a chance to walk in the moccasins of a City Year AmeriCorps Member.

City Year AmeriCorps members are young people who spend a year serving in schools and communities to make sure students get all the resources they need. This looks different for each person on a day-to-day basis, but the basics are the same. We serve a year working for a minimum of ten hours a day, five days a week for an entire school year. During this time we tutor and mentor our students in attendance, behavior, math, and English language arts. This year-long process helps them achieve academic excellence and become more well-rounded. The ultimate aim is to support students in need, their communities and schools, to make sure that all people receive the same quality opportunities no matter their ZIP code. Our data proves year after year that our presence and our programs benefit everyone involved, from the most apathetic students to the most enthusiastic AmeriCorps members. We craft powerful and effective leaders out of young idealists as we strengthen and empower entire communities.

One of the most important things that we can do is walk in the moccasins of our students. Not only does this strengthen our relationships with our students, it also exposes many of us to another facet of society. Some of our students face overwhelming obstacles, both in school and at home, that we have never thought possible for people so young. But once they let us in, we gain valuable insight that allows us to help them in any way that we can. Maybe that help is simply being a listening ear, or maybe it is as critical as directing them to appropriate resources that can ultimately impact their lives for the better. For example, I had a student last year that had a quick temper and had a very difficult time staying in class. He was always talking back to the teachers and fighting with the other students at even the slightest inkling that there may be a slight to him. Over the course of a few months, he finally told me part of his story and that helped me be able to design a behavior plan specifically for him. I persuaded his teachers to let him call home to his mom whenever he felt like popping off, which enabled him to better manage his own anger and eventually stay in class all day!

At the end of our service year, we know that what we contributed to will last longer than our individual year of service. It is our calling for one year to walk in the moccasins of our students in order to support them on their path to excellence, whatever that may look like for them. We do this tirelessly, and gladly. It is an ultimate ‘pay it forward’ experience that creates a ripple effect through entire schools, neighborhoods, and cities. Watch out for how our ripples transform Jacksonville, and feel free to let us know any time you want to visit a school and walk in the moccasins of our City Year experience.


Erica Rickey,

City Year Team Leader at Smart Pope Livingston Elementary




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.