“Do the teachers like you?”

Written by Eric Schwarz, Founding CEO of Citizen Schools and author of The Opportunity Equation, launching Sept. 2

Of all the questions I get about Citizen Schools, perhaps the most frequent is: “Do the teachers like you?” Many questioners seem conditioned to expect the worst of public school teachers and assume that a second shift of educators, offering different approaches and taking less or no pay, will inspire resentment from the full-time teachers who lead classes for a majority of the day.

Generally, however, America’s teachers have embraced Citizen Schools and embraced an expanded learning day and citizen power in their schools. While a few teachers may react defensively and hide behind the closed door of their classrooms, the best teachers welcome any help they can get. Teachers’ unions as well have generally embraced Citizen Schools. As stated earlier, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten visited the Edwards ELT [Expanded Learning Time] campus and declared it in a New York Times column, “one of the most impressive schools I have seen in America.” The Boston Teachers Union has gone so far as to explicitly advocate for a nine-plus-hour learning day for all students, with the extra time delivered either by teachers receiving extra pay or by outside programs like Citizen Schools. 

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Thoughts on Events in Ferguson, Missouri

Written by Eric Schwarz, Founding CEO of Citizen Schools and author of The Opportunity Equation, launching Sept. 2

Hello Citizen Schools community,

As we prepare this season to re-enter schools across the country we must collectively pause to recognize the horror of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Our students are filled with creativity and dreams and pre-teen energy and yet too often they have been told their futures are dim and options few. How will they react when they learn that yet another young black male has been gunned down by a police officer? How can we help them discover what Dr. Martin Luther King called “soul force” and the power of love and service as they work with us and others to open up opportunities in their own lives while also working over time to bring about systemic change in a society that sends as many black and brown boys to prison as through college?

How can we keep our own hope alive and keep our focus on lifting up and equalizing opportunity for children when we see so many obstacles all around us and when in our own organization we don’t have the diversity and dialogue about race many of us would like to have?

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The Essential Starting Point Is Empathy

This post is by Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools.

Two moving articles I’ve read in the last week have reminded me of a primary reason I started Citizen Schools — one that has nothing to do with the education of children, or at least not directly.

Is A Hard Life Inherited? by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times told the story of the growing isolation and impoverishment of the working class neighbors he grew up with in rural Yamhill, Oregon. A few bad choices combined with slim opportunities led boyhood friends of Kristof’s to feel increasingly isolated from either the idea of or the reality of an opportunity society. Smart creative children are now too often jobless, in prison, or on drugs. Kristof describes the crisis facing working class men in Yamhill and in rural towns and inner cities all across America and then ends by wishing more of his privileged colleagues in journalism and business had more first-hand exposure to life near the poverty line. “There are steps that could help,” Kristof writes, “including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.”

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Congratulations to the 2014 Presidential Volunteer Service Award Winners!

The President of Citizen Schools, Emily McCann, uses the phrase “it takes a village” to demonstrate the amount of talent and dedication needed to create the impact that Citizen Schools has on students. Among the ‘village’ of talent and dedication are our volunteer Citizen Teachers. During the 2013-2014 school year there were over 2,500 Citizen Teachers leading about 1,000 apprenticeships, impacting over 4,900 middle school students across 7 states!  

From September to May these volunteers give their time to middle school students, mentoring them on topics such as video game design, mock trial, stock market investments and more. After one semester in the classroom, hundreds of volunteers go on to teach again, for several semesters and even years in a row.

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Students Take Part in Building Their City

The We Build This City apprenticeship team

Students and volunteers gather for the “We Build This City” apprenticeship.

Have you ever been told “You have the power to change something. Where will you start?” Students can spend years living in the same city and community without knowing how they can play a part in improving their surroundings. A young person may recognize a problem in their neighborhood, but solutions may seem out of reach. Enter Deborah Schulze, a public school teacher with city planning training.

Deborah is a Citizen Teacher at Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark, NJ, though she is a teacher at another school. Once a week last fall, Deborah came to the school to teach the apprenticeship “We Build This City,” supported by AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, Kayla Crooms. In the apprenticeship, students focused on transforming neighborhoods through about city planning and the power of community in Newark.

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