Citizen Schools Texas Fills in the Blanks of Student Success at Luncheon

Citizen Schools CEO, Steven Rothstein with student speaker, Michael

Citizen Schools CEO Steven Rothstein with student speaker Michael

As 8th grader, Michael, stepped away from the podium at the conclusion of his speech, a roar of applause could be heard throughout the venue. He was the student speaker at the Citizen Schools’ Texas Grad Libs Luncheon: Filling in the Blanks for Student Success. Melba Navejar followed with an equally moving account about the impact that Citizen Schools has had on her son, Sebastian. See the full speech below.

Held at the Junior League of Houston on November 11, 2014, the luncheon was a tremendous success! Steven Rothstein, Citizen Schools CEO flew in from Boston to share his vision for the organization’s future with the 300 guests in attendance. The event was an inspiring demonstration of Citizen Schools’ incredible impact and a look at its continued efforts.

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A special thank you to our luncheon co-chairs and principal sponsors: Abbi and Rob Antablin, Anne and Andy Calder, Sharman and Derek Wilson, Bobbie Nau/Liz Stepanian and Silver Eagle Distributors, Nicole and Jim Perdue, Perry Homes, Selwyn Rayzor and Rick Moses. A heartfelt thanks to all of the individuals and organizations who gave generously to help us raise more than $125,000 to support our efforts in closing the educational and opportunity gap for Houston middle school students.

Parent speaker, Melba, addresses the crowd

Parent speaker, Melba Nevjar, addresses the crowd

Melba’s remarks:

I wish to begin by briefly describing Sebastian as he was in elementary school. As a result of his being an only child, Sebastian grew into a very shy boy. By nature of him spending a lot of time by himself, he would tend to isolate himself in school. He also acquired the habit of moving at his own pace, and doing things on his own time-frame.


The summer before Sebastian went to middle school, I sat him down for one of those talks. I wanted to prepare him for the transition to middle school. Most specifically, I wanted to warn him that the differences between elementary and middle school could be somewhat traumatic for a student his age.


To be honest, I was preparing myself for the transition as well. Watching Sebastian as he readied to leave the comfort and familiarity of elementary school and set-sail for the great unknown of Middle School raised a lot of apprehension.


As a parent, I believe we all have some fears that we always carry with us when it comes to our children. I was constantly worried that Sebastian would be bullied when he went to Middle School.


I became more at ease when we both attended an orientation at Jackson. During the orientation, it was touched upon that JMS was anti-bullying school. Hearing that definitely put my worries to rest.


It was also at this orientation that the school mentioned some of its programs that provide students with a variety of experiences. One of these programs specifically for 6th graders was Citizen Schools. We raised our hand to request a brochure, I looked it over, and told Sebastian that this was the program for us.


Right away I could see that my son would benefit from being a part of Citizen Schools. I’ve always reminded Sebastian how important it is to be involved in all kinds of activities at school. I believe that the more included a student feels, the more likely they are to excel. Students with commitments tend to stay busy, keep out of trouble, and ultimately become a better, more involved people.


This is precisely what Citizen Schools has done for Sebastian. Upon enrolling, we instantly gained five more adults that were committed to ensuring his success. I know that if I ever need an additional copy of his report card, I can call the CS office, and someone will take care of it.


I also rely on CS as a means to communicate with other Jackson teachers. I believe in the old saying, now more than ever, that it takes a village to raise a child. My village is made up of Citizen Schools, Jackson teachers, and of course, my family. We work as a community to ensure Sebastian is able to achieve the utmost success.


More than just helping Sebastian to feel like he belonged, Citizen Schools has helped Sebastian come out of his shell, and find what areas he excels in. The first apprenticeship Sebastian joined was “So You Think You Can Dance.” Sebastian decided to brave this class made up of mostly girls because he wanted to improve his agility for football next season. And it worked! He is one of few 7th graders that played for the 8th grade team!


After dance came Mock Trial. Sebastian put on his best suit and traveled with his class to South Texas College of Law to state his arguments declaring why his client Veronica was actually innocent, despite what Betty had to say on the matter.


Watching him practice diligently for both of his apprenticeships has made all of the difference. The seriousness he applied to both dance and Mock Trial, Moving Making and CSTEM have done so much for him. This was confirmed again for Sebastian when he took home a  prize at the national CSTEM Challenge. Not only has he come out of his comfort zone and has found multiple categories in which he excels, but he also began practicing the life-long cycle of working hard and getting results.


As a mother, I am very in-tune with Sebastian and all the ways he changes from day to day, year to year. It is when others begin to notice, that I know we’re really on to something here. Sebastian’s teachers began to approach me and ask what we were doing differently. Not only had he begun taking more positive risks in class, but he was becoming more focused and more studious.


This summer Sebastian attended a week-long summer camp session at Chinquapin Preparatory.  If you would have asked me if I thought this possible in the summer of 2013, my answer would have most certainly been no. Ask me now that he’s in 7th grade, and I’ll tell you we’re getting ready to apply to magnet high-schools.


Through his continued involvement with Citizen Schools, Sebastian has taken risks, experienced success, felt supported–and we’re not stopping. Stay tuned to see how my son continues to forge a path of success–bringing others along with him as he goes.


While I can only speak on behalf of my own son, I know my story is not the only one of its kind. There are stories of students just like Sebastian happening in other schools in HISD and across the nation. But let’s not get comfortable. As a parent, I want more and more students to be able to access Citizen Schools so that their parents may too have an opportunity to brag about their children like I am today.


Thank you for your time.



Words from Citizen Schools’ CEO Steven Rothstein

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools’ program in New Jersey. The first installment is a Q&A with Steven Rothstein, CEO of Citizen Schools, reflecting on his recent visits to Citizen Schools New Jersey and vision for the organization nationally. 

You’ve traveled to New Jersey often these past couple of months. What opportunities do you see for Citizen Schools New Jersey?

Steven: I am excited about the opportunities in New Jersey and across the country for Citizen Schools. I am impressed with the team, enjoyed meeting students, and recognize the impact our team members and Citizen Teachers are having every day.

I’m particularly proud of how Citizen Schools is getting students ready for high school and job opportunities through the 21st Century skills being taught in our apprenticeships. In addition to being introduced to a wide array of career options ranging from financial management, software, technology to cooking; students are also learning about working with others, leadership skills, and public speaking. This combination is helping to prepare Newark students for the future workforce.

As we look forward, we hope to reach more middle school students in Newark and in other cities.

Steven and Keely

Citizen Schools’ CEO Steven Rothstein with Keely Ball, the Director of National Program, at a Chancellor Avenue School STEM site visit.

What has been your favorite moment thus far as the new CEO of Citizen Schools, and what are you looking forward to?

Steven: My favorite moments are visiting our schools and seeing the students we serve. I have been to half of the schools in our network and really love the energy, enthusiasm and leadership from our AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, campus leadership, and other team members. I had a great time visiting Chancellor Avenue School [in Newark] recently, and visiting three special apprenticeships there including “Beautiful Girls”, “I Scream, You Scream,” and “Secrets of a Millionaire.”

What are your future plans for Citizen Schools? 

Steven: Citizen Schools is on the move. I am excited about strengthening our existing partnerships, establishing new ones, serving more students, and looking for ways to expand our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focus through our apprenticeships and US2020. We also want to broaden the representation on our state boards.

As we look forward to 2015, we are preparing to celebrate our 20th anniversary. This is a great opportunity to reflect on our work, celebrate the extraordinary citizens who have served over the past twenty years, and prepare for the next 20 years.

Our focus will remain on the quality of our program, expanding our services, and playing a key role in policy initiatives at the local, state, and national levels.

For more information on Citizen Schools New Jersey and how to get involved, contact Kit Nugent, Director of External Engagement, at

NASA Volunteer Demystifies the World for Houston Students

6196461465_0204ebf89d_oDr. Baraquiel Reyna likes to make the world a little less mysterious. The Houston-based Citizen Teacher teaches “Wired Up,” an apprenticeship course about electricity and electronics. Every semester he demonstrates how simple adjustments to a helicopter motor can make a flashlight illuminate or a flying saucer fly. He always hears a resounding “Wow, that’s so cool!” from the students when he demonstrates this for the first time. And just like that the world is a little less mysterious.

Dr. Reyna, Deputy Manager of Exploration Medical Capability at NASA, was recently recognized as the 2014 HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference) Most Promising Engineer at the Great Minds in STEM Conference, in part for his efforts to teach Houston middle schoolers about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) through Citizen Schools. For Dr. Reyna, volunteering with the organization centers on showing the class the possibilities that exist within electricity and their futures.

“Growing up in Houston, I had the benefit of all of my peers being the sons and daughters of ExxonMobil engineers. From a role model perspective, I had access to plenty of individuals who showed me what was possible and available,” said Dr. Reyna. “Students who are lower on the socio-economic scale and don’t have access to those role models don’t know they can grow up to work at NASA. I want to be a real-world role model and show students that someone who looks and talks like them can work at NASA.”

Read more…

Citizen Schools Featured on Public Media’s American Graduate Day!

This fall Citizen Schools was a featured on Public Media’s American Graduate Day for the second year in a row. American Graduate Day is a live TV event that celebrates organizations that provide support, advice, and intervention services to students, families, and schools to promote higher graduation rates in communities across the country. See Citizen Schools’ segment below.

American Graduate Day is part of the public media initiative, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, created to help more kids stay on the path to graduation. Hosted by bestselling author and education advocate Wes Moore, the third annual broadcast was centered on recognizing one million American Graduate Champions who volunteer their time, talent, or other resources in their own communities. Citizen Schools’ volunteer Citizen Teachers and AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows are among this celebrated group!

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Women@PROS Inspire Houston Girls to Dream Big

When Kim Watson and Emily Zinsitz learned about Citizen Schools through their “Women@PROS” group they wanted to get involved and teach an apprenticeship, but they weren’t sure what to teach. Their roles at PROS differ from one another so they wanted to find a subject they could teach together. Kim is a Manager of Professional Services and deals more with math, while Emily is a Content Strategist who works with product documentation.

Beautiful Girls was a natural fit. “We understand that there is a need for encouraging girls at this age,” said Kim. “We wanted to be encouraging adults for the students to show them that they can go into ours fields of math and science.” In Beautiful Girls, girls develop the beliefs and confidence they need to be successful in school and beyond.

Emily and Kim’s dedication and passion to positively influence girls at Jackson Middle School in Houston, Texas is obvious. We are pleased to recognize them as the November Citizen Teachers of the Month!

Meet Emily and Kim…

Why do you think it’s important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?

Emily: It’s not so much these students can’t imagine what careers are like, but there is a big difference between being aware that women have these roles and actually seeing women who do. I also think it’s important for people outside of their immediate family and friends to take an interest in them and engage with them. I want to show these girls how one can make it from middle school girl to career women.

Kim: In middle school it is important to see people you can relate to. No one else in my family had graduated from college when I was in middle school. I think it’s important to share my experience with the girls and show them that they can achieve their goals and go to college too.

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