Showing Students How to Dream Big

A 12-year-old might dream of becoming an astronaut, the president, a firefighter, an athlete. But does she know what it takes to achieve that dream? Does she know what classes are important or what colleges she can go to? Does she know what other careers are out there that might also interest her?

Students on a field trip at Bank of America

Students on a field trip at Bank of America

Thanks to a group of volunteers from Bank of America, middle school students in the Citizen Schools program at Martin Luther King Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina are discovering their own dreams, and learning how to achieve them. This career exposure and journey of self-discovery happens in an afternoon “apprenticeship” class as part of the Citizen Schools expanded learning day program.

Andrew Blaser, an AVP at Bank of America, was part of leading the Brand You apprenticeship class. Once a week, students learned how to apply the principles of branding to their own lives by discovering what makes them unique and exploring future careers that reflect their unique interests and personalities. Throughout the ten week course, the students worked on creating a personal brand message based on their interests, college and career goals, and then had the chance to present their personal goals to executives at Bank of America.

We asked Andrew to reflect on his experience in the classroom. Here’s what he had to say…

Read more…

How Citizen Schools Helped My Student and My Family: A Parent’s Story

This post was adapted from the speech that Koren Underdue, a Durham business owner and parent of a Citizen Schools student, delivered at the Expanding Opportunity event in Durham, North Carolina. 


Koren giving her speech at the event

Citizens Schools truly helps bridge the gap between our educational system and the real world. It teaches our young people (who I must remind you, are our future business leaders) skill sets that they may not necessarily learn in the classroom, and unfortunately, some not even at home. They focus on core success principles and values that our children can apply to every aspect of their lives. This program allows them to not just discover their dreams and aspirations, but achieve them at a much higher level than some could have ever imagined. As a parent, it is such an honor to share my story and my great experience with the Citizens Schools program in Durham, North Carolina.

I remember when my husband and I found out that we were getting a new addition to our family. No, it wasn’t a new baby; it was my first cousin’s daughter, Denaisha. My sweet, dear cousin had asked if we could help raise her 11-year-old at the time. Instantaneously, my husband and I said, “No problem,” and we vowed we would care for her like she was our very own.

So in addition to our two small children, we now have a sixth grader. We thought, what are we going to do? (Side note: my biggest fear in raising kids is raising pre-teens and teenagers.)  On the other hand, I just had to imagine what she may have been going through as well. Imagine being a young girl and your life just went through a major transition. Having to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, having to obey and adhere to more rules than ever, and having to start a new school and make new friends – life could be hard.

To make a long story short, we had to enroll her at Neal Middle.  I remember when I first walked through those front doors; I noticed an informational table for Citizen Schools highlighting their previous year’s work and apprenticeship classes. I was so intrigued, and I immediately needed to know more about this program and how I could get my child involved. One thing is for sure, when we recognize a good thing, we jump on it and take advantage of it.


Denaisha and Koren with Executive Director of Citizen Schools North Carolina, Jake House

After one week of enrollment in Citizen Schools, we realized that this has been the best decision we made for her by far. Citizen Schools made her transition easy. It allowed her to have fun while learning. She was able to experience and learn about different cultures and walks of life. She was able to have another outlet that allowed her to be creative and expressive while finding innovative ways to expand her horizons.

This is my child’s second year in the program, and the results have been extraordinary. Since the program I have noticed vast changes in Denaisha’s academic and social life. There has been a boost in her confidence and self-esteem levels. She has developed strong leadership and presentation skills that have also contributed to her learning experience in the classroom and the list goes on.

However, now I realize that Citizen Schools is more than an after-school enrichment program, it’s an extension of our family. Just two weeks ago I lost my wonderful and amazing husband and father to my children due to sudden heart failure. During this time it has been extremely difficult for our family. But, I was determined to be here to show our love and appreciation to our Citizen Schools family because they have been a vital part to our family’s success, and also our healing process. Denaisha yearns for her afternoon time with this program, and I now also realize that Citizen Schools also serves as a safe haven for most of our children, including mine.

I am a proud advocate of Citizen Schools and will continue to support them the best way I know how. As a parent and business owner, I value their continued partnership in help raising our successful students to achieve greatness. They continue to add value not in just my child’s life, but our schools, and more importantly our communities. Thank you for your continued support to keep Citizens Schools alive and growing and contributing to our future leaders of America.




SAS Institute Employee Helps Students Make Real-World Connections

When Bill MacKrell, Sr. Solutions Architect at SAS Institute, arrives at Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham, North Carolina he is met with high fives and fist bumps from the students. Bill is not your average teacher. He volunteers as a “Citizen Teacher” with Citizen Schools, coming to Lowe’s Grove once a week to teach students topics they might not otherwise experience in middle school like financial literacy and project management.

In their afternoon “apprenticeship” class taught by Bill and other Citizen Teachers, the students learn about careers and build real-world skills they will carry with them in high school, college, beyond. Although he had no prior teaching experience, Bill was excited to get involved in the community. When he heard about the work that Citizen Schools is doing to provide opportunities to low-income students in Durham, he jumped at the chance to sign up.

Read more…

Larry Summers Shares How Citizen Schools is a Solution

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools

_dsc0930At a time of growing innovation but also growing inequality, Citizen Schools is poised to scale our impact with Larry Summers, President Emeritus at Harvard University and former Treasury Secretary of the United States, as our new national board chair. Summers has seen Citizen Schools up close through his work with the Dever-McCormack ELT school in Boston, where his daughter Ruth serves as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, and at our annual WOW! Bowl flag football competition. He has a compelling capacity to explain our work in the context of history and economic trends.

On March 6, I was pleased to welcome business and finance leaders in New York City to hear Larry discuss education and the economy, and the key reasons why he believes Citizen Schools is a solution to our most pressing education challenges.

_dsc0911“I believe the battle for America’s future, and its legitimacy, will be won or lost in its public schools,” Summers said in his speech. “The approach being pioneered and driven by Citizen Schools is a remarkably effective approach, a remarkably scalable approach, and an approach consistent with the broad value of American society – that Americans are people who pitch in with a sense of community to solve problems.”

To read Larry’s full speech and learn more about his perspective on closing the opportunity gap click here.

Students Launch a Business with Help from American Express


Imagine, you’re shopping for sportswear and your favorite design has a tag that reads, “proudly developed by middle school students at the Urban Assembly School.” Surprised? Don’t be. Thanks to Benjamin van-Rooy, director at American Express, students in the Citizen Schools program in Brooklyn, New York executed the concept and business plan for their own sports apparel business.

Once a week, Ben and his eight-person team of volunteers from American Express left the office early to teach a group of 7th grade students at their school in Brooklyn. These are not your average middle schools students and Ben is not your typical teacher. As part of a longer school day with Citizen Schools, a national organization that partners with public middle schools, these students have the opportunity to work alongside professionals like Ben, in an “apprenticeship” class, where they learn how to start businesses, build robots, invest in stocks, and more.

These hands-on learning experiences taught by volunteers like Ben give students a taste of what it’s like to have a successful career. They expose students to new ideas and skills that inspire them to dream big and get excited about the future.


From the ground up, Ben guided his class through the development of a business plan, the design of their product, and the building of a marketing strategy. Seeing each student light up with enthusiasm about a topic they might not have experienced otherwise was Ben’s favorite part of teaching. The icing on the cake was watching students impress his colleagues and executives on the top floor of the American Express building in New York City when they presented their business plans at the end of the semester.

This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without Ben’s passion and dedication. We are pleased to recognize Ben van-Rooy, as our volunteer “Citizen Teacher” of the month.  Ben is originally from New Zealand and is a graduate of the University of Auckland Business School.  He currently lives in New York City and has a passion for photography.  We asked him about his teaching experience at Citizen Schools…..

Read more…