From 6th Graders to CEOs

Citizen schoolsDo you remember when you first learned what a budget is? It probably wasn’t in school and it might not have been until you were presented with a situation where you needed to know how to manage one. Students are often unprepared to deal with the finances and economic realities they face as they enter adulthood. Even adults are often unaware of how to best manage their finances.

Greg Crowe wants to change that. As a senior vice president at Wells Fargo and a veteran banker, Greg knew it was important to pass his financial knowledge onto his sons as they were growing up. “I knew I wanted to share this with more kids though. We’re faced with learning about financial planning when we get into the real-world. Young people can encounter difficulties if they don’t learn it at an early age. It’s not rocket science; it’s a lack of knowledge,” said Crowe.

This spring Greg is teaching the “Your Financial Future” apprenticeship to a class of sixth graders at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston, TX. Students are learning the ins and outs of balancing a budget and are given real-world challenges each week.

“I wanted an authentic scenario as our basis for teaching the financial literacy curriculum,” said Greg. “We began with each student representing a four-member household. They were given a job, weekly salary, house, car, and set expenses. We outlined a one month cash flow, noting what funds were fixed and what was discretionary.”

He adds, “They also had options such as choosing a fancy car or a premium TV package. We then encouraged them to think of the future and see how much they could save if they planned ahead. The students quickly began to understand the purpose of a budget.”

By providing the students with relatable scenarios, they were already gaining the concept of planning and budgeting after the first few classes. They also apply their math skills during Greg’s weekly challenges. They have had to figure out gas allowances based on their weekly mileage, decide whether they could afford a trip to Disney World and plan for a weekly grocery shopping trip based on their needs and wants.

“My goal in teaching this course was go beyond teaching the students financial planning, but getting them to really think about spending and appreciating money rather than focusing on their desires like a new pair of shoes,” said Greg. “The students have a short attention span though so I try to use different tactics to emphasize the same point from a new angle.”

Half way through the semester, he transitioned the class from focusing on a family’s budget to a company’s budget. “In this scenario, each student is a CEO. Everyone has the same hypothetical company, which in our case is an oil company. We gave them a cash flow for the first three months of the year and projections of what’s to come in the next quarter and what’s happening in the industry.”

Greg took what was presented in their personal budget management and is creating new challenges as they further grasp the concepts. “We told the students that their cash flow is dwindling and they will be expecting a call from their banker soon concerning the repayment of a loan. The students have to think of ways to convince the banker that they will be able to repay the loan. They roleplay with one student playing the role of CEO and one as the banker in this challenge. They sit in the room negotiating, the banker gives objections, and the CEO has to confidently present three ideas to ultimately save the company,” said Greg.

The students are not only grasping essential financial concepts to apply to their personal lives and a business environment, but they are also practicing their math skills and learning negotiation tactics. The students will enter seventh grade already transformed into financial advisors, ready to help a family or company balance their finances utilizing their budgeting skills learned in the class. For their final challenge the students will advise their families, teachers, and peers on budgeting and planning for the future during their WOW! event next month.

A capital victory

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Guest Post by CEO Steven Rothstein

I wish you could have been with me last week in our nation’s capital. I am so inspired by so many of the students, principals, corporate partners, and others who joined us there.

On Monday, we had a special briefing on key education and STEM issues at the White House. On Tuesday, we organized, with the partnership of many other groups and organizations, the first-ever Expanded Learning Summit: Meeting In The Middle. Many joined in person and hundreds more participated in the conversation via live stream or social media. Then on Wednesday, we continued the advocacy and momentum and brought students, educators, corporate partners and our team to Capitol Hill for meetings with 36 Democratic and Republican members in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on key education issues.

The summit was the first time a group of this scale – including more than 55 distinguished speakers and panelists – has convened to discuss how expanded learning can help close the opportunity gap for our nation’s young people. We had a range of thought leaders and policy makers participate, including our chairman, Dr. Larry Summers; the Mayor of Washington D.C.; Wendy Spencer; the Deputy Mayor of New York; a representative from the George Bush Center, and literally dozens of the “best and the brightest” in our field.

We were honored to receive a special message from President Obama himself. “Events like this summit,” he wrote, “bring together those of us working on the front lines to make better use of educational time… If our next generation is going to meet the challenges of this century, they will need more time in the classroom.”

We are deeply grateful to all of those who participated in the summit, and to the many supporters and convenors who made this event possible. They are all highlighted on our event website. We are committed to the thousands of children whom we serve, and to growing the field of expanded learning. We believe that last week’s activities were critical in advancing this agenda.

As we recognize our 20 years of service, the Expanded Learning Summit highlights how much more there is to do in our next phase. In the coming days, we’ll continue to share opportunities to engage with these important ideas, including archived video from all summit sessions.

Yours in service,


CEO, Citizen Schools

P.S. We welcome your support to help more students across the country build the skills, access, and beliefs required for them to thrive as students and succeed as adults.


AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow Spotlight: Q&A with Mykia Richards from Citizen Schools North Carolina

Mykia is an alumna of our AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship and currently works as a Deputy Campus Director at the Neal Middle School in Durham, North Carolina.

What brought you to Citizen Schools?

Mykia Richards talks with her students.

Mykia Richards talks with students at Neal Middle School.

I always knew I wanted to work with youth but wasn’t sure in what capacity. Did I want to be a teacher or did I want to work for an organization that indirectly impacted the lives of youth? I wasn’t sure. To test out the waters on the teacher side, I thought I would apply for Teach for America. I would be able to test out my teaching skills for a limited time period and sort of get my feet wet in a field that I wasn’t too sure I wanted to enter. I was so excited about all of the great things I had heard about Teach for America and was ready to apply until I came across Citizen Schools at a career fair. After learning more about the organization and its unique apprenticeship model, I was smitten and switched paths. I was on the Citizen Schools train and was ready to work hard to make an impact in a very unique way.

What has working here meant to you?

Working at Citizen Schools has been a roller coaster. With any great roller coaster there are lots of twists, jaw dropping dips, and tons of thrills. You may be hesitant to get on at first (intensive summer training and the reality that you’ll soon be responsible for 20 middle schoolers), but you do. It starts off slow (Regional training, end of July, through August), ramps up a bit (Campus Based training, leading up to the first day of school), and then takes off full speed (through the beginning of the school year). You finally get to the end (the WOW!) laughing, crying, shaking, but oddly ready to get back on again because you know you accomplished something great. Citizen Schools has stretched and pushed me in many ways and I know I will credit the organization with being the most pivotable job experience in my young career. Citizen Schools really does prepare you with the skills needed to be a successful professional in whatever career you choose to pursue. Organization, time management, critical thinking, and decisive leadership are just some of the many traits Citizen Schools strengthens in the individual. With any job there are going to be challenges; like those roller coasters that take you on the ride of your life. However, the organization definitely prepares you to ride those coasters and you’ll get off saying “I’m a pro; that was nothing, because I’ve ridden the greatest roller coaster of them all and that’s the Citizen Schools Coaster!”

What has your biggest achievement been since you began working here?

I believe my biggest achievement has been being a role model for over 50 students during my time with the organization. As educators, we have a big responsibility when we step in front of the classroom. It’s humbling – by stepping into this room, I have the power and influence through my words and actions to impact the minds and hearts of the students. That’s big, and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Years from now, I will see some of the students that passed through my classes and I will say “Wow! I remember when…” and I  won’t believe that I had some type of impact, no matter how big or small. That’s powerful, and I am proud of that. Our youth are our future and if we don’t give them time, encouragement, and guidance then who will?

What are you looking forward to in your next 6 months at work?

I am looking forward to lots of growth and “ah ha!” moments. Working as a campus leader has been a lot different than serving in the classroom as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow. It has pushed me to think in different ways about a variety of situations. I feel fortunate to work with an awesome Campus Director who has a strong work ethic and propensity for excellence. This individual truly has made my time bearable and I am looking forward to working with and learning even more through her example in these next few months.

I am also looking forward to pushing staff to work to the best of their abilities to impact the students. One of the biggest challenges in transitioning from a Teaching Fellow to Deputy Campus Director was realizing that my primary focus is no longer directly serving students. I can no longer get caught up in the minute details of how a lesson should be delivered or how classroom procedures should be structured. My primary focus is now supporting our AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellows and School Support staff, working through them to get results for our students. If they are supported and have the tools to do their jobs then the students will be successful. That was a paradigm shift for me, and I look forward to continuing to work to ensure staff feel appreciated, supported, and valued. Our staff work extremely hard every day and deserve a lot of credit for their work; the least I can do is express my appreciation to them, have their back and empower them to have the most impact on our students. That is my mission for the next 6 months.

Interested in joining the team? Apply to join the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellowship here. If you’d like to apply to a campus leadership role, learn more and apply here.  

Three Pre-Career Tips for Mentoring a Middle-Schooler

8th grade student networking with Boston area professional.

8th grade student networking with Boston area professional.

Think middle school is too soon to prep for college? Think again. At Citizen Schools, we’re working to close the opportunity gap by reaching students at the crucial time between 5th and 8th grade, providing academic support and real-world apprenticeships. That’s why we recently helped bring together over sixty 8th graders for a networking event where they picked up practical tips and inspiration from working professionals. We followed along; here are three takeaways to help you mentor a young person.

Take risks
Taking risks sounds like the obvious answer to getting out of your comfort zone. But the unknown can also be unnerving. The good news is that there are varying degrees of risk, and some low-risk chances can have a high reward. If you’re shy, volunteering to answer a question and possibly having the wrong answer can feel like the end of the world. But diving in like that should be encouraged!

For another student, taking a risk may be signing up for a different class or sport. We all have our areas in which we excel more than others. Being flexible about trying new activities means that we can avoid tunnel vision and learn about new interests, and middle school is an especially great time to hone new skills as you consider the many potential opportunities and paths ahead.

Gain hands-on experience
Academics aren’t just intense study sessions at the library – they also include hands-on practice. For some students, academics include designing and coding a video game, and diversifying your academic portfolio can do a lot to impress college admissions staff. When college admissions are considering applications grades are only part of the equation. Proving you can think as well as do will give a certain edge over the competition.

Student test gel electrophoresis

Student tests gel electrophoresis

This is why apprenticeships are key to Citizen Schools’ model to close the opportunity gap. By bringing in passionate professionals to teach practical applications of 21st century skills, not only do middle school students earn a marketable skill they may not have otherwise, but it will serve to expand their horizons. Even if students don’t become what they studied as a career down the line, they still opened doors to new professional horizons.

Ask Questions
“Why is the sky blue?” “Why is ice cold?” “Why do tigers have stripes?” Anyone that has spent time with a young person knows that one of their favorite things to do is ask questions. Encourage students to keep curiosity alive by continuing to be inquisitive.

Great questions can include what you do for work, why you enjoy it, and what you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s ok to talk about both successes, and scenarios that offered lessons for improvement. The more students are exposed to different career profiles, the more they will feel comfortable stepping outside of their own comfort zones and shaping their own journey.

Modern life offers new challenges and stresses for young people, and mentor/mentoree relationships are powerful bridges between the professional world and our next great generation of thinkers, makers and doers. You can help start the conversation, and middle school is an especially good time to make that happen. And, it’s a discussion that is relevant at any age! What advice would you share for someone starting out on this journey? Add your tips in the comments!

Find out more about changing student’s lives with Citizen Schools.

Giving 100% with a Cisco Volunteer

Cisco Citizen Teacher Reggy Lewis sits with his Future of Food apprentices.

Cisco Citizen Teacher Reggy Liger sits with his Future of Food apprentices.

Reggy Liger tries to live by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to be successful, which includes kindness to children, and leaving lasting improvement on the world around him. He works towards both as a Cisco employee and as a volunteer Citizen Teacher in Durham, North Carolina. Reggy is living with a mission to give back.

A deeply humble person, Reggy tells us he doesn’t view volunteering as something for which he should receive credit. “I always tell people, especially when it comes to volunteering, this is not something I want credit for,” says  Reggy. “I don’t think that’s altruism. Whenever it comes to giving back, I try to be altruistic in what I do. I give back because it’s the right thing to do.”

We celebrate Reggy as our April Citizen Teacher of the Month for his inspiring work at Neal Middle School.

Meet Reggy…

Why do you volunteer as a Citizen Teacher?

Read more…