Teaching Middle Schoolers About the Game of Life

Volunteer Citizen Teacher Seth Conyers teaches "Game of Life" to 8th grade students in Chicago

Volunteer Citizen Teacher Seth Conyers teaches the “Game of Life” to 8th grade students in Chicago

While the 8th grade students Seth Conyers teaches might not be able to explain the finer nuances of economic theory, the students in the “Game of Life” apprenticeship are financial advisors and stockbrokers in the making! Seth, who was raised on the South Side of Chicago, came to Citizen Schools through his work as an Auditor at Northern Trust. While Seth’s day job may be far removed from the middle school classroom, every Thursday last fall he stepped away from his desk and rode his bike to a middle school on the South Side.

Seth taught an “apprenticeship”, which provided students the opportunity to make their own financial decisions through weekly simulations. Throughout the apprenticeship students were able to choose careers, were given salaries and, through trial and error, made their own decisions about consumption, savings, and investments. Along the way students were rewarded for their prudent decision making with foreign currency!

For his work and dedication to students, we recognize Seth as the December Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Meet Seth…

What was your “aha” or “WOW!” moment from the semester?

One of my favorite moments was watching the students debate the relative strengths of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. We were discussing taxes and then one of the students asked about tax policy and before I knew it, two of the students were going back and forth about the strength of the veto power versus the power of Congress to pass legislation without the President’s approval.

What surprised you most about the students and teaching experience?

The students curiosity! I think that we could have had a question and answer apprenticeship. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed the teaching experience.

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

I think that the sooner that students are exposed to real-world situations, the more time they have to explore what they want to do when they grow up. I think most of us grow up with very vague notions of career fields like law, medicine, business, architecture without realizing how much opportunity exists to combine things that we are naturally curious about. I think that exposing the students to these things earlier in life allows them to make those connections and find something that they are interested in.

How would you describe the impact that mentoring has on the students and volunteers?

For me, the mentoring experience reaffirmed my commitment to community service. Being in the schools and interacting with the students really made it clear how much our communities need us to get involved. For the students, I hope it helped them see the importance of good decision making. I also hope that it inspired them to take school a bit more seriously and to dream a little bigger.

What advice would you give future volunteers?

Do it. It’s a big commitment, but it’s worth it and the students need us.


WalletHub’s Charity Calculator Helps Determine How to Give

claudia headshotEveryone can give, and should. People often debate between giving time or money to an organization but don’t need to.

“There is no trade-off, people can and do give both time and money as they are able, and both are rewarding,” says Claudia Alfaro, Vice President of External Engagement at Citizen Schools.

Claudia contributed her perspective, along with many other nonprofit leaders, as a part of WalletHub’s “Charity Calculator”. Individuals who want to give but are unsure of how much or in what way can use the calculator to determine how to make the biggest impact.

The calculator weighs whether it is more advantageous to donate time or money depending on how much an individual earns annually.  It also presents examples of what one could donate if they worked an extra hour a week, such as the number of meals given to children facing hunger and the number of trees planted to protect wildlife (see infographic below).

Everyone can give in their own way and WalletHub’s calculator makes it even easier to determine what strategy is best for you.

wallethub charity cal


How I Helped Middle School Students Make a Difference in Their Community

This blog post was originally published on Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility blog.

By Stephen Liem, IT Director, Global Quality and Support Services at Cisco

Stephen and his apprenticeship students at their end-of-semester WOW event, a Citizen Schools tradition where students teach back what they learned to teachers, parents, and community members.

Stephen and his apprenticeship students at their end-of-semester WOW event, a Citizen Schools tradition where students teach back what they learned to teachers, parents, and community members.

There is no limit to what education can bring. It opens up many opportunities that otherwise may not be available.

In the past 10 weeks I‘ve had the privilege of teaching journalism to the middle school students in Joseph George School in East Jan Jose, California. Cisco has been partnering with Citizen Schools, a nonprofit organization, to deliver after school educational programs to low-income schools across the country.

Citizen Schools aims to prevent students from dropping out of high school through its Extended Learning Time (ELT) model, which provides after-school mentoring and support to low-performing middle schools. Volunteer professionals, or “Citizen Teachers,” teach 10-week after-school apprenticeships on topics they are passionate about, from blogging to filmmaking to robotics.

On average the schools Citizen Teachers visit do 300 hours less of after school programming compared to their counterparts. In East San Jose, where the graduation rate is at 79%, providing more meaningful educational programs has certainly helped not just the students themselves but also the community.

As a “Citizen Teacher” with the nonprofit Citizen Schools, Stephen Liem helped sixth graders create their own newspaper

As a “Citizen Teacher” with the nonprofit Citizen Schools, Stephen Liem helped sixth graders create their own newspaper

In my journalism class, students in the sixth grade learned how to interview and collect data, how to write an article well, and how to express and publish their opinions honestly and truthfully. Collectively they decided on the name of the newspaper – the East San Jose News — and the subject of their stories.

The results were both eye opening and touching at the same time.

Erika and Tracy, for example, wrote that while they do not necessarily like to wear a school uniform, nevertheless it is important to wear one, because, “it protects you from gangs!” The story describes the reality they often must face outside of school, a reality that under normal circumstance they should not have to live with. It is a touching statement.

Christopher in the editorial section wrote about the importance of voicing your opinion to make a difference: “School could be cooler if you just speak up and ask for what you want. Sometimes your answer will be ‘no’ or ‘maybe,’ ‘just wait,’ or straight up “yes.’ But you will never find out unless you speak up and make your voice heard.” They may be in sixth grade, but the students absolutely understand that they can contribute to their community and they are ready to make that difference.

I enjoyed every minute I spent with my students. It was an educational process for me, but most important, I believe it was a tremendous educational experience for the students. In our country, where inequality in access to education and income disparity exist, I applaud Cisco and Citizen Schools’ effort to level the playing field for the sake of our future generation. I am glad that through Cisco, I have the opportunity to give back to my community.

Cisco employees are among Citizen Schools’ largest group of Citizen Teachers – 184 employees have taught 89 apprenticeships – and Cisco has provided more than $2 million in cash and product grants to the organization since 2009. Learn more about the partnership between Cisco and Citizen Schools.

Insights from a Beautiful Girl

This is the second post in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools’ program in New Jersey. This installment features a Q&A with a student who took the “Beautiful Girls” apprenticeship this fall.

In light of the article, “Why Striving to be Perfect is Keeping Women out of STEM Jobs,” it has become apparent that we need to close the “confidence gap” in young women in order to close the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry.

The Beautiful Girls apprenticeship, aimed towards building positive self-esteem in young girls to help them achieve their personal and career goals, is closing this “confidence gap” for thousands of students across the country. We sat down with Beautiful Girl, Georgina (age 11), to ask about her experience in this apprenticeship.

Georgina with her volunteer Citizen Teachers: Meeghan Salcedo from Cognizant, Vanessa Ackon and Nina Barber

Georgina with her volunteer Citizen Teachers: Meeghan Salcedo from Cognizant, Vanessa Ackon and Nina Barber

What are you learning in Beautiful Girls?

I’m learning that it’s not about how you look on the outside, but how you feel on the inside, about personality and self-esteem. We’ve been learning about true friendship and how we need to be a good friend in order to have a friend. We learned how to voice our opinions proudly, and that we can be whatever we want to be!

How have you changed since taking this apprenticeship?

I’m more true to myself and I’m able to express my feelings. I’m not trying to fit in or be like other girls; I’m just trying to be my old, silly self. I’m learning to face my fears. At the beginning of my apprenticeship, I thought no one would like me. I don’t talk to a lot of people, but I learned how to make new friends. In Beautiful Girls, we’re learning S.P.E.A.K. We have to present for the WOW!, so we have to practice proper speaking skills.

Georgina with her role model Teaching Fellow Ms. Evans.

Georgina with her role model AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, Ms. Evans

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

How can you apply this to your goals in life?

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

What makes you a Beautiful Girl?

My personality and how I feel when I accomplish something. I like to be a hippie, take away the negative energy and enjoy my life!

What has been your favorite moment during Beautiful Girls?

My favorite moment was when I was talking to [volunteer Citizen Teacher] Ms. Vanessa during girl talk. We’re both from Ghana, so we talked a lot about Ghana. I liked that moment because most people in my school aren’t African, so I got to share my culture and connect with someone. I don’t get to do that a lot in school.

Cognizant is a proud National Leadership Partner of Citizen Schools. Thank you Meeghan for your leadership!

Read more about the “Confidence Gap.”

For more information about apprenticeships contact Ashley Drew, Civic Engagement and Operations Associate, at

Boomerang: From Citizen Schools Student to AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow

Sophia Pompilus is a first year AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow in Boston, Massachusetts.  

Like most younger siblings, I copied everything my older sister did. So when my parents enrolled her in Citizen Schools, as a copycat, I was ready to join along with her. My sister always came home excited, chatting away about all the fun she had with her Team Leader (now known as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow or School Support staff who lead instruction during what has become Citizen Schools’ expanded learning day). However, as an eight-year-old, I was too young to join Citizen Schools at the time.

Then the summer before the third grade arrived and I was finally old enough. I joined Citizen Schools in 2000 as a member of a summer day camp program. From there, I went on to be a part of the fall, spring, and summer sessions for the next four years. As a youth, I continued to enroll in the program because of all of the opportunities Citizen Schools exposed me to. I was living in such a vibrant city but was unaware of my surroundings. My Team Leaders opened up my eyes to see what was out there. My parents also really appreciated the high level of family and community engagement. They loved how my Team Leaders kept them informed of what Citizen Schools was doing and made a joint effort to shape my future. Citizen Schools greatly impacted me as a youth growing up in the Boston Public Schools, and the relationships I had with Citizen Schools staff then still continue today.

Read more…