School's Out For Summer

It’s hard to believe another school year has come to an end. For us at Citizen Schools, the 2015-2016 academic year was incredibly busy—filled with exciting moments, tremendous accomplishments, amazing people and incredible opportunities for our students. We celebrated innovation and opportunity at our Illinois and Massachusetts galas—for more than two decades Citizen Schools has worked to close the opportunity gap for students in low-income communities across the country.

Ajah and Naomi from the Carter School of Excellence proudly stand beside "earit," the winning design for the Chicago Maker's challenge!

Ajah and Naomi from the Carter School of Excellence proudly stand beside "earit," the winning design for the Chicago Maker's challenge!

In Chicago on May 3rd, Citizen Schools proudly honored Motorola Mobility Foundation at a luncheon for their commitment to youth in Illinois. For the past two years, Citizen Schools has partnered with Motorola to challenge middle school students to serve as the social innovators of tomorrow. The gala was emceed by co-hosts, two 8th grade dynamos from Woodson Middle School—Charles Johnson and Charles Erving—both also starred in the video that was shown at the event.

A few weeks later, our students participated with their Motorola Mobility Citizen Teachers in the annual Chicago Maker Challenge, a citywide contest in which middle and high school students develop a hardware or software solution that solves a community problem or makes the world more accessible to people with disabilities. And, our students pulled in the top prize! To learn more check out this story from the Chicago Sun Times.

And on May 4th in Boston, we honored Wayfair for their innovation and outstanding commitment to high-need middle school students in Massachusetts. The highlight of the evening was the debut of a film—“The Story of Yeabsira and Nelson” featuring two of our Chelsea students—which was produced by Elias Miranda. The talented filmmaker is a 1996 alumnus of our program. We’re incredibly proud of Elias and of this movie, which we believe captures the essence of our program and the relationships we create among teachers, volunteers and students. 

Businessman Frank greets Nell Kiesel, Citizen Schools' Special Advisor for Strategic Initiatives, with a firm handshake at the Massachusetts WOW! NOW gala!

Businessman Frank greets Nell Kiesel, Citizen Schools' Special Advisor for Strategic Initiatives, with a firm handshake at the Massachusetts WOW! NOW gala!

In addition to celebrating partners, we’ve had the chance to celebrate the accomplishments of our staff and our volunteers this spring. The Eric Schwartz Leadership Award, the Tulaine Montgomery Village Builder Award, and the 2016 Presidential Volunteer Service Awards, give us the opportunity to shine a spotlight on staff and volunteers who are extraordinary in their commitment and accomplishments.

One of this year's PVSA winners was Shruti Nagarajan, the 2016 Miss Rhode Island!

One of this year's PVSA winners was Shruti Nagarajan, the 2016 Miss Rhode Island!

Digitas Boston hosted our annual President's Volunteer Service Awards event, in which we honored 398 volunteers in our program at the gold, silver, and bronze award levels. Each level corresponds to a specific level of engagement - and reflects an incredible investment in the students we serve:

  • 67 Gold award winners for teaching four of the past four semesters
  • 83 Silver award winners for teaching three of the past four semesters
  • 248 Bronze award winners for teaching two of the past four semesters  

Volunteers from our National Leadership Partners (Biogen, Cisco, Cognizant, and Fidelity Investments) accounted for 45 awards, and 80 of our partner companies were represented in the overall total. Here’s the full list of winners.

We also honored staff in June with awards named after our founding team members, Eric Schwartz and Tulaine Montgomery. Isadora “Izzy” Alteon and Anthony Thompson both teaching fellows at Citizen Schools in New York were selected by their peers as recipients of the Eric Schwartz Leadership Award.

According to Krista Purnell, Managing Director of their program, they are both incredible: "Izzy has been a valuable member of the cohort, particularly through her leadership of the 8th Grade Academy (8GA) Cohort. She is a diligent worker and has provided support and coaching to the other leads to ensure successful partnerships both on her own campus and beyond;” and, Anthony “has contributed so much to the region during his tenure. One of his most notable contributions is his work to recruit new TFs and TAs by leveraging his personal network."

The annual Tulaine Montgomery Award—which goes to the organization’s most distinguished village builder—went to Angie Jaimez, Chief of Staff in Massachusetts. Angie is someone who gets things done, will do whatever it takes, and will always pitch in to help in any way she can. As a member of the Massachusetts leadership team, Angie has made important contributions to ensure our vision and strategy reflect the needs and perspective of our constituents. She always leads with a student first mindset and embodies servant leadership.

From a big picture standpoint, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015, was a huge victory for public education. ESSA calls on states, districts, and schools to offer all students a well-rounded education through increased flexibility over accountability systems and funding, and provides an opportunity for deeper engagement with families and community-based organizations.

We are calling state education leaders into action to leverage the autonomy ESSA provides for local educators to call for innovation and alignment of our education system to a 21st Century global economy by expanding learning time, making learning more relevant, and involving citizens and residents of this country in the shared enterprise of educationOnly by critically rethinking and boldly re-imagining the basic structures of education, can we advance our educational system and develop a workforce that is prepared to meet the challenges of the global age. Congress included Expanded Learning Time (ELT) in several sections of ESSA. This is a milestone for our students and school communities, as the law represents the biggest commitment the federal government has made to ELT.

ESSA sets conditions that will help schools and community partners sustain and grow expanded learning opportunities. As state education departments begin their ESSA state planning, we ask that they engage a diverse group of community partners on the front end of your planning process. We believe that state and local leaders are best served by designing a process that includes community stakeholders—such as educators, parents/families, young people, local government, community-based organizations, higher education institutions, philanthropy, private sector, faith-based institutions—that offer assets and expertise that can support the education of our young people.

Students at the Biogen Community Lab during filming for WCVB-TV Boston's Chronicle this month.

Students at the Biogen Community Lab during filming for WCVB-TV Boston's Chronicle this month.

Last week WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston, gave viewers a glimpse into one of our ELT programs, an apprenticeship for sixth graders at Biogen headquarters in Cambridge, MA. Check it out here.

In Charlotte, NC, this month we are celebrating the end of the school year with two lip-syncing events—one took place on June 14th at the Comedy Zone and the other will take place on June 30th at The Frontier. As always we hope to inform, inspire and ignite enthusiasm for future learning through our programs and with the help of our dedicated staff and volunteers.

As summer begins we are headed into our training and planning season and are incredibly excited to welcome nearly 100 new staff members who are eager to inspire and engage our children come fall.  Plus, we are ramping up our volunteer recruitment to ensure every child has a set of exciting hands-on apprenticeships from which to select as they re-enter school after a summer of play and (hopefully) some enrichment and discovery.

Again, it was a great year… here’s hoping that the summer is off to a good start too!