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.
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.
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.