The Salem Local News-April 28, 2016

The Salem NewsColumn: An afternoon with Citizen Schools

Cheyenne Hidden

Connecting with students through Citizen Schools’ apprenticeships is a reciprocal experience, a way for mentors to teach while also learning at the same time. Citizen Schools was founded in 1995 in Boston and has been expanding ever since then. At Collins Middle School in Salem, the program is coming to the end of its first year within the sixth grade level with enormous success.

Students’ interest in what they are learning is essential in allowing them to absorb the information and retain it. This program is centered around getting students excited about what they are doing in order to encourage more participation and more enthusiasm in the learning environment.

Along with the apprenticeships, there are also fellowship opportunities for those who are experts in their field (no teaching certification required) and would like to educate young minds, share their own passions and give the students real-life guidance and advice. Collins Middle School has partnered with places like North Shore Medical Center to give students opportunities to see what the “real world” can be like and the many different types of careers that are available in the future.

The ultimate goal of Citizen Schools is to engage students in fields while providing hands-on experiences that further develop skills for learning and may even inspire future careers. The apprenticeships include a wide range of different fields in an effort to spark the interest of every single student in the program; the main categories are media and communications, law and government, health and well-being, environment, community service, business, and arts and culture.

By encouraging students in the program to participate, the “opportunity gap” that many face can become smaller and smaller as students from all different economic backgrounds have the chance to partake in an enrichment program; this will aid in better preparing them for their next step on the journey to academic success in middle school and beyond.

On April 13, I was given the opportunity to be a “Citizen Teacher for a Day” at Collins Middle School. Guided by Kendra Engels, director of program for Citizen Schools, and by Jess Rentsch, deputy director of civic engagement for Citizen Schools, my group of citizen teachers were split between three different apprenticeships: Eat This, Not That; Life is a Lab; and Ambition Musician.

We were told that many of the projects the students were working on were already pretty far along because it was late in the school year and they had been working on them for a while now. As part of the Ambition Musician group, I was assigned to a duet group made up of a boy named Ezekiel and a girl named Charla. They showed me the lyrics to an original song they had written together; Charla sang the lyrics while Ezekiel played the guitar. Charla was shy at first, but Ezekiel encouraged her. After watching and listening to their performance, I was blown away with their abilities and their creativity.

Ezekiel would interrupt them at times and say things like, “Let’s take it from the bridge” or “Let’s take it from the second chorus.” They were learning the anatomy of a song all while having fun with the process of writing and performing it. Taking a step back, I watched other groups and was also very impressed. Some were writing their own lyrics to well-known songs, practicing with their instruments, performing original rap verses, and more. It was evident that these students had many different talents and were also putting in a lot of hard work.

The program is currently serving approximately 155 students at Collins Middle School and they are always looking for volunteers. With the end of the first year approaching, the program is looking toward next fall for those who might want to participate in apprenticeships and those who would commit to teaching a semester-long fellowship. The apprenticeships are twice a year, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester; they take place during the students’ ninth and 10th periods. By volunteering, mentors have a great opportunity to get an inside look as to how middle school students are learning in today’s classrooms. Registration for volunteer opportunities can be found under the “Volunteer-Learn More” tab on the Citizen Schools website.

At the end of each semester, the students have the opportunity to perform what they have been working on to their peers, teachers, family, friends and community members at the WOW! Showcase. For Collins Middle School, the showcase will take place on Thursday, May 12, 2016 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The showcase will be followed by a student award ceremony and a reception. Registration for this event is free and more information can be found on the Citizen Schools website under the “Events” tab.

Middle school is a time of learning and it is also a time of finding out what you like and enjoy doing. Citizen Schools allows students to receive a firsthand look into many different future career opportunities and encourages them to try different things and work together towards a final goal. The program is fulfilling for both mentors and students, connecting the real world to the academic world and showing students from different backgrounds the countless possibilities in their future.

For more information regarding the Citizen Schools program, please visit their website at


Cheyenne Hidden is an Intern with The Salem Partnership. She will be graduating from Salem State University in May. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.