A Full Circle Experience: Volunteering in Her Community

Ever since she was 14 years old, Neha Mehra knew that one day she would go back to Chicago Public Schools and help students like herself. Now a successful account manager at Groupon, she has found a way-- teaching an apprenticeship class to middle school students through the Citizen Schools program at Walsh Elementary School.

411023_3546703423735_412733372_o (1)As a proud graduate of the Chicago public school system, she saw the effects of the opportunity gap first-hand, an experience that stuck with her. “Education is a cause near and dear to my heart. There is a gap that I am passionate about closing,” she said. That passion led her to Citizen Schools, where she is teaching her second apprenticeship class to middle schools. Both the “Runway” and “Beautiful Girls” curricula are designed to help young girls develop the confidence and beliefs they need to be successful in school and beyond. She takes the time to connect with each student, helping them navigate difficult issues such as body image.

Neha’s dedication to the students is not confined to the classroom walls. She works tirelessly to get her fellow co-workers involved in the mission. With her leadership, students in Chicago are getting the access and opportunities they need to help close the gaps between them and a successful future. We are pleased to recognize Neha as our November 2013 Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Meet Neha Mehra:

Why did you choose to teach the “Beautiful Girls” apprenticeship?

It blows my mind how self conscious girls are at a young age. Middle school is such an important time-- having to bring grades up, and get ready to apply to high schools. But some girls are really stressed out with body image issues. It made me sad to see that get in the way of their success. I think it’s important to empower and help them explore their opportunities.

What is your biggest WOW! moment so far?

Last spring, during the “Runway” apprenticeship, one of our students really came out of her shell. She was sweet, but definitely tough and did not want to participate. My co-teachers and I would try to force her to participate by asking her direct questions, and make her reflect on the questions. We wouldn’t let her get away with not participating. We knew she was interested deep down, we could see it on her face, so we didn’t give up on her. At the fashion show at Groupon, she came out and strutted down the runway, struck a pose, and even did a dance too. The catwalk can be very intimidating, but she was just smiling the whole time. She even gave me a note saying that she was thankful for the class--that made the whole experience worth it.

What is it like volunteering in the district where you attended school?

It’s such a good feeling coming back and helping in my alma-mater district. I feel like I’m helping my own kids. I have vowed to send my own children to Chicago public schools. Citizen Schools is a refreshing approach of bringing people in from the greater community to help young students build a future for themselves. It takes everyday people to open eyes to the issues and make a difference.

What advice would you give people considering being a Citizen Teacher?

Anyone out there that is thinking or debating about teaching, get a big group of people from your office and teach together. Get out there, into your community. If you want to make a difference, this is the way to do it. Getting out there is powerful, and will promote more change than you think.

You can get out there and make a real impact on your community by signing up to teach an apprenticeship. You might be our next Citizen Teacher of the month!