Have you ever heard a 12-year-old explain the scientific method, or tell you how much money you should be saving for retirement, or how the Pythagorean theorem is used to make video games? Well, we have. In fact, we hear those moments of brilliance all the time at Citizen Schools, after middle school students have had the chance to work with professionals on ten-week long projects, or “apprenticeships.” At the end of each semester, these students will amaze you with everything they've learned. Check out a few of our favorite moments from last fall. Don’t be surprised if they make you want to sign up to volunteer as a Citizen Teacher. It’s ok, it happens all the time...
In New York City, a group of students spent ten afternoons with volunteers from Chobani, learning how to package and market new ideas for Greek yogurt. At the end of the project, the students had the chance to present their ideas at Chobani to the CEO and other executives. With the utmost confidence, a student walked right up to the CEO and said, “We think there are some serious problems with the packaging of this product, and we have some ideas to make it better." How many adults do you know who could do that? After making a compelling argument, the CEO had to agree and said he might even produce one of the yogurt flavors that the kids pitched. Pretty impressive.
The students of the "We Built this City" apprenticeship class in Newark, New Jersey drafted a petition to fix up a vacant lot near their school to reduce crime and help build up their community. One student, a young lady, learned that police officers play a significant role in helping keep communities safe, and discovered it was the perfect career path for her. When she was later asked what she liked to do for fun, she responded, “Well, if I played with dolls, I would want a cop doll. Cops help Newark be a better place. Plus, no glitter. It just gets everywhere.” Can’t argue with that.
3. Creating Change that Matters
The students in the “Creating Change that Matters” at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto, learned how to use the design thinking process to solve a problem in their community. The students presented prototypes that they created from scratch, including a shorter basketball hoop so that kids of all ages could make a basket, and a schedule that allocates sports equipment for a more diplomatic recess time. At the presentation, the students outlined the steps they used, and the rationale behind why they chose to make the products they did.
One student said, “I really enjoyed the hands-on designing experience. I learned how to create something out of nothing, something that could help the community. Creating things for my community helped me realize it’s not about you, it has to be for others.” Beyond learning engineering, teamwork skills, and how to develop new products, she also discovered a new-found sense of her role in the community, at the ripe old age of 12.
These are just a few of the many moments that keep our volunteers coming back semester after semester to work with middle school students across the country. Sign up to volunteer this semester and see (and hear) for yourself, that all students are truly capable of incredible things. They just need the opportunity.