When Bill MacKrell, Sr. Solutions Architect at SAS Institute, arrives at Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham, North Carolina he is met with high fives and fist bumps from the students. Bill is not your average teacher. He volunteers as a “Citizen Teacher” with Citizen Schools, coming to Lowe’s Grove once a week to teach students topics they might not otherwise experience in middle school like financial literacy and project management. In their afternoon “apprenticeship” class taught by Bill and other Citizen Teachers, the students learn about careers and build real-world skills they will carry with them in high school, college, beyond. Although he had no prior teaching experience, Bill was excited to get involved in the community. When he heard about the work that Citizen Schools is doing to provide opportunities to low-income students in Durham, he jumped at the chance to sign up.
We asked him about his experience teaching with Citizen Schools…
1. What was your “Aha!” moment from the experience?
Last semester when we taught financial literacy, we took the students to a local financial services company. The employees acted as CEOs who needed financial advice, and our student financial advisers interviewed their “clients.” The students were all dressed up and behaved so professionally. They seemed so natural interviewing these executives and transformed into serious young professionals before our eyes.
At the end of the semester, the students gave their final presentation to their parents and teachers. As I watched I saw how the information we taught them had really sunk in. Sometimes I wondered if I was making a difference, but seeing them present made me realize how much they had learned.
2. Why do you think it's important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?
During the apprenticeship we talked about topics like debt. Even if they only remember part of it, that’s information they will need to use throughout their lives. Through this experience, the students are able to meet people and make connections they normally wouldn’t. They get the chance to learn about careers that they could have one day and see themselves actually having those jobs. The students like making those connections. When we volunteer and show up every week, the students see that there are more grownups who are not going to disappear and whom they can depend on. When they are having a bad day, they get excited to see us and know we’re not going to abandon them. I think those connections are so important.
3. What impact has this experience had on you?
I have loved this experience. It helped me grow both personally and professionally. Volunteering as a Citizen Teacher has helped me become a better communicator. You think you know something until you have to explain it to a middle school student. I’m used to talking to adults, but middle school students speak a different language. I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities in my life and it’s very rewarding to share some of what I’ve learned.
4. What advice would you give future volunteers?
Don’t be afraid to just jump in and do it! It’s such a powerful thing to do, and you get incredible support from the Citizen Schools staff and the other volunteers. At the end of the day you’ll feel like you’ve done something really important.
You can jump in and make a difference like Bill did by signing up to teach an apprenticeship.