Brian O'Neil is the Manager of Civic Engagement for Citizen Schools New York.
The New York Yankees and a stadium full of fans celebrated an unusual team on a recent Monday night game--a lucky group of sixth graders from the Bronx. Most of the 12 Bronx Writing Academy students who walked onto the field for the pre-game ceremony had never been to a Yankee game before. Now their classmates, parents and teachers were cheering them on from the stands. The announcer’s voice reverberated through the stadium, congratulating them on their achievements in school--including the sports franchise they designed in their afternoon class with Citizen Schools volunteers from Ernst & Young and Cognizant. His voice boomed, “Twelve year olds can do amazing things when adults show them how!”
Yoav Shans, Mergers and Acquisitions Tax Senior at Ernst & Young, has taught two apprenticeships with Citizen Schools at Bronx Writing Academy. This spring's course exposed students to entrepreneurship, budgeting, revenue and management--making academics relevant by linking them to the world of professional sports. “Monday night was a fitting reward for the students' efforts throughout the year," he says, "and a perfect way to incentivize them to keep up their hard work. While Yankees games are generally a great time, especially when they win, the best part of the night was seeing the students' bright smiles!"
Every Citizen Schools apprenticeship ends with a public presentation of what the students learned and created, called a WOW!. Last December the Ernst & Young apprenticeship WOW! took place at Yankee Stadium. With their connections to the Yankees, Ernst & Young and Cognizant were essential in making the pre-game ceremony possible. At the request of the Yankees, the entire Bronx Writing Academy community—students, teachers and parents were all invited to the game.
Jessi Brunken, the campus director for Citizen Schools at Bronx Writing Academy, which provides Expanded Learning Time programming from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursdays, says that the outcome of public celebrations like this goes beyond the students' smiles. In partnership with the school and companies like Cognizant and Ernst Young, Citizen Schools staff work to gain investment from parents. The Yankee game marked a huge step forward.
“I've never seen about a third of the parents who came," she says. "We tried so hard to get them to our WOW!s and other school events like parent-teacher conferences this year, but sometimes it takes something familiar and celebratory to get them to take off work, find a babysitter or whatever the situation may be. I feel like we have a foot in the door with some new families."
As a lifelong Yankee fan myself, walking on the field with the students was unforgettable. Matthew Rivera, a student and fellow Yankee fan had a particular swagger to his step and a smile from ear to ear. I asked him if he knew why he was asked to walk on the field that night. He replied, "Because I am a superstar." He is indeed a superstar, but I made sure to remind him that it was his accomplishments in the classroom, not on the ball field, that provided him with this opportunity.
Seeing parents cheering proudly in the crowd not just for the Yankees—but for their own teenage children and their learning—I am reminded that success in school comes from a culture of achievement. Citizen Schools brings all the pieces together--relevant learning opportunities, positive role models and high expectations from teachers, parents, and the whole community. We are creating a lasting impact that will go far beyond the game that night. With a team of coaches dedicated to their success, kids who are at risk of disengaging from school get the chance to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park.
The ceremony ended with the announcer’s voice reverberating throughout the entire stadium saying, “Citizen Schools challenges you to get off the side lines and into the game!” You may not have an in with the greatest team in the world (sorry, Boston colleagues), but I bet there's something you know and love that would inspire an amazing team of middle schoolers. We're recruiting Citizen Teachers now, in New York and across the country. Can you give some lucky students a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience? What will you teach?