“The buildings here are much taller than the ones in New Mexico”

A Citizen Schools student and parent travel from Santa Fe to Washington DC to advocate for Citizen Schools

Every year, the Citizen Schools national and state leaders travel to Washington, D.C. to spend a day on Capitol Hill. Our leadership met with the 38 Members of Congress who represent Citizen Schools program sites and with US Department of Education officials to share stories and results from our local partnerships with middle schools. The team discussed increasing access to expanded learning time and afterschool programs, and about national service programs, such as AmeriCorps. The Citizen Schools team had the added benefit of catching the beautiful cherry blossoms flowering at their peak.

This spring, Citizen Schools New Mexico Executive Director Sue Goodwin, had some company on the trip.

Seventh grader Carlo and his mother Ramona were invited to travel the 1,877 miles from Santa Fe, NM to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to help share their experience with the Citizen Schools expanded learning time model at De Vargas Middle School. However, this was more than just a quick trip, as Ramona shares, “Both of us had never been on an airplane and on March 20, 2012 we were on our way to Washington, D.C. alone.”

Carlo and Ramona spent a day on the Hill meeting with staffers from Senator Udall, Senator Bingaman, Representative Heinrich, and Representative Pearce’s respective offices, as well as a very special visit with Representative Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico.

“My son was so excited as we walked out of his (Representative Lujan’s) office. The highlight of the day for him was that Ben Ray Lujan stood Carlo on his chair, in front of his mirror, and showed him how to tie a ‘real man’ tie. Carlo walked out, looked at both Sue and me and said, ‘he let me stand on his chair and he tied my tie!” In addition to the skills Representative Lujan taught him, Representative Pearce’s office made arrangements for the group to tour the Capitol building, including sitting in the House of Representatives while a debate on health care was occurring.

Throughout his visit, Carlo and his mother shared their experience with the expanded learning time program. Carlo reflected on his hesitation when he first registered for middle school, “I thought staying in school until 5:00 PM would be a waste of time. When we got into the feel of things, I realized this would be easy. Mondays and Wednesdays we have apprenticeships, Tuesdays we have an extra math lesson, and Fridays we have college career connections.”

Ramona also got an opportunity to share how Citizen Schools has helped her family, “I honestly don’t think that without this program Carlo would be doing well in school. I think because of his low self esteem and confidence, because of the fear of failing or his fear of failing his teachers, he would’ve been another statistic or failing and getting more angry. This whole two extra hours at school has taught him to be more patient and have more confidence in his work and in himself.”

Through the expanded school day, Carlo has been able to work with his Citizen Schools teachers, which has helped him raise his grades and focus on the road ahead. “Now I know I have a better chance to reach my dream of being a fire fighter.” Carlo encouraged other parents to consider the program, “I encourage parents to leave your kids in school two more hours. It helps and your kids will you thank you because of the help and encouragement they get.”