Citizen Schools Welcomes SanDisk VP Robert France to the CA Board of Advisors

Bobfrance From Citizen Teacher to Board Member, Robert France, VP of Customer Technical Support at SanDisk, shares why he is passionate about Citizen Schools!

How did you first become involved with Citizen Schools?

SanDisk is very involved with Citizen Schools. I heard about Citizen Schools at work one day and immediately decided to teach something. I recruited a couple of amazing colleagues (shout out to Adam and Fadi!) who agreed right away to teach with me.

Team teaching is great: it provides more viewpoints for the students, coverage when someone is out, and the ability to maximize hands-on time, as one person can run the lesson while the others can set-up the activities.

What are you most excited about in becoming a board member?

Seeing Citizen Schools in action at Joseph George helped me understand what a great program CS offers. It has a fantastic combination of academic support and hands-on experience with industry mentors during apprenticeships. The first part of the program helps prepare them academically, for it’s important to help them succeed in learning. But the apprenticeships are just as important, maybe even more so in my view.

The students gain experience learning by doing something new, led by mentors who believe in them. These volunteers spend the time and energy to volunteer in these classrooms, not because their own child is in the class, not because they are paid – but because they see a huge potential in the students. The Citizen Teachers believe that if they can excite these students and show them that they can do something new, maybe that is the nudge that will change that student’s path for the better.

I love my time as a Citizen Teacher working directly with the students. But the chance to help more students get the opportunities offered is really compelling for me as a Board Member. I am particularly interested in program development and bringing the best possible hands-on experiences to as many students as possible.

What apprenticeships have you taught?

My first class as a Citizen Teacher was in 2013 teaching robotics at Joseph George. Recently I just finished preparing and teaching a class on 3D printing with my team. Each student got to go through the whole process from creating an idea, to modeling in CAD on the computer, and ultimately printing in the classroom on a printer. The two most popular colors were silver and glow in the dark!

Do you have a favorite WOW moment? Did anything surprise you about the students?

There are so many great mental “snapshots”, it’s hard to pick just one. But one that stands out was when we started printing the first student-designed object in the classroom. 3D printers make a very distinct sound and the motion is kind of mesmerizing. Seeing the class reaction was really priceless! I think the reaction was partly because it is just such a cool thing to experience. But partly I believe, at least for some, that that was the point where they understood that they really did it, from concept to reality.

After the WOW!, I went home and looked through the bag I received earlier that night as a thank you from the students. There was a t-shirt, a couple of very nice photos and colorful thank you notes. As I worked my through the notes (quite a stack), I came to one of the best thank-you notes I have ever received – from a sixth grade girl who I’d known only a few weeks.

She said she thought it would be cool to use 3D printing to design shoes or clothes. We had showed a couple of examples in our “3D print of the week” videos and something clearly resonated with her. Her ability to clearly express her appreciation, in such a sincere and powerful way was so far beyond my expectations that I can’t help but wonder if writing isn’t somehow in her future!

Why do you think it’s important to provide students with real world/ hands on opportunities?

I am a huge believer in learning by doing. There is no better way than doing to build confidence as you gain proficiency. You also learn that there are usually a couple of failures along the way, and that is okay, too!

During the 3D printing WOW!, I was watching the printer working away and listening quietly to one of our ambassadors explaining the process. He was showing and explaining the layers in the object, not just reading off of the board. It was really great to hear his explanation. But I was especially excited about the idea that these WOW! moments would continue for our students beyond their presentations, and this idea is a driving force for me.

I knew that after the class was over, every time one of the students showed their 3D printed object to someone (or when they gave it away for Christmas!), I could just imagine the person saying something great to them like, “It is so cool that you did that!” Because that is what this is all about for me – to show these students that they can do it. Sure some things you have to work at, but they are not beyond reach. The ability to extend the WOW! moment for as long as possible, to have as many WOW!s as possible, continues to reinforce the message: you can do it!

What is one piece of advice you have for new Citizen Teachers?

Believe in your students! Do not underestimate them. Pick something you love and challenge yourself to challenge them. If you are teaching a complex topic, it will take some work to make it age and grade level appropriate. But it also gives you the richest opportunity to make the experience engaging and challenging for your entire range of students. You have many resources to help you with this, partner teachers, other Citizen Teachers, colleagues – ask for help!

Why should others volunteer to teach with Citizen Schools?

Education changes lives. Confidence changes lives.  Working with students is fun, rewarding, and occasionally a little tiring trying to keep up with all those brains. Citizen Schools and SanDisk have partnered together to make it easy to spend a little time, invest a little energy and in return have an awful lot of fun sharing something you love with some very energetic, really special students. The Teaching Fellows manage the classroom part (thank you!) so you can focus on your topic. And who knows, maybe one day, you’ll get a second thank you note, that you did in fact make a difference in someone’s life. I hope I do!