Students and Citizen Schools Growing Together

8288096917_63120d234c_bBrenda Fowler is a seventh grader Bronx Writing Academy, and she has been part of Citizen Schools for the past two years. As we grow to serve the schools' eighth grade  for the 2013-14 academic year, she'll have the chance to grow with us. This is her story . . . Hi, my name is Brenda Fowler and I'm a 7th grader at Bronx Writing Academy. These days I'm doing pretty well and I really like school. Looking back at last year, it's hard to believe that I'm the same person. I can’t believe how far I’ve come but there are so many  people that helped me along the way, and I want to tell you about why I've changed.

First, a little bit about me. I live in the south Bronx, across from the 44th precinct police department. This neighborhood can be tough, so I have to be aware of my surroundings at all times so that I don’t walk into the wrong area. I live with my mom and three sisters. My dad isn't around and there aren't any male role models around me. I take a lot of responsibility for my family and want to make sure everyone's happy. However, at school I was not a positive influence. Actually, you would probably have called me a major bully.

I was known all over the school for being an instigator. I was really angry and felt like life wasn't always fair. I didn't think education mattered in my life and so I acted out a lot. My grades were really low and I never did any of my work. To tell you the truth, I acted like a bully almost all the time. I didn't understand how hurtful bullying was to others, and even treated my teachers badly. I got into arguments every day and many times they ended in violence. I truly believe that if I had continued on that path I would have ended up jail.

Since I care a lot about my family, it really hurt when I realized that my mom was disappointed in me and didn't trust me. My Citizen Schools teachers, Mr. Stern and Ms. Osias, talked with her a lot and made a plan to help me get back on track. They spent extra time with me and helped me one on one with my reading and writing. Ms. Osias came in early to help me before school every day. I began to understand that doing well in my classes would help me achieve my potential in life. She became my backbone and helped me through some really difficult moments. After a while I started to get better at academics and school didn't feel quite as frustrating anymore.

At the same time, my little cousin was bullied by a girl in her class and that really impacted me. When I looked at bullying from her point of view, I realized that my behavior was really serious. I even heard a story about a girl that wanted to hurt herself because she was being bullied so badly. Everything my mom and my teachers had been telling me, suddenly started to sink in.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I can change fast if I put my mind to it! I've become a leader among my classmates and I earned an 80 in ELA class for the first marking period. That’s great start for me since I averaged less than a 65 throughout my time in the 6th grade. I'm still a powerful force for a 7th grader, but now I use my voice in a positive way.

You know, Citizen Schools is exhausting to me and sometimes, I just want to take a nap! But, I know it’s helpful in preparing me for my future. Ms. Osias continues to be an important force in my life. I don’t need to meet with her every morning anymore, but I make sure I check in with her every week so that she knows how I am doing.

Another really great part of Citizen Schools is the apprenticeships that I get to be in each semester. My favorite apprenticeship - so far! - is called The Next Big Tech Business. We learned about entrepreneurship and at the end of the semester we got to pitch our business ideas to potential investors. My group’s business idea was to put a filter on everyone’s Facebook page, so that you are always in control of what goes on your own page. That way, bullying doesn’t happen and Facebook shows positive, not negative, interactions between kids. Even though the kids in my group didn't always agree, I helped them get on the same page by being a leader. In my One Hen apprenticeship with Morgan Stanley, we made key chains to support breast cancer awareness. I was like the mom in the group, keeping everyone on track when it got tricky! Apprenticeships have really given me the opportunity to step up and be a strong leader among my classmates.

When I grow up, I want to go to college and become an FBI agent. I know you have to be really smart and resourceful to have that career, so I'm working hard in all of my classes. There's an apprenticeship I heard about where you investigate fraud. We haven't had that one for 7th graders at my school yet, but I'm taking this opportunity to put in a formal request for 8th grade– Ms. Mott, I hope you're reading this! :)

I'm proud to say that my mom, my friends and my teachers are all excited that I've changed so much. And to tell you the truth, so am I. There are still hard days, still times when I get angry and act out, but I'm determined to keep working on it. Citizen Schools is giving me the skills I need so that when I go out into the world, I know what I want to do and how to do it well. When I think about my future now, I know there are so many possibilities for my life and I can't wait to explore them.