Citizen Schools Alum Joins Biogen Summer Program

Citizen Schools Alum Joins Biogen Summer Program

In the spring of 2011, Jose Melo, a fifth grader at the Dever McCormack School in Dorchester, MA, took his first apprenticeships with Citizen Schools: It’s All About Gummy Bears and Bootstrap.  In the midst of learning the science behind what makes gummy bears gummy and what it takes to program a video game, he discovered an appetite for science and math.  By the time he graduated from eighth grade three years later, Jose had completed a total of twelve apprenticeships through Citizen Schools - all of which had a focus on STEM.

Students Learning to Serve

IMG_2438At Citizen Schools, we've seen the impact of bringing the community together in support of middle school students. The AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows in Newark, New Jersey thought, why not teach the students the same thing?

As part of the Citizen Schools 8th Grade Academy program, the 8th graders at Louise A. Spencer Middle School have been learning about leadership and how to prepare for their futures. Led by AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, Nicole Sunwabe, the students focused the month of October on learning to lead through community service.

photo (2)As an AmeriCorps member, Nicole and her team know the importance and power of national service. By allowing the students to get invested in a cause of their choice, she aimed to instill that same passion for service in the students. Nicole said, “Not all students from Newark get the chance to work on a community service project and experience the impact and importance of giving back. We wanted to teach them about the importance of service and give them a project they could take ownership of and make them feel proud.”

The project they chose was to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and participate in the Making Strides Walk in Newark. “They were so excited about choosing this cause and raising money and awareness about breast cancer in their school. They went above and beyond to get people excited,” Nicole said.

IMG_2498With an ambitious goal of raising $500 from their school community, the students made pink ribbons to sell, and made banners to hang in the halls. They even wrote a poem as a group to share with their friends and families.

On October 20, after selling hundreds of hand-made ribbons, the students swelled with pride at the walk, clad in their pink shirts and bandanas. Alongside  family members, teachers, the Citizen Schools staff, and the hundreds of people from their community, these students were able to see the impact of joining together to support a cause.


Return on Investment: Middle School Skills Pay Off Years Later

It began as a way to fill her afternoons, to spend time with her friends. She didn’t think it would lead her to build new life-changing relationships and help pave the way to an exciting future. Roobvia Bernadin became a part of Citizen Schools as a 6th grader at the Washington Irving Middle School in the Roslindale section of Boston in 2004. A month into the extended-day program, she and her classmates watched presentations from an array of volunteer teachers, offering apprenticeship courses for them to choose based on their passions. One choice caught her eye: “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, with Fidelity Investments.”

“They get you with that title! It was so enticing,” Roobvia proclaimed, relaxing on spring break from college in Worcester. “I never would have guessed that I would be learning about stocks and bonds at that age.” She didn’t guess either that she would be going home and sharing with her mom her weekly lessons, including the importance of establishing spending “needs” versus “wants.” 431596_10150707817839739_12951774_n The three volunteer Citizen Teachers from Fidelity including Karen Jacquart, filled their classes with so many relevant examples that Roobvia still carries the lessons with her to this day. “The day we learned about loans was also the day I learned how careful you have to be about borrowing money,” she recently recalled.

Although their lessons might not have been immediately applicable to the young 6th grader and her peers, understanding the basics of finance has helped her manage her own money and provide advice to others. “I try to advise my friends now, especially now that we’re all in college. I tell them, ‘Be careful of that interest rate, you’ll owe more than you’ll get!’”

The importance of planning was brought to life again as she entered 8th Grade Academy, a key element of Citizen Schools’ program developed through Fidelity’s national partnership. “I didn’t want to sign up at first,” she reflected. “The Saturday morning wake-up calls for college visits weren’t appealing, but my TL [Team Leader] wouldn’t give up and she got my mom to convince me.” And as soon as she joined, she never looked back.

“As soon as I got to know people in the program, I felt like I had known them forever. We all got along so well. I now had this bubble of friends in Boston that all went to other schools. I never would have met them otherwise.” But it wasn’t only the companionship of new friends that kept her coming back. “I’m so thankful [to 8th Grade Academy] for teaching me how to select and apply to the top tier high schools,” a process every 8th grader must navigate in Boston.

With the assistance of her 8th Grade Academy mentors, Roobvia was able to take and pass the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and got into John DO'Bryant School of Math & Science. Through the program she also learned about Boston Arts Academy, which has an auditions based application process. After she was accepted into the school she decided to continue to pursue her passion for music and enrolled in the high school. “Had I not learned about these processes [in 8th Grade Academy], I would have gone to a district school and may not have had such a great education.”

It was in 8th Grade Academy that she was also exposed to what lay beyond high school.  Few of her friends in 8th grade were thinking about college let alone visiting campuses regularly. “It was great to be able to visit a college as an 8th grader and already have an idea of what college is like, what the classrooms look like, what the students are saying about it. None of my friends had that.”

This early planning and visualization helped Roobvia as she entered high school at Boston Arts Academy, pursuing her passion for singing. As a junior, Roobvia even sang her way through a speech at Citizen Schools’ annual gala, A WOW! Affair, reflecting on how apprenticeships and 8th Grade Academy helped give her middle school experience “swing”.

The “swing” Roobvia developed in her middle school years helped to carry her through high school as she prepared for her future. She already knew what lay ahead for her college plans, she knew the admissions process, and she knew the financial planning necessary to get there.

Citizen Schools continued to influence her during high school as she secured an internship at the national headquarters in Boston. She was sitting in on a training session for mentors when the instructor described the learning process. She was fascinated to discover how the brain, particularly that of a young student, learns and retains information. She was hooked on neuroscience.

Currently a sophomore at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Roobvia is on track to major in music with a pre-med concentration. She hopes to one day become a brain surgeon who uses music as a therapy to help her patients, combining her passions.

This April, Citizen Schools will again hold its “A WOW! Affair” gala in Boston, and although Roobvia won’t be bringing her singing talents to the stage, students currently participating in “Invest like a Millionaire, with Fidelity Investments” (the current adaptation of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” apprenticeship) and the 8th Grade Academy writing program will be teaching back what they’ve learned. Fidelity and its employees will be honored for their volunteerism and  long-standing national partnership.

Roobvia is already looking ahead to her future. “I know that I’ll have a bigger network in the future because of 8th Grade Academy and the people in that program. We’re each doing exciting things separately and I see us working together down the line.” With tools from Citizen Schools and Fidelity, the lessons of middle school are bound to pay off wherever her journey takes her!

How Teaching Fellows Changed My Life

In celebration of AmeriCorps week, we wanted to share stories of the incredible impact that our National Teaching Fellows, who serve as AmeriCorps members, have had on middle school students across the country. Who better to ask than one of our student alumni who experienced that impact firsthand? We spoke with Citizen Schools alumnus and current high school senior Valentine "Val" Banor about his experience in 8th Grade Academy (8GA)-- the Citizen Schools leadership program for eighth grade students. Val's connection with Teaching Fellows Robert Kordenbrock and Sheldon Johnson helped carry him through middle school and high school. Their support, encouragement and investment in Val helped lead him to win the prestigious POSSE scholarship, which will support him through college and beyond.

Let's listen in...

Val with Family at POSSE Award Ceremony

CS: What did you like most about being part of Citizen Schools?

Val: The best part of Citizen Schools was the Teaching Fellows like Sheldon and Robert. Everyone on the staff was friendly and cared about us. They made it a fun and comfortable place for us to go.

CS: What type of impact did the Teaching Fellows have on you?

Val: They were a big influence on all of us. They really prepared us for high school and college and told us what to expect. I had already gone on college tours in eighth grade when some of my other friends didn't go on tours until their junior year of high school. In 8GA I got to volunteer by tutoring some of the younger students. It was my first volunteer opportunity. Now I am the secretary of the Key Club in my high school and I do a lot of volunteer work. That wouldn't have started without the Teaching Fellows encouraging me to help out.

CS: Did you stay connected with the Teaching Fellows after 8GA?

Val: Yes. In 9th grade, Sheldon Johnson invited me and a friend to go on  a trip to the University of Michigan, where he went to college. At first I was nervous to go all the way to Michigan, but I loved it. We got to meet his friends and see what his college life was like. It was one of my favorite experiences. After that I wanted to go there too, just like Sheldon. I'm actually wearing my Michigan shirt right now!

CS: Speaking of college, tell me about applying to the POSSE Scholarship program.

Val: My brother won the scholarship four years ago so that was an influence. The Citizen Schools staff recommended that I apply, so I decided to go for it. I got accepted! I'm going to Centre College in Kentucky. I like all the people I've spoken to there and I think it's the right place for me. The other POSSE scholars in my group are just like me. I'm excited, but nervous as well. The future comes one day at a time, so right I'm focused on graduation. In 8GA the Teaching Fellows actually had us write letters to ourselves to open on graduation day. That's one of the things I'm most excited about!

CS: Looking back on your time in middle school, do you think having mentors like the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellows is important for kids?

Val: I think it's extremely important! I was a shy kid until meeting the Teaching Fellows like Robert and Sheldon. They got me to be creative. In the long term, Citizen Schools actually prepares you to grow up. I'm so grateful for it.

The impact of mentors like the Teaching Fellows at Citizen Schools goes far beyond the walls of a middle school classroom. For Val, and thousands of students across the country, the love, care, guidance and support they provide lasts a lifetime. During AmeriCorps week, take a minute to learn more about national service programs like the National Teaching Fellowship. The next deadline to apply is March 18, 2013.

Longitudinal Study Shows Promising Results in Charlotte

Think back to your first day of 6th grade. You were probably brand new to middle school–trying to find your classrooms, looking for familiar faces, trying not to get squashed by one of the big 8th graders. Six years ago, Mary Espinosa was one of those kids. But she wasn't just any new middle schooler. She came from an immigrant family that was brand new to Charlotte, North Carolina and starting middle school in an unfamiliar, lower-income neighborhood.

After a year of making new friends and meeting students from Spanish speaking households, one- parent households and all types of families, she joined a program called Citizen Schools in 7th grade. Her experiences there helped shape her trajectory–and that of her peers.

Citizen Schools was also brand new to Charlotte when Mary signed up, and its leadership hoped that its model would be as transformative here as it had been in Boston, where it was founded in 1995. The district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), has defined its goal of achieving a 90% high school graduation rate by 2014 (compared to 75% in 2012). To accomplish that, it partners with a variety of programs. Citizen Schools is one.

Mary's High School Graduation

Mary and her fellow Eastway Middle School students stayed after school to experience academic support, caring mentors, and Citizen Schools’ signature enrichment opportunities–apprenticeships. Professionals from community companies like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft come to the schools to lead projects in a range of skills, helping kids discover new career paths and set goals for the next stage of their lives.

Now, the question for Citizen Schools and the district is “Did it work?” Can we tell if participating in a given program has had an impact on children’s lives, and how long does that impact last?

Answering this notoriously difficult question requires investing in a rigorous form of evaluation called a longitudinal study. Citizen Schools looked at its oldest cohort of alumni in Charlotte and their peers–more than 600 students. With additional data provided by CMS, we were then able to match the Citizen Schools participants to peers who were similar to them demographically but did not participate in the Citizen Schools program. This gave us the opportunity to measure the impact of Citizen Schools during middle school, as well as to and through high school.

Here’s what we learned.

Engagement and Achievement

Overall, across all cohorts, Citizen Schools participants had fewer absences during the Citizen Schools program year. Citizen Schools 7th grade participants identified as academically at-risk the year prior to Citizen Schools participation were 15 percentage points more likely to score proficient in Math in 7th grade than their matched peers. Hispanic Citizen Schools’ participants achieved a Math proficiency rate of 80% during their program years of participation in Citizen Schools–a rate 20 percentage points higher than their matched peers. 

In high school, Citizen Schools participants consistently scored higher and had a greater proportion pass the End-Of-Course exams than their matched peers, increasing their likelihood of on-time high school graduation and college readiness.

Charlotte Data


In middle school and high school, Mary and her Citizen Schools classmates actually got more education. They had a higher attendance rate than matched peers, reducing absenteeism by an average of 49% in 9th and 10th grade. They also had fewer out-of-school suspensions. In 9th grade, for example, the cohort had zero suspensions, compared to an average of 1.5 suspended days for matched peers.

In addition to engagement, the Citizen Schools alumni had impressive academic achievement. In 8th grade, the cohort achieved a Math End-of-Grade (EOG) proficiency rate 15 percentage points higher than matched peers, and 8.3 percentage points higher in Reading. Continuing that culture of achievement in high school, the cohort achieved an Algebra I End-of-Course (EOC) proficiency rate 20% points higher than matched peers, and 4.9% points higher on the English I EOC as well.

Higher Education

What accounts for this difference? Ask Mary, and she’ll tell you that her dedication to working hard stems from a dream she discovered in 8th grade, as part of Citizen Schools 8th Grade Academy (8GA). As she writes in this essay for Citizen Schools’ inspirED blog, as a young child she never considered the possibility of college. No one in her family had, and she figured it would be too expensive anyway.

But during 8GA, she went on a number of college tours, learned about financial aid and scholarships, and started to realize that college could be within her reach with hard work and determination. She wanted to be the first person in her family to go college, and now, she is. Mary is one of 46% of the first CMS Citizen Schools cohort who have seamlessly enrolled in college in fall 2012. This rate surpasses the national average of 40% for students of all income levels.

Half of these Citizen Schools alumni are currently enrolled at 4-year colleges, including excellent in-state schools such as UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte (where Mary attends), North Carolina A&T State University, and similarly strong out-of-state schools such as Howard University. The other half are currently enrolled at 2-year colleges, with the large majority enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte (CPCC)–a nationally recognized community college. Statewide in North Carolina, nearly 40% of students that earned a 4-year college or university degree last year had previously attended a 2-year college like CPCC. Nationally, fewer than 10% of low-income students earn a degree by age 25.

Mary and the other Citizen Schools alumni are on their way to that top ten. Mary considers herself to be one of the lucky ones. This year, when she was volunteering with a local youth group, she saw other kids like herself. She realized that they don’t usually hear someone say that they can go to college in the future, and she used her own life story to change that expectation. “After Citizen Schools, I definitely felt like I could go to college,” she said. “Giving us that mentality was very empowering.”

This data tells a compelling story about the effectiveness of programs that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is working with to ensure that all of its students graduate from high school. It is, however, early data on a small set of students. It will take sustained commitment from every teacher, parent, and community member to help Citizen Schools students and their peers stay on track, attending school more regularly, staying out of trouble, and achieving at higher rates.

Mary’s advice to current Charlotte students is simple. “Pay attention, work hard, and keep your eyes on the prize.” Mary and the first Citizen Schools cohort in Charlotte are not only beating the odds. They’re fundamentally changing the equation and closing the achievement gap through high school and into college. This data shows that there is hope for even more kids to do the same.

How this Citizen Schools Alumnus is Beating the Odds

Mary Espinosa is a first year student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). She is an alumnus of Citizen Schools North Carolina. In middle school I didn’t quite realize the situation my peers and I were in. We were first generation Americans in a low-income community. I always knew that some families weren’t from the United States, but at that age I didn’t realize the importance of it.

I was born in California to Mexican parents. We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in sixth grade where I attended Eastway Middle School. Eastway had a program in the afternoon called Citizen Schools. A lot of my friends were in the program and having fun so I decided to join in seventh grade.

Mary Espinosa

I loved Citizen Schools! I really liked the apprenticeships. They gave me the opportunity to branch out and try new things that I wouldn’t normally try. I’m not very artistic, but the art apprenticeship was my favorite. We painted a huge mural in the school cafeteria which is still there today.

The most meaningful part of Citizen Schools that really changed my life came in eighth grade. In 8th Grade Academy (8GA) we went on college tours all around the state. It was a really valuable experience at such a young age. Learning about college in middle school gave me an idea of what to expect. Going to real colleges motivated me to stay in school and work toward becoming the first person in my family to go to college.

A little over two years ago I co-founded a local youth group and it hit me. The kids we worked with couldn’t afford to go college and didn’t think they could attend. Just like some of the kids at Eastway.

I was one of the lucky ones. After Citizen Schools I definitely felt like I could go to college. Giving us that mentality was very empowering.  I saw the same thing with the youth I worked with. These kids don’t hear that very often. I’m personally glad that I heard it because when I was younger I remember thinking that I couldn’t go to college because it was too expensive. Citizen Schools really helped me reconsider that thought and made me believe that I could.

High School Graduation

Now I’m a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I am the first person in my family to go to college. My parents are from Mexico and they moved to the United States before I was born. It was a huge deal to them and they’re really proud of me. I have three younger sisters and now I am setting the right example for them.

I am majoring in social work and considering going to law school. I want to help kids who come from immigrant parents have access to college. I do a lot of community work and a lot of organizing around immigrants. I think that if I go into law, I will have a chance to more directly impact the lives of these young people by helping them get into college so that they can work and contribute to the economy and the country.

My message to Citizen Schools students everywhere is to take advantage of the program. Every time you visit a college campus you have to think, “I can be here in a couple of years.” Pay attention, work hard and keep your eyes on the prize. You have to fight the odds. It’s about moving forward and being able to educate yourself. Prove everyone wrong who said, “You can’t do it,” because you can.

Everything is Possible: Kaira's Story

Kaira Batiz is a 9th grade student at NYC iSchool in Manhattan. She is an alumna of Citizen Schools New York and was recently featured in a blog post announcing our new partnership with The Opportunity Network. Kaira has been accepted to the highly competitive OppNet Prep program, which will carry her throughout high school and into college. Here's what she had to say about Citizen Schools and her future... When I first heard that my middle school was extending the school day to 6:00 p.m. I honestly wasn't up for it. But after a couple of weeks the teachers in the program made me realize, it wasn't a bad idea after all! I was getting used to the program and I was really enjoying myself. Now I can really say the experience was amazing. 

 One thing I love about Citizen Schools is the exposure. They exposed me to my education by making me realize the importance of my education. The teachers had us think about college, which for me was really weird because I never really thought about college until then. I was never thinking about what career I wanted to focus on either because I was living in an environment where not lot of students thought about future careers until it was too late to think about them.

They made me realize that everything is possible even if you come from a rough neighborhood. I think one of the reasons why my school teachers and Citizen Schools teachers bonded so well was because they really thought about the students and their future. I feel like I was so fortunate to have them in my life. They were constantly there for me and worried about what I was doing in my life. I am grateful for the time, patience and dedication they gave not only me, but all the students at Global Technology Preparatory Middle School (GTP).

Before I graduated from GTP they exposed all the 8th grade students to a program called OppNet Prep. They thought that we should apply to the program so they brought a representative from the program to explain what it was about. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a part of this amazing opportunity.

Citizen Schools encouraged me to go for it and so I did. When I applied for OppNet Prep online I wrote about my life, my school, and how even though I didn't know what career I wanted to focus on, I was willing to participate and put as much effort into the program as I could. Even if I didn't get in, I would have been glad that I at least tried.

Now I am attending NYC iSchool. Even though I don't get to see the Citizen Schools teachers often I still come around to visit. And, after the effort of trying to get in to OppNet Prep, I got in! I was so happy when I found out I got in, there was this feeling of achievement and I was so proud of myself. I thank Citizen Schools so much because they were there to encourage me.

That's something you don’t experience often, a community of people that are here for you and care about your future. I am so excited for this new opportunity because I'm finally going to see and talk to people that work in so many careers. I know that after all the trouble I've been going through to figure out what career I want to be a part of, I'll have a chance to really answer that question with a network of people that I'm sure will be pushing me. I can't wait to be exposed and learn!

Finding What's Next with The Opportunity Network

At Citizen Schools, we often hear the question, “What happens to your students after 8th grade?” Thanks to a grant from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, Citizen Schools New York, in partnership with The Opportunity Network, has an answer to that question. And it’s a good one… The Opportunity Network is a growing organization with a similar mission to Citizen Schools—to expose kids to new ideas and new dreams, helping them along a path to college and career success. Over the last two years The Opportunity Network piloted a new program, OppNet Prep. The program's primary aim is for students to build a solid foundation in college and career goal-setting and skill-building. Those skills will then help them maximize the impact of any enrichment programs in subsequent high school years and increase the odds of success on the road to college.

OppNet Prep is expanding this year in both numbers and scope, doubling participants from 72 to 154 students. We are proud to announce that 10 of our own Citizen Schools alumni have been accepted to participate.

This year, Citizen Schools and OppNet Prep are answering that question, “What’s next?” After a very competitive application process, the accepted 9th grade students started the program this fall. As it grows, students will attend a summer bridge program between 8th and 9th grade to help prepare the students for high school.

Throughout the year, they will have after school workshops in which they will connect with influential professionals from a variety of career fields and explore how to get into college.

This amazing new partnership between Citizen Schools and The Opportunity Network is called the Middle School to High School Transition Coalition. It’s the beginning stages of a big idea about targeted, thoughtful collaboration between non-profit resources to support students in need through their school transitions. With these two programs working in tandem, New York’s students will have a structured support system, carrying them from middle school to high school and beyond.

Thanks to support from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, this opportunity for Citizen Schools’ alumni was made possible. The Heckscher Foundation for Children was founded in 1921 to promote the welfare of children in New York and across the country. The foundation provides grants to organizations like Citizen Schools, who serve youth in the fields of education, family services, child welfare, health, arts and recreation. We are thrilled to be recognized by such a prestigious foundation.

And we’re not the only ones who are excited! Our students can’t wait to begin their programming with OppNet Prep. 9th grader at NYC iSchool and Citizen Schools alumna, Kaira Batiz, was recently accepted to the OppNet Prep program.

"I was so happy when I found out I got in. There was this feeling of achievement and I was so proud of myself. I thank Citizen Schools so much because they were there to encourage me. That’s something you don’t experience often, a community of people that are here for you and care about your future," she said.

OppNet Prep is also looking forward to our new partnership. Dana Marra, OppNet Prep Instructor and former Citizen Schools Teaching Associate, has seen both programs in action and understands why this partnership is such a great fit.

She said, “Citizen Schools students have already been exposed to many different opportunities through their apprenticeships. Coming out of 8th grade they are poised to interact with working adults in a professional manner. At OppNet Prep, those kids will be able to take that one step further and actually begin to cultivate their own professional identity. The partnership allows OppNet Prep to really reach the population we’re looking for, kids from under-served public schools, and get them on track for college and careers.”

The Citizen Schools journey doesn't end after middle school. Thanks to partners like The Opportunity Network and foundations like the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we can ensure that our students go on to achieve their dreams well after 8th grade.

What Happens After Middle School? A Student Alumni Success Story

Mavelin Godinez is a Citizen Schools North Carolina alumna from Eastway Middle School who will be starting her freshman year at Queens University in Charlotte this fall. When Godinez learned in January that she was accepted to Queens, her first-choice college, she was thrilled. She attributes the accomplishment to her relationship with Eastway Campus Director and former Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow, Melissa Verea.

Godinez was enrolled in Citizen Schools during her 7th and 8th grade years at Eastway Middle School. She recalls being shy and quiet in her classes and in Citizen Schools. Middle school wasn’t an easy time for her and her family. Her mother had recently re-married and given birth to a baby girl while also battling with depression. With so much going on at home, Godinez was happy to have a place to go after school.

During her time with Citizen Schools, the staff nominated Godinez for a mission trip to Cape Town, South Africa. When the Citizen Schools staff handed her the application and told her about the nomination she was shocked. She said, “It was the best trip I ever took. I was the only one from Eastway to be accepted. I was the quietest one and I didn’t even know the staff noticed me. It showed me they actually cared.”

The staff did care, and they still do. Godinez still stays in touch with Melissa Verea and her 8th grade Team Leader, Angel Johnson. Verea and Johnson are still part of her life even though she graduated from Citizen Schools at Eastway four years ago. Verea even accompanied her to an information session at Queens University when she was accepted and takes her out to lunch for her birthday every year. “I get very attached to people. The staff was my favorite part about Citizen Schools. I’m happy I still get to see them!” Godinez said.

Mavelin Godinez is the first member of her family to go to college in America. Her parents didn’t pursue higher education and her older brothers and sisters moved home to Guatemala. Godinez plans to major in chemistry at Queens University and is enrolled in the pre-med track. Her family is extremely proud of her.

Godinez has a bright future before her, and she is eager to start the next chapter of her life. When asked why she wanted to go to Queens University she said, “Because Ms. Melissa went there and she always talked about it. It made me want to go too.”

Melissa Verea is a positive and caring role model to Godinez and to all of the other Citizen Schools students at Eastway Middle School. Encouragement, support and love go a long way for a middle school student. In Godinez’s case it took her all the way to college and one step closer to reaching her lifelong dream of becoming a pediatric surgeon. Her advice to current and future Citizen Schools students is simple: “Get to know the Citizen Schools staff and let them get to know you. It makes all the difference.”

A Lasting Legacy

Jaleesa Jones is a first year Teaching Fellow at Ivy Hill Elementary School in Newark, NJ.  Two words: Legacy Project. To anyone familiar with the Citizen Schools program, these words, when combined serve as an instant reminder of the work that our 8th grade students take on during the Spring Semester. It is during this period, that a cohort of 8th grade students and team leaders collaborate to develop a project that serves to benefit the campus or school community.

In most cases, the project is 8th grade exclusive, but, what if an idea established by a previous group of 8th grade students was magnified? What if the legacy project was extended to involve the work of all our students in grades 6-8?

At Ivy Hill, we did just that. Through Project Playground, each of our students learned what it takes to become legendary.

The attached images represent the incredible success of Citizen Schools New Jersey coming together to add c o l o r to the Ivy Hill community through what we named 'Project Playground'.

Students were thrilled and slightly confused at the sight of hopscotch, a game most have not played or seen before. Despite their uncertainty, they embraced the game with cheers and leaps from color to color. Basketball courts are now branded with the school’s colors and mascot name, Knights. The new and improved track lanes will help student athletes practice and improve their speed. A huge green and yellow football is at the heart of the football field now refreshed with new lines and markings.  

What is more incredible are the steps our students took to turn this vision into reality. Over the course of an 8 week span, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in Citizen Schools:

  • Defined and planned a personal legacy
  • Matched their community needs to personal goals/talents
  • Wrote persuasive letters to gain support
  • Worked in teams to design Playground Blueprints
  • Communicated their ideas to Ivy Hill principals and teachers  AND
  • Volunteered their time to paint the playground

In the end, our students did more than learn what it takes to BECOME LEGENDARY. Their designs which are now permanently exhibited on Ivy Hill’s playground will continue to live on in the lives of current and future students at Ivy Hill Elementary.  In fact, on that Monday, April 30th, 2012 the collaborative work of our students and Citizen Schools New Jersey BECAME LEGENDARY.

Charlotte Chamber Films Citizen Schools Students During Mock Interviews

Bob Morgan, President of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, recently visited the Citizen Schools program at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and filmed our students in action (video below). On Tuesday, January 24, eighth-grade students participated in mock interviews with volunteers as part of a larger curriculum focused on preparing the students for high school, college and career success. These lessons culminate in a showcase event, 6 Degrees of Charlotte, during which the students will network with local business professionals to get advice on how to build and leverage their own network to achieve their future goals.


Do you have advice to share with them? Register for the February 2nd event today online - www.6degreesofcharlotte.org.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the volunteers who assisted with the mock interviews last Tuesday: Michael Juby, Parker Poe; Chuck Cocke & Nanelle Napp, Bank of America; and Adeola Fearon, MyOla Creations.