AmeriCorps Member Spotlight: Brittney Davis

"You must do that thing you think you cannot do.” I berate myself for my fear it’s too late I’m here in front of 30 young minds, it’s time they’re ready for me to cultivate to support to relate to help push them through. I step into the class, visions of winners, of champions, before me: let’s begin.

Creating a Personal Brand with Brenda Williams, the Citizen Teacher of the Month Providing students, particularly at the middle school level, with exposure to different professions and direction for thinking about their future is critical to preparing them for success in school and beyond. This is Brenda Williams’ goal every semester when she teaches “My Guided Personal Story” to male students at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Chicago, IL. With 25 years of experience as a business strategist, Brenda knows what it takes to create a compelling personal brand.

She teaches students to be the CEOs of their lives. “My Guided Personal Story (myGPS) provides a structure for the students to think about their talents, values, and dreams to ultimately tell an interesting story about themselves and who they are. The story effectively communicates who they are and where they want to be in five years,” said Brenda.

This month we celebrate Brenda as the Citizen Teacher of the Month for her passionate effort to prepare students for a successful future.

Meet Brenda...

How did you create My Guided Personal Story?

“Being a strategic planner is all about projecting a vision. I want to make sure students have something they created on their own, to remind themselves of the great young men they want to be and think about the paths they need to take to get there. It helps them to create a vision for an inspired future and think about the steps necessary to further their dreams.

Your brand begins in your mind. It’s not easy because many kids face challenges on a daily basis. They need a place in their heart and mind where they can go that says ‘I see the rainbow. I see a promising future for myself.’”

How have you seen the apprenticeship impact students?

“It’s introspective, immersive, and highly expressive. They have to use language they don’t necessarily use everyday. I work to get them a place where they can talk about themselves comfortably. We talk about how it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’ve been able to find out a lot about their lives and find out why they are the way they are.

I make them stand in their truth by getting them to describe themselves and their interests. If you want people to believe you, you have to stand strong in your truth and make people see you for who you are.

They talk to their family and friends about vision boards they create for a personal commercial. The commercial focuses on the statement: ‘This is who I am, this is what I stand for. This is my dream and this is what I want to be.’ They can keep it on their phones and easily go back to remind themselves during difficult situations.

What’s one of your favorite “aha” or “wow” moments?

“When I came back from my Citizen Teacher training, one of my former students ran up to me and said ‘I got my report card! You have to see it! I’m talking A’s and B’s. I got myself together Miss Brenda, I got myself together this time. myGPS helped me do this.’ I felt very, very fulfilled thinking about this. If you can get at least one student to move the needle that is success.

My second favorite moment is when I was starting my new course. It went from eight boys to 18 boys. The word got out and I thought it would be difficult, but three students even repeated the class. I’m not a pushover and thought they would find the apprenticeship difficult because of it. One of the students asked, ‘Miss Brenda, can I stand up and tell everyone how myGPS has changed my life?’ He stood up and did more than I could ever do for a class. He did a testimony for myGPS. It was one of those moments where I’m thinking ‘He’s got it. He gets it.’”

What advice do you have for other volunteers?

“Teaching middle school students is a lot more difficult than dealing with corporate executives. Success is defined differently. If we get one or two students to the next level in the lesson, that’s success. You have to adjust your communication to make sure you’re speaking to them at their level.

It’s not easy. This is the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done. I got out there to be a contributor in hopes of moving the needle and I found out how hard it is. It made me a lot more empathetic and gave me a greater understanding. Utilizing tools and suggestions from Citizen Schools’ campus staff helped me reach the students more effectively and manage their classroom behavior, which can be challenging at times.”

Why should people volunteer to teach students?

“It helps kids understand why it’s important to go to school. There are a lot of interesting careers that they had never heard of before my class. By teaching them we are opening their worlds to different roles and are fortifying their experience with what goes on in the real-world. That kind of exposure is important. Many people are looking for ways to give back but spend a lot of time working or having hobbies that are really important to them. They don’t often realize that giving back can be sharing our experiences, knowledge, and passions with kids.

Kids are the future, and people who want to cultivate and shape the future should be involved with kids. If you need structure, Citizen Schools will give you that. I think it’s a wonderful way to contribute to the future of our society in way that makes you feel good.”

PRESS RELEASE: Hikvision and Citizen Schools Provide STEM Education to Students in Need

Hikvision and Citizen Schools Provide STEM Education to Students in Need

City of Industry, CA – May 26, 2015 – HikvisionÒ USA, North America’s leading provider of innovative, award-winning video surveillance products and solutions, has teamed up with Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities.

Hikvision volunteers provided hands-on classroom opportunities for middle school students at Chase Elementary in Chicago, where the students learned about engineering design and built alternative energy vehicles. The ten-week semester culminated in a “WOW! Event” this month where students taught back what they learned to teachers, parents, and community members. As a technology leader, Hikvision is dedicated to supporting opportunities for STEM-based education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) across North America.

Citizen Schools, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, has a rich history of enabling public middle schools in low-income communities to provide a longer learning day with enrichment opportunities for students. Volunteers called “Citizen Teachers” visit the classroom in the extended day each week to engage the students in activities they would not otherwise be able to participate in during the school day. Students gain knowledge in topics ranging from journalism to astronomy, leading toward what Citizen Schools CEO Steven Rothstein refers to as a “moment of discovery.”

“Igniting a moment of discovery means that the students feel empowered,” Mr. Rothstein said. “They build something: the rocket flies, they’ve cooked something for the first time, their financial plan shows how they could potentially afford to go to college. These opportunities are crucial for students in many urban areas around the country. By the time they have reached 6th grade, they typically receive 6000 fewer hours of academic and personal enrichment opportunities than students in higher-income communities.”

Citizen Teachers from Hikvision taught an engineering design course at Chase Elementary where the students built structures and vehicles, tested their load-bearing capacity, and then transferred that knowledge into an understanding of how alternative energy vehicles operate and how they will affect our society in the future.

“Coming into the classroom every week and seeing how excited the students got about what they were learning was an incredible experience,” remarked Ahmed Elsayed, a sales engineer for Hikvision USA who volunteered at Chase. “Their desire for knowledge was palpable and I’m proud to be part of a program that fostered that.”

In addition to volunteer hours spent in the classroom, Hikvision also made a financial donation to provide classroom supplies.

“As a forward-thinking technology leader, Hikvision understands that the next generation of scientists and engineers are sitting in our middle school classrooms today,” stated Jeffrey He, president of Hikvision USA and Hikvision Canada. “Educating these students so they can realize their full potential will lead to a more robust workforce and a broader landscape for the STEM-based industries of the future. Hikvision is honored to play a part in facilitating this fundamental conveyance of knowledge.”

To learn more about Citizen Schools, visit

For more information about Hikvision, visit booth 822 at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX), June 24-28, at the Baltimore Convention Center, or go to

About Hikvision

Hikvision is the world’s largest supplier of video surveillance products and solutions. The company specializes in innovative video surveillance technology, as well as designing and manufacturing a full line of innovative CCTV and video surveillance products. Hikvision possesses the industry’s largest R&D team and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities; both allow Hikvision’s customers the benefit of world-class products that are designed with cutting-edge technology. Hikvision USA is a subsidiary of Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd.

About Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities. Citizen Schools mobilizes a team of AmeriCorps educators and volunteer “Citizen Teachers” to teach real-world learning projects and provide academic support in order to help all students discover and achieve their dreams.


Media contact:

Alex Asnovich, Director of Marketing, Hikvision USA


The Perfect New Year's Resolution for You: Volunteering

We have taken the liberty of setting some realistic and rewarding New Year's Resolutions for you-- eat more vegetables, drink more water, and volunteer to teach an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools.

You won't regret it. In fact, when people sign up to be “Citizen Teachers” and lead middle school students through these hands-on learning projects, they often come out of the experience not only feeling a sense of fulfillment, but making amazing connections with students. A New Year's Resolution that makes you feel good and also makes a huge difference in your community? Yes please.

But don't take it from us. Here is what a few of our Citizen Teachers had to say about their transformative experience in the classroom...

5815049613_95d9afc87b_n"One relationship I forged with a student in particular stands out because of his transformation as a person through participating in soccer. It’s one of the most remarkable things I've seen in the school this year. The student went from being non-cooperative with staff members, refusing to participate in the fall apprenticeship, to being the team captain in the spring and helping other teammates do the right thing on and off the field."

   --- Alana Siegner, Massachusetts

"After four weeks of instruction and many topics covered, I brought up a previous lesson to a student assuming that it went in one ear and out the other, but after beginning to reiterate the point the student stopped me and said, "yeah, yeah, I know. You thought I wasn't listening, but I was." He then went on to finish the point I had started to make."

  --- Anthony Bernas, Illinois

"The week after we taught the kids about seasonality and the importance of eating local produce, one of my students told me that her mother was pregnant and she wanted to tell her mother which produce would be the healthiest, most affordable, and tastiest at this time of the year. This made me realize that my students were actually absorbing the information I was giving them and that I was making a difference that could spread into the community as a whole."

  --- Alexandra Yesian, California

10409132805_e56a0cb133_n"We did a lesson about working through our strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day when we asked the students what they had learned, one girl raised her hand and said, ‘I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything.’ It was incredible that she got that take-away and that she believed that. For me that was the number one example of seeing these kids transform and become more like adults. We all had goose bumps."

- Andrew Blaser, North Carolina

"One of our students seemed quite challenging at first. Knowing that he considered himself an artist, we assigned him the role of creating a banner to use at the WOW! event. He worked diligently in class one day on his assignment and he returned the next week with not one, but two, fantastic drawings! His clear pride in his major contribution was truly gratifying."

  --- Delia Stroud, Texas

"During one of my classes, I discovered a bright and smart young man called Larry. After my first written test, I discovered his handwriting was not very legible and was disturbed by this fact. As a suggestion from my team leader, I bought him a penmanship book. After some effort to get Larry to write in the book, in 5-6 weeks, Larry started writing a story in his book. When I saw this, I was deeply moved by the impact my small action made on Larry. As I write this story, Larry is on his third chapter of his story, written by hand!"

  --- Piyush Modak, New Jersey

"One student in my class seemed incredibly shy and was unwilling to share or almost even speak. I had a 5837020620_1e7ca0e606_nchance to work with her a little bit throughout that class and as she was on her way out the door for dismissal I said to her, "I'm gonna get you to speak in front of the class before the end of the term." She kind of smiled and shook her head. The following week I started off again posing some questions to the class and the first question I asked this girl's hand shot up to answer. That was satisfying."

  --- Matt LeFebvre, New York

Your resolution awaits! Sign up today and change a life in 2014.


A Full Circle Experience: Volunteering in Her Community

Ever since she was 14 years old, Neha Mehra knew that one day she would go back to Chicago Public Schools and help students like herself. Now a successful account manager at Groupon, she has found a way-- teaching an apprenticeship class to middle school students through the Citizen Schools program at Walsh Elementary School.

411023_3546703423735_412733372_o (1)As a proud graduate of the Chicago public school system, she saw the effects of the opportunity gap first-hand, an experience that stuck with her. “Education is a cause near and dear to my heart. There is a gap that I am passionate about closing,” she said. That passion led her to Citizen Schools, where she is teaching her second apprenticeship class to middle schools. Both the “Runway” and “Beautiful Girls” curricula are designed to help young girls develop the confidence and beliefs they need to be successful in school and beyond. She takes the time to connect with each student, helping them navigate difficult issues such as body image.

Neha’s dedication to the students is not confined to the classroom walls. She works tirelessly to get her fellow co-workers involved in the mission. With her leadership, students in Chicago are getting the access and opportunities they need to help close the gaps between them and a successful future. We are pleased to recognize Neha as our November 2013 Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Meet Neha Mehra:

Why did you choose to teach the “Beautiful Girls” apprenticeship?

It blows my mind how self conscious girls are at a young age. Middle school is such an important time-- having to bring grades up, and get ready to apply to high schools. But some girls are really stressed out with body image issues. It made me sad to see that get in the way of their success. I think it’s important to empower and help them explore their opportunities.

What is your biggest WOW! moment so far?

Last spring, during the “Runway” apprenticeship, one of our students really came out of her shell. She was sweet, but definitely tough and did not want to participate. My co-teachers and I would try to force her to participate by asking her direct questions, and make her reflect on the questions. We wouldn’t let her get away with not participating. We knew she was interested deep down, we could see it on her face, so we didn’t give up on her. At the fashion show at Groupon, she came out and strutted down the runway, struck a pose, and even did a dance too. The catwalk can be very intimidating, but she was just smiling the whole time. She even gave me a note saying that she was thankful for the class--that made the whole experience worth it.

What is it like volunteering in the district where you attended school?

It’s such a good feeling coming back and helping in my alma-mater district. I feel like I’m helping my own kids. I have vowed to send my own children to Chicago public schools. Citizen Schools is a refreshing approach of bringing people in from the greater community to help young students build a future for themselves. It takes everyday people to open eyes to the issues and make a difference.

What advice would you give people considering being a Citizen Teacher?

Anyone out there that is thinking or debating about teaching, get a big group of people from your office and teach together. Get out there, into your community. If you want to make a difference, this is the way to do it. Getting out there is powerful, and will promote more change than you think.

You can get out there and make a real impact on your community by signing up to teach an apprenticeship. You might be our next Citizen Teacher of the month!

How Volunteering Can Change the Lives of Students in Chicago

Ryan Forst  is a student at DePaul University with a Masters in Public Administration and currently pursuing a Certificate in Community Development. He learned about the Citizen Schools program through DePaul’s Chaddick Institute and loved the idea of educating students in Chicago public schools about urban planning.

Watching the community where you grew up evolve with time is an opportunity that is truly precious and I am proud to say that I have been part of a positive change. When one of my high school teachers introduced me to the world of urban planning through community development, I knew I had found my calling. I didn’t know that in the future, I too would be be sharing my passion for urban planning with active, young minds. When I heard about the nonprofit organization Citizen Schools, which is dedicated to providing real-world experiences and connections to middle school students in low-income areas, I immediately signed up to be volunteer “Citizen Teacher” with hopes to inspire kids in Chicago to pursue urban planning too.5258801462_516e4df027

Some neighborhoods in Chicago aren’t safe for students after school and sometimes they have to walk home across gang lines in the dark. The opportunity to work with students in my own city, and expose them to new ideas they might not otherwise get to experience in a safe environment was immediately attractive to me.

My colleagues and I called the “apprenticeship” class “Build Your Pilsen,” focusing on restructuring two vacant sites in the Pilsen neighborhood of southwest Chicago. We wanted the students to work on a project that could impact their own community. The goal was that by the end of the 10- week course, the students would be able to bring their dream to life in two models, which they would present to their families and school teachers at the end-of-semester event which is called a WOW!

Throughout the ten weeks, we struggled with the question of whether or not the students were actually understanding and retaining the concepts. Holding a middle schooler’s attention requires a lot of advance preparation and sometimes we doubted if we were actually making an impact. But in the end, our doubts were gone as soon as they began their presentation.

On the day of the WOW!  I was bowled over by the students’ knowledge of the subject matter. They answered the guests’ challenging questions using the concepts and terminology that we discussed in class. They became urban planning experts before my eyes.

5258811332_a97951670eEventually, a parent of one of our students walked in. His son enthusiastically started explaining the idea behind his model and answered all of his questions. I was taken aback by this student’s presentation as he was not usually attentive in class. The father then came up to each person in our six member team and thanked us personally for keeping his son engaged. He told us that though his son may have seemed like he didn’t pay attention, he would actually talk nonstop at home about the apprenticeship and everything he learned. He thanked us for truly inspiring his son.

It meant so much to me that I felt on top of the world for the rest of the WOW! It made the time we put into lesson plans, commuting, etc. totally worth it. To receive such an acknowledgement from a parent made us realize the difference we were making by connecting these children’s education to possible career paths in the future.

I hope that in the future, the students understand the importance of their role in their community and realize that as residents they have a say in how they can better their society and environment. I hope they advocate for and become actively involved with their current and future community, be it by volunteering or even running for political office. These kids have incredible potential and I am thankful for the chance to work with them.

To inspire young people in your community, sign up to teach an apprenticeship and be part of the change.

Making an Impact in Chicago Public Schools

Jenny Methling is a Strategy Manager at AOL and a Citzen Schools Illinois Citizen Teacher. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Chicago Impact Blog.  AOL has partnered with Citizen Schools in communities around New York City and Boston, and this is the program's first year in Chicago, so several of us in the AOL Chicago office jumped at the chance to join in on the fun! Growing up, I always said I wanted to be teacher, but my hopes and dreams have changed a lot along the way. However, I love working with kids and a little part of me still has the desire to teach. Being a part of Citizen Schools has allowed me to reignite that passion, and it has come with some major payoffs.

AOL has two groups teaching at two different Chicago area public schools, and I've had the privilege of teaching and mentoring the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade kids in the "apprenticeship" program at Cesar Chavez in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Both groups are teaching "Brand You," an apprenticeship where students learn about the basics of branding and how to build your personal brand. Whereas a lot of kids in the U.S. prepare to apply for college in high school, these kids actually have to apply to high schools, so learning how to build your own brand is of importance at an earlier age.

Also, English is a second language to a lot of the kids, so teaching them new vocabulary words has also been a focus. It has been so cool to see the students grasp the concepts and use the vocabulary words that we've taught them. They are essentially learning the branding basics that I learned in my first two years of college -- and some of these kids are 12!

There is really no better way to describe the experience than saying it's super cool -- plain and simple. I spend two hours with these students every week, but it's amazing what they remember and how serious they take it. These kids are at school early in the morning until the early evening, but they got to choose to be in the Brand You apprenticeship, and you can tell how much they enjoy it.

I expected that they might build their personal brands as if they were applying for high school, college, or a typical teenage job, but these kids have some high aspirations and expectations for themselves -- which is awesome. They are so creative, and I hope they all pursue their hopes on the career front. There are kids that want to be baseball players, soccer players, video game developers, product developers at Lego, teachers, social workers, and police officers, and I hope they are all successful in becoming those things, because I honestly think they would all be great at their respective professions.

It's imperative that kids this age in low-income communities have programs like Citizen Schools -- it's surprising how early kids decide whether or not they will go to college or even complete high school. I wish I would have had a program like Citizen Schools when I was their age, just to get a glimpse of the real working world and seeing the payoff of a good education. I do hope that exposing these kids to young, successful professionals and bringing them to AOL's downtown office has encouraged them to stay focused on school and their future careers. I wish them all the best of luck and hope to see a few of them as future AOL employees!

Reflections from 2012

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools. 2012 began with numerous trips to Chicago, where I visited a school across the street from the United Center (where the Bulls play), took the El, had several cold (and yes "Windy") walks down Michigan Avenue, and got to know a great Italian restaurant at O’Hare airport. The year also saw an increased Citizen Schools focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), cool partnerships with the White House on several STEM projects, the addition of new corporate partners and board members, and some impressive impact results.

It’s been an exciting year with lots to celebrate, so as we enter this holiday season I want to say thank you to everyone who makes Citizen Schools such a special place, and such a force for expanded opportunity.

1. Launches.

All of those trips to Chicago led to the Citizen Schools expansion to Illinois where we now provide programming at two partner schools-- one in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, and one in Pilsen/Little Village. Chicago organizations such as A Better Chicago, AOL, MB Financial, Deloitte, Google, Cognizant, Cisco and United Airlines embraced our mission, stepping out of the office and into the classroom to impact public education.

Continuing down that road of new beginnings, in October we launched a bold three-year initiative called Catalyst, which will mobilize 7,500 professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to lead apprenticeships in middle schools across the country. With support from partners Google, Cognizant and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, thousands of students will be able to experience a catalyst moment– that spark of discovery that ignites a lasting passion for learning. As the need for improvement in STEM education becomes increasingly apparent, Citizen Schools is at the forefront of impacting systemic change, working closely with the White House to replicate our Citizen Teacher and Teaching Fellow models.

2. Partnerships.

This fall we welcomed a new National Leadership Partner, the Walmart Foundation. Their investment will help us reach even more students and boost achievement in reading and math over the next two years. Walmart has a deep commitment to improving education in America, donating more than $50 million to fund education initiatives in 2011.

In November, Citizen Schools was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a top applicant in the Investing in Innovation (i3) Competition. This recognition speaks to the growing belief in our ELT model and demonstrates the powerful impact of private-public partnerships on education. Pending a 15% match from the private sector this $3 million grant will jump start momentum for the Catalyst Initiative.

This year we also witnessed the power of partnership in school districts–expanding our program to six new partner schools across the country. This growth speaks to the leadership of our partner districts and the commitment to our joint goal to close the opportunity and achievement gaps faced by our nation’s students. We also had the immense pleasure of welcoming Steven Schwartz of Cognizant and Peter Gorman of Amplify (and the former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) to our national Board of Directors.

3. Evidence of Impact. 

This fall Citizen Schools released impressive results from the first two years of a three year Expanded Learning Time pilot. Schools that were previously low-performing, experienced significant growth under the ELT model. With an average proficiency gain in English language arts and math of 10.4 percentage points over the past two years, Citizen Schools is a proven model of turnaround success according to U.S. Department of Education standards.

We could never have built lasting partnerships, sparked big ideas or achieved this amazing success without the support from our staff, volunteers, funders, families, school districts, school partners and most importantly our amazing students. Despite challenges both large and small and a few forks in the road, it has been a remarkable year in Citizen Schools history.

Thank you for your continued belief that we can change public education America. Here's hoping for an even better 2013.

Corporations Taking a Stand for Public Education

Jamal Cornelious is the Manager of Civic Engagement for Citizen Schools Illinois. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Blog.  Chicago is known for being a city built on strong relationships and strategic alliances. The old saying "it's not what you know, but who you know" may be more relevant in Chicago than in any other city. So when I joined Citizen Schools, the "new nonprofit on the block," I expected an uphill battle to build relationships with the corporate community.

Citizen Schools partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country. By drawing thousands more citizens into schools each year, we are promoting student achievement, transforming schools, and re-imagining education in America. We launched this fall in Chicago with two school partners, Chavez Multicultural Academic Centerin Back of the Yards and Walsh Elementary in Pilsen. Citizen Schools extends the learning day for more than 350 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for three hours in the afternoon, Monday through Thursday. Program elements include academic supportcollege to career connections, and what I call our secret sauce -apprenticeships.

One of my first corporate meetings was with the AOL team in Chicago to recruit Citizen Teachers to lead our 10-week apprenticeships. I have to admit that I was nervous - it was my third week on the job! I remember spending hours preparing for my presentation and anticipating all of their questions and then the big day arrived. As I prepared to start my presentation to encourage them to volunteer with us, a member of the team said, "We're on board! We just want to know what we can teach." It was then I truly realized what an awesome opportunity I could offer the city's corporate sector. We were in a position to bring some of the most thoughtful, talented, and hard-working citizens of Chicago into the lives of middle school students.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this same level of interest with many of our corporate partners. Meeting after meeting, the response from the business community was overwhelming. Chicago professionals from leading regional banks and technology giants chose to make an investment in the city's future by sharing their passion and expertise with students. I talked to volunteers who stayed in the office extra hours because they were excited to plan out next week's lesson for their apprenticeship. Other volunteers chose to flex their hours or arrive to work early in order to spend a valuable 90 minutes per week teaching students about marketing or how to design a video game.

Here is just an example of the impact of Chicago's Citizen Teachers. AOL employees are teaching marketing and business. Google employees are teaching robotics and presentation skills. MB Financial employees are teaching entrepreneurship and sales. Cognizant employees are teaching business and mobile app design. Deloitte has 40 students visit their offices once a week to learn about healthy living and how to be a consultant. United pilots and operations managers are teaching students about aviation -- including a visit to the tarmac at O'Hare National Airport, the first visit there for many participants.

Seeing our students become young marketing professionals, entrepreneurs, investors and engineers has been a transformational experience for me as well. It is amazing to see students grow as individuals and potential professionals over the course of 10 weeks. I find myself constantly in awe of our students and our amazing volunteers and I am sure that each one of them will tell you that the investment they made in our kids future has already begun to pay dividends. How have you experienced the generosity and commitment of Chicago's companies in your community? Were you as excited as I was by their dedication and enthusiasm?

Citizen Schools Illinois: The Struggles and Satisfactions in the Back of the Yards

Jake Oher is a Citizen Schools Illinois Teacing Associate at Cesar Chavez Academy in Chicago. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Blog. I came into the school year not knowing what to expect. As Citizen Schools Illinois was just about to enter into a partnership with Cesar Chavez Academy, I was a first time teacher who was anticipating the worst. During the first few weeks I experienced a couple bumps in the road, but a few things were made clear to me from day one.

First, Cesar Chavez Academy is a remarkable school that is led by an amazing group of devoted staff and teachers. I instantly knew that I was in the right place once I felt the warmth and love that everybody shares.

The second thing I noticed was that despite it being a launch year, the organization hired a strong group of individuals. Our friendships were almost instantaneous due to our shared passion for helping to close the achievement gap for students in Chicago. While my coworkers, atmosphere, and school are all great, the real reason I am working at Citizen Schools Illinois is for the chance to make a difference with students.

The students at Chavez are an amazing group of individuals who put in the work to advance themselves. Like all growing children, they still have some lessons they need to learn. However, for the most part, these kids care and respect themselves, their peers and the adults they interact with in their worlds. A few weeks into the school year, as the program began to pick up; it was already time to roll out our apprenticeship program.

The chance to be involved in an apprenticeship is what makes Citizen Schools such a unique and exciting program. Students are given the opportunity to work with and learn from experienced professionals across a wide variety of fields. As a Teaching Associate, I was paired up with one of our corporate partners, AOL, to teach a program called Brand You. The apprenticeship teaches students the basics of advertising while simultaneously teaching them to promote themselves with the same tools.

We wanted to challenge the students to think about themselves as lifelong brands who need to advertise their skills and abilities to help them get into a good high school and eventually a good college. We learned very quickly that the concept of advertising was new to these students. To start, we really had to drive home the basics. The three key concepts that we focused on were brand identity, brand promise and target audience. The basic definitions of these were helpful for the students, but it wasn't until after watching various TV and online advertisements that the students began to understand why commercials look the way they do -- i.e. the brand identity and promise -- and who advertisers are trying to speak to -- i.e. the target audience.

There were times when students would come into school, run up to me and say, "Have you seen the State Farm Commercial?" The target audience of that commercial is men ages 18-38 and their brand promise is that no matter what happens a State Farm agent will be there to support you. These types of interactions with the students are what teaching and mentoring are all about for me.

It was amazing to see my students engaged, taking information they had learned in their apprenticeship programs and applying it to real life examples. It became clear to me that because of this apprenticeship, some students are now looking at the world in a whole new way and words can't describe how great that makes me feel. I look forward to growing with Citizen Schools Illinois and helping develop the partnership that we have with AOL, because I have already seen the value it adds to our student's lives.

Key Learnings from Launching an Education Program in Chicago

Bryce Bowman is the Executive Director of Citizen Schools Illinois. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Blog.  Seven years ago, while spending my days working in business in Chicago, I started mentoring Chicago Public School students and -- unknowingly -- headed down the road to launching Citizen Schools Illinois. Working with students at Wells, Manley and Marshall High Schools on Chicago's West Side was eye-opening and I began to learn and understand in a very micro way the intertwined strengths and challenges of the nation's third-largest school system, and, more importantly, the fulfillment that comes from opening an opportunity to a student that otherwise might not have been received. Then I read an article which described how only six in 100 Chicago Public Schools students will graduate from college by the age of 25, and to say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. From my time as a mentor I knew our students were smart, gritty and had what it takes to be successful. They just needed access to high quality schools and opportunities.

With that determined focus, I transitioned into education for a full time career three years ago. Today, as the Citizen Schools Illinois team and I are experiencing the highs and lows of a nonprofit launch in one of the largest cities in the country, we regularly turn to these personal stories. Citizen Schools is just establishing itself in Chicago and in many overlapping communities -- Chicago Public School partners, education reform, corporate community engagement, philanthropy and volunteer management. It is a lot to navigate, so I am pleased to share my greatest takeaways from the last nine months.

1. Make Friends 

Chicago has one of the country's strongest nonprofit sectors. According to the Donors Forum, in 2011 the nonprofit sector in Illinois accounted for more than 10 percent of jobs in the state, with the highest concentration in Chicago. One of the first things we did when considering launching in Chicago was to find and get to know organizations working in our arena. We learned about groups that were providing after-school tutoring, student internships and college prep. There was no one else providing the combination of extended learning time, academic support, 21st century skill-building, and hands-on learning opportunities offered by Citizen Schools. Once we launched, we did not stop building and cultivating those relationships. And we are not just friends with these other organizations -- we are partners, hoping to complement one another and work together to address a challenge larger than any of us. Six months into our launch, these relationships continue to be a priority. I am part of a group of executive directors that meets monthly to share resources, experiences, and advice in order to strengthen all of our groups.

2. Be Nimble

As a new organization -- even with a strong program model and impact data carried over from other cities -- it is essential to be flexible. This ranges from our workspace to our partnerships with schools and corporations. Our staff currently comes and goes from 1871, a co-working center for digital startups in the Merchandise Mart, finding a comfortable place to work and making connections with the next generation of innovators. I would never have imagined six months ago that this is where we would be based, but we were able to respond when the opportunity was presented.

Our school partners, Chavez Multicultural Academic Center in Back of the Yards and Walsh Elementary in Pilsen, have different needs and priorities dictated by their populations. We have been flexible with our extended learning time to meet their needs -- including more computer-based learning in some classrooms, adapting academic support to align with daytime lessons in others, and creating customized learning opportunities for students with special needs at both schools. We are confident in the impact of our extended learning time -- a study of our school partnerships in Boston showed we are capable of closing the achievement gap for students in an astounding three short years -- and that knowledge allows us to make the small adjustments necessary to address school's individual needs.

Our corporate and community partners return our flexibility in their own ways. For 10 weeks in the fall and another 10 weeks in the spring, corporate and community representatives become Citizen Teachers, leading our students in 90-minute apprenticeships that connect learning to career opportunities and start to close the inspiration gap. Partners from corporations - for example, AOL leaders teach marketing and finance -- re-arranged their schedules when we faced issues like our local teachers' strike, which impacted the fall apprenticeship calendar. And we are able to bring students to the apprenticeships when partners like Deloitte want to participate but need to have the students come to their offices.

3. Communicate Clearly and Often

You have to share what you are willing to do and not to do. As Patrick Lencioni so articulately points out in his book, "The Advantage," leaders must communicate clearly, they must do it often, and their team must know exactly where they stand so all team members feel empowered to make clear decisions with a focus on our stakeholders at all times. While we will not be perfect, if we have that clarity across our team, and that shared focus, we will build together rapidly and impact students.

4. Focus on Impact

Often in our team meetings, we debate strategic issues and when there are conflicting views, a team member will ask, "What is best for our kids?" Typically, the answer becomes very clear and we quickly rally around this decision. It is my job to lead with this view, and to never divert from this. In a launch organization, there is pressure to do everything -- and to do it all well. As any great business would say, focusing on our core competency is where we need to turn. We are a partner to schools, and we bring opportunities to students in order to help them achieve their dreams. That is our focus, and that is how we must make decisions on a weekly, daily, hourly and minute-to-minute basis.

Launching a new organization is never easy and there are many moving parts. In urban education, there are a lot of complex moving parts. It's part of the reason I love this work. But I hope our priorities help you think about your own organization's focus. What lessons have you learned launching a nonprofit?

PRESS RELEASE: Chicago Students Take Law Into Their Own Hands

CONTACT:  Stacey Nee, Citizen Schools         Cell: 617-309-7133




Chicago Middle School Students Take Law Into Their Own Hands

 Expanded School Day Pairs Students with Prominent Chicago Lawyers to Increase Student Achievement

December 6, 2012 – Chicago, IL – On Tuesday, December 11th, about twenty middle school students in the Citizen Schools expanded learning time program at Cesar Chavez School in Chicago will go to trial, serving as “lawyers” in a hypothetical attempted murder case. As part of a longer school day partnership between Citizen Schools and Cesar Chavez School, since September, the students have participated in a law apprenticeship learning about the legal profession in weekly working sessions with lawyers from Jacob Meister & Associates.

The apprenticeship will culminate in a mock trial where students will argue a case in front of Associate Judge Mary Trew. The jury will be made up of civic and community members, including lawyers and court personnel.

Citizen Schools is a nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for low income children across the country. Two Chicago Public Schools, Cesar Chavez School and Walsh School, launched expanded learning time partnerships with Citizen Schools this fall, lengthening the school day for students. As part of a longer school day, the organization mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers nationwide to help improve student achievement by teaching skill-building apprenticeships.

“Middle school is a critical time to engage students and Citizen Schools’ school-based partnerships within Chicago Public Schools allow schools to add additional learning opportunities, like apprenticeships where kids work on hands-on projects that they can get excited about,” said Bryce Bowman, Executive Director of Citizen Schools Illinois. “The apprenticeship model that our volunteers make possible helps our students make the vital connection between school and potential careers. We are thrilled that our students have had the opportunity to work with professionals from a wide variety of companies and firms, including our tremendous partners at the law firm of Jacob Meister & Associates.”

As part of the Chicago law apprenticeship organized by Citizen Schools, three Jacob Meister & Associates attorneys, including former Senate candidate Jacob Meister, volunteered to work with the middle school students to help them understand the judicial system and what it means to litigate.  They’ve shared insight into the career of law, how a courtroom work, what it takes to become a lawyer, and how the real practice of law differs from what is portrayed on television.

“Jacob Meister & Associates attorneys are very pleased to be making a difference in our community by working directly with Chicago students,” said Jacob Meister, founding Partner at Jacob Meister & Associates. “Our partnership with Citizen Schools has brought just as much to our employees as it has to the students.”


You are invited: Citizen Schools Mock Trial

Where: Richard Daley Center (Courthouse), 50 West Washington Street, Chicago

When: Tuesday, December 11th (4pm – 6:30pm)


 About Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for low income children across the country. Citizen Schools uniquely mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers to help improve student achievement by teaching skill-building apprenticeships. The organization’s programs blend these real-world learning projects with rigorous academic and leadership development activities, preparing students in the middle grades for success in high school, college, the workforce, and civic life.

Founded in Boston in 1995, Citizen Schools has grown into a national network of thirty-one partner schools serving over 5,300 students in low-income communities across eight states.  The organization partners with two schools in Chicago, serving almost 400 students and engaging approximately 75 volunteers.


Our Kids are Running for Office

Although kids have to wait until they're 18 years old to vote, it's never too early for them to learn how to be active participants in democracy. In two of America's biggest cities, that's exactly what they're learning...

At the Bronx Writing Academy in the the Bronx, New York, a group of 6th grade students is part of the "Running for Office" apprenticeship, led by Citizen Schools staffer, Brian O'Neil.

The kids are learning the inner workings of a political campaign. In five small groups they are charged with developing a campaign to run for president of their school for a day. Each group is made up of all the major players-- a candidate, campaign manager, marketing manager and treasurer.

All five groups are stepping up to the challenge. With a very limited budget, the treasurers have to decide how to spend the money-- on brochures, polling, television commercials, etc. The marketing managers have to come up with the catchiest slogan and campaign theme. The candidates are busy practicing the most compelling, professional speeches, while the campaign managers are keeping everyone organized and paying close attention to the student polls. And they're doing all that in only 90 minutes per week!

At the end of the apprenticeship, the students will experience exactly what America's candidates are going through now. First, they'll run in the "primaries" where a group of political professionals will give select their top candidates. Then, the big day comes when each candidate will run for office in front of the most intimidating audience of all-- their peers.

Over in Chicago, Illinois, a group of sixth and seventh grade students at Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center are participating in a "Political Analysis" apprenticeship. They're diving right into the upcoming 2012 national presidential race.

The students are learning everything about the presidential election process-- from what it means to be a "swing state," to the role of the media, to how to analyze election projections and results. The biggest hit in the class so far has been the creation of the class Twitter handle, to send messages and questions to the candidates. Follow them @CCapprentice.

The kids have already learned something a lot of adult Americans don't even know! They held a popular vote and an electoral college- style vote to see just how different the results can be.

Callie Kozlak, Citizen Schools staff member and lead volunteer, is proud of the growth she's seen in the kids already. She said, "As we talk about the election and each candidate's platform, the students are thoughtfully making connections to their own lives and what type of impact national issues have on their communities."

At the end of the semester, the students will act as political pundits on their own news show to provide an analysis of the election's results. Stay tuned!

"Voting and learning about our democracy is empowering for youth. I want kids who come from traditionally underrepresented communities in our democracy to realize that this is one route for them to have an impact and a voice on important issues impacting their community. We need leaders to do this type of work and it's up to people like them to do it," Brian said. We know our students can be those leaders.

Our kids have a lot of presidential elections ahead of them. As active citizens in their democracy, we just might see one of them in office some day. 

Tina Fey Loves It and So Do We: Chicago

The National Teaching Fellowship is the opportunity to serve middle school students through the expanded learning day in one of eight states.  This is the first of a regional series to profile each of our locations.“I’m going to give the slight edge to Chicago. There’s a beach there in the middle of the city, and you can use it for like 10 days a year, so yeah, I like Chicago a lot.” Tina Fey, on Chicago versus New York.

As a college senior you have the chance to pick your own path. When you apply to Citizen Schools' National Teaching Fellowship, you are able to preference where you'd like your road to lead you.  In this series, we take a look at the eight states where Fellows serve.  We hope it opens your eyes to the shores, mountains, and cities of America.  This installment: Chicago.

We sat down with Erin Driesbach, Chicago Operations Manager, and Sahrish Saleem, first year Teaching Fellow to find out why you should consider Chicago. Here are the top 5 reasons:

1. A Whole New World (for all you Aladdin fans)

Citizen Schools Chicago is brand new.  If you join the Chicago National Teaching Fellowship, you’re joining something different to both Citizen Schools and the city itself.  There is no better opportunity to establish culture, set standards, and pave the way for the new face of education.  Joining the cutting edge movement are also new Citizen Teacher partnerships with MB Financial, UNICEF, and United Airlines.  When students visit an aircraft hangar, you know we’re launching in style.

2. Work hard, play hard

The National Teaching Fellowship is a demanding and rigorous experience.  With that said, Fellows bond over a passion for social justice and serving students.  In life between classrooms, Chicago Fellows can be found planning dinners, holding house warming parties, and hanging out (Happy hour is legal in Illinois).  If that doesn't excite you, consider “The Bean” viewing at Millennium Park, catching a baseball game at Wrigley field, or going to the top of the formerly named Sears Tower, now Willis Tower.  For Foodies, check out Tina Fey’s restaurant suggestions.

3. The Office Described as “…the hottest place in the city right now,” The Merchandise Mart hosts the office of Citizen Schools Illinois, the Chicago Google offices, and Groupon.  It’s not uncommon to see Citizen Schools Chicago staff playing a mean table tennis game during the lunch hour.

4. Lights, Camera, Oprah!  Celebrity spotting

Chicago is also your chance to set TV names to faces as the setting for television shows, notably Chicago Fire, Mob Bosses, and one of the Google images for “Women Role Models,” Oprah.  However famous television stars may be, the most notable celebrities are the ones who enter your classroom: Meet the celebrity Citizen Teacher.  Citizen Teachers are the celebrities of the corporate world and leave students (and Team Leaders) star struck with knowledge.  With partnerships like Google and Deloitte, you could be co-teaching next to America’s Next Top Mind.

5. Making dollar, dollar bills

Living on a stipend is challenging, but the Fellows in Chicago make it work.  Here are three things that are cost-effective about living in Chicago: Reliable public transportation, affordable living costs, and free attractions like parks and beaches.  For more resources, check out the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Public Schools, and low to no cost entertainment at

If you're looking to start a career as a new professional, Chicago is the place.  Whether you're a fan of Oprah, love meeting Google engineers, or are just so excited to eat the chicken sandwich Tina Fey suggested, Chicago has a lot to offer. Plus, if you're looking to start your career as National Teaching Fellow, Chicago has some great kids who are ready and eager to meet you. The first deadline for the National Teaching Fellowship application is October 29th. Apply today and make the Windy City your new home.

Huffington Post Live: Longer School Days

Huffington Post Live Longer School Days

October 15, 2012

A discussion on the longer school day was featured on Huffington Post Live with Eric Schwarz, CEO and co-founder of Citizen Schools, Chrystina Russell, principal of Citizen Schools' partner school Global Technology Preparatory Middle School, Ursula Helminski, Vice President of External Affairs at Afterschool Alliance, and Xian Barrett, a law and Chicago history teacher at Gage Park High School in Chicago. The conversation focused on how different aspects of the longer school day are currently helping several students and parents in many areas of the country. Watch the segment.

The Perfect Pitch

Thanks to our friends at AOL, Citizen Schools was the topic of discussion at the Cause Marketing Forum in Chicago on May 31. Organizers devoted a session to "The Perfect Pitch," a reality-show-style contest to illustrate different styles of presenting causes to businesses looking for marketing partners. Three expert salespeople were given the task of persuading judges posing as insurance executives that they should team up with Citizen Schools as their non-profit of choice.

The event played a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears-Dan Cohen from KaBOOM! stuck to the facts, Simon Mainwaring of We First waxed poetic, and consultant Mollye Rhea (the overwhelming favorite) zeroed in on why an education-focused cause would be a competitive advantage in the insurance market. (Read what Network for Good's Katya Andresen had to say about the session.)

After the contest, a breakout group broke down the lessons learned. Facilitator Stephanie Smirnov from DeVries PR shared insights about balancing emotion and information when connecting non-profits to companies. Members of the Citizen Schools staff from three different cities attended and took ravenous notes.

And nearly 500 conference participants from the corporate and non-profit worlds had a chance to ponder the unique connections Citizen Schools makes between the two.

A Spartan Fights for Educational Equality

Liz McNeil graduated from Michigan State in August, 2006. She is a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow Alum.  I cherish the memories I have from Michigan State. From working in the MSU football office as a Spartan Aide and helping recruit prospective players, to living in the dorms in South Complex, to dominating MSU intramural dodgeball and football leagues. They are all special memories. A particularly special one occurred when we took a road trip to Madison, WI, when MSU played Wisconsin my freshman year. It was a close game, but the Spartans pulled out the win!

During my senior year at MSU, I took a very impactful Introduction to Special Education course. It covered the history of special education and went deeper into many disabilities. I loved it because it included a lot of field experiences and really spoke to the idea that education, especially special education, is about focusing on what students CAN do and building up those skills. Rather than focusing on what may limit students. It also led me to see quality education as the huge social justice issue of my generation.

I realized that I really wanted to teach, but was very close to finishing my liberal arts degree so I graduated with my BA. Then I starting working in Lansing Public Schools as a paraprofessional and running the tutoring program at the Hannah Community Center to gain more experience. I was offered positions at a few different teaching fellowships around the country, but chose Citizen Schools because of their unique focus on engaging the community in the learning process as Citizen Teachers as well as the emphasis on hands on learning.

During my fellowship I worked at the Umana Middle School, an expanded learning day school, in East Boston, MA. I taught a team of students for the last 2.5 hours of the school day in various apprenticeships including urban gardening, cooking, law, architecture design and healthy living. In the mornings, my first year, I worked in a 7th/8th grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) classroom assisting a teacher with the curriculum and supporting student learning.  My second year I was a full time teaching fellow at the school and coordinated the recruitment effort of volunteers, set up partnerships with neighborhood agencies, communicated with the school administration and wrote curriculum, as well as teaching in the expanded school day.

One of the most powerful memories from the fellowship involved my students who participated in the law apprenticeship and mock trial. They were English Language Learners and were very self-conscious when speaking publically in English. As much as they loved the experience, taking the bus downtown to the law offices, working with real lawyers and learning the points of a trial, they were all terrified of the WOW!, a  mock trial in front of a real judge and jury at the federal courthouse. A few students said they were going to be absent at school on that day, but I called their parents and they assured me they had permission and would be there. The day of the WOW! came and they did a fabulous job. A few months later when they reflected on their favorite memory from Citizen Schools, many of my students chose that day because they were so proud of doing something they never thought possible. That taught me so much about the role of a teacher to build a trusting and strong relationship with students so you are able to push them beyond what they are confident in doing and helping them believe they can succeed in new things.

I am currently teaching elementary special education in the Denver Public Schools in a multi intensive center program that serves students with various cognitive and adaptive needs.  In the fall I will be attending graduate school at DePaul University to pursue my Masters in Bilingual/Bicultural Education with an endorsement in ESL.

I think more than anything, I have stayed in the teaching profession because I value the relationships formed with students and families and believe that mutual responsibility and respect for learning is key to success.  I am lucky enough to work hard in the classroom and see my students working hard for the small, daily triumphs that are necessary for their long term success. The teaching profession is exciting, challenging and rewarding all at once. No two classrooms are the same, no two students are alike, and no day has ever been boring or predictable for me.

Apply for the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship in Chicago by June 8th!


Education News Weekly Roundup

The Education News Weekly Roundup is brought to you by Holly Trippett, the Public Relations Intern at Citizen Schools and a senior at Emerson College studying Marketing Communications. This news roundup includes news from 4/20-5/11.

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Citizen Schools is Coming to the Windy City

Bryce Bowman is the Executive Director of Citizen Schools' new launch site in Chicago. Chicago has been my home for the past seven years and I am energized, honored, and inspired to be in a role that brings an organization with a proven model for student  success to an amazing city. Citizen Schools has been a successful expanded learning time school partner in cities around the nation and I am excited to help bring the organization to the city where I am raising my own family, Chicago, and to the students of Chicago Public Schools.

Education reform and expanding the school day has been a very hot topic in Chicago recently, and what excites me most about bringing Citizen Schools into that environment is that it gives everyday people the opportunity to get off the sidelines and into the classroom. It offers the ability to integrate the Chicago business and civic community into our schools.

We can all agree that, given the right support and access, all kids can learn and we can all help give kids more opportunities. We all have something to contribute to help them realize their potential regardless of what happens with union negotiations and policy decisions.

Through Citizen Schools, rather than just discussing education reform around the water cooler or at a party, people from all walks of life can enter schools, inspire kids by teaching what they're passionate about, and become active change agents in closing the achievement gap for the students of Chicago Public Schools.

We eagerly look forward to partnering with great  schools and providing them with additional resources to drive student achievement. But, in order to truly impact students, we need to build a great team. Consider volunteering as a Citizen Teacher, applying for the Teaching Fellowship, or learning more about our mission.

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