College & Careers

Bulldogs For a Day

Citizen Teachers Most students would be thrilled at the prospect of a day off from school, but a group of Boston-area 8th graders was even more excited to spend that mini-vacation learning in class. Instead of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic at their respective schools, 40 students from Orchard Gardens K-8 School, Dever-McCormack School, and Edwards Middle School set off to take Psychology 101 at a prestigious Ivy League university.

Although the foliage lining the campus trees that November morning was full of bright reds, oranges, and yellows, the only colors on the students’ minds as the bus pulled up to Yale University were blue and white.

“A lot of them knew that it was pretty elite, and a lot of them knew that I went there. As we walked around they kept asking me ‘did you really live here? Did you eat here?’”, said Lucy Arthur-Paratley, a Yale alumna and current AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools.

They were in for a full day on campus, starting off with a tour of the Yale art gallery and a chance to sit in on a Yale class (in addition to Psych 101, the students also enrolled in several Freshman Writing Seminars including “Beauty, Fashion, and Ethics,” “Digital Childhood,” and “The Modern Metropolis”).

As much as they enjoyed the class discussions and the gallery’s art collections, the most rewarding part of their tour was interacting with the Yale students themselves. Finding a friendly group of people is just as important in college as it is in middle school, and on this point, the 8th graders were certainly not disappointed!

“What was interesting was that a lot of things surrounding racial protests at Yale were going on. People on campus were more sensitized to making students of color and first generation college students feel included and consciously asking themselves ‘what am I doing to make Yale a more welcoming place?’”

Another perk of this “boomerang effect” was that when Lucy invited some of her former campus mentees to lunch, more “Yalies” showed up than she had anticipated. The 8th graders spent their lunch hour with six current Yale juniors, and they immediately hit it off. Since there were bilingual students from both groups, the conversation flowed freely both in English and Spanish!

“It was a really relaxed and low key environment where they talked about everything from their favorite type of music to the best way to consume as much ice cream as possible in the dining hall.”

After lunch, the 8th graders had the chance to meet even more Yale students when they attended a panel discussion made up of first generation college students of color. Though this setting was much more formal than lunch, the 8th graders had the opportunity to ask questions about study abroad, jobs on campus, work/life balance, and picking majors. “A goal of ours is to introduce kids to students to share these experiences, and who can help them pinpoint these resources.” By the end of the visit, the students were skipping around campus courtyard singing Yale songs and cheers!

“It was a physical manifestation of their sense of belonging. I would say these visits give students a sense of ownership over the college experience and more inevitability. A clear sense that this is their path.”

Read more about the adventures of our students and teaching fellows here.

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!

Teaching is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Kevin Berry is a senior at Boston College. He is an experienced runner and has spent several semesters tutoring middle school students. He interned with Citizen Schools during the summer. As a senior at Boston College I have experienced several Marathon Mondays, the day when all of Boston watches and celebrates the runners in the Boston Marathon. It was during my internship with Citizen Schools this summer that I discovered some similarities between running a marathon and running something else...

While watching the runners on Marathon Monday during my freshmen year, I was amazed at how many BC students were running on behalf of the Campus School (not to be confused with Citizen Schools) which serves students with severe disabilities. They all seemed to be having so much fun as they ran down Commonwealth Ave. I told myself that the following year I would be running with them.

Since then I have successfully ran the Boston Marathon twice.

In my internship with Citizen Schools this summer I worked with the talent department which recruits college seniors to apply for the National Teaching Fellowship. During my time at Citizen Schools, I met Teaching Fellows who were changing students’ lives in their classrooms. I got to know some incredible people who work hard to provide opportunities for kids from low-income communities. The experience got me thinking about the time I spent training for the marathon and the work that Citizen Schools does with students across the country. I realized that training for the marathon is a lot being a Teaching Fellow:

1. Persistence is key. In my experience as a tutor, I didn't see my students go from a D to an A after just one week. Similarly, it would have been impossible for me to be able to run 26 miles after just one week of training. There are going to be times when the task at hand seems out of reach and overwhelming. But there will also be hours spent in the classroom and hours spent in running shoes when it is clear how much progress is being made. Persistent effort pays off even if it takes time to see the final grade or the finish line.

2. Practice makes perfect. When I first begin training, just a few miles might seem like too many. But as I progress, I become more confident with each mile that I will make it to the finish line. Teaching Fellows and all educators might be extremely nervous on their first day, but with time and practice, they will be able to impact their students with a confidence that comes from “putting in the miles” in the classroom.

3. It’s a balancing act. In the classroom, students might go from happy and engaged to bored and disinterested. While training for the marathon you might run into strained muscles, rainy weather or lack of sleep. Being able to quickly adapt to new changes and challenges is key in both situations. Teachers need to be flexible to find the right balance in their classrooms to keep their students on track. Runners need to find the balance between pushing their bodies and taking the time to rest. Teachers and runners are constantly on the move. When they’re out there pounding the pavement, they have to be able to adapt to what the day gives them.

I am proud to say that I am now the Marathon Committee Chair for The Campus School at Boston College. I only have one more Marathon Monday as a college student but who knows how many more miles on the pavement or in the classroom I have ahead of me? I’m not sure what the next step is for me, but maybe it's with Citizen Schools. After all, helping kids achieve their dreams is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’ve gotten pretty good at running marathons.