New Jersey

Cognizant Employees Teaching Code

The Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education has stated that New Jersey will need to fill 269,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs by 2018. Cognizant Technology Solutions, a Citizen Schools partner, is helping alleviate this current STEM crisis through their employee volunteering program. This semester three Cognizant employees, Meeghan Salcedo, Siva Krishna Titti, and Shivani Mehta, will be leading Citizen Schools New Jersey’s coding apprenticeships at Chancellor Avenue Elementary School and Eagle Academy for Young Men with the hopes to inspire a next generation of STEM professionals in New Jersey. How do you think coding will benefit the students at Eagle Academy and Chancellor Avenue?

Meeghan: STEM studies are extremely important. This coding apprenticeship will not only teach the students how to code and what careers they can pursue in this field, but it will also broaden students’ horizons and expose them to a field not traditionally taught in [middle] school.

Shivani and student

Siva: Coding will definitely benefit the students. Technology is evolving every day, so it is good to have coding skills to contribute towards the next revolution in technology. Also, for me coding is fun; kids will enjoy the classes.

How is Cognizant's partnership with Citizen Schools helping build a strong workforce in the STEM industry?

Shivani: I believe that Cognizant's partnership with Citizen Schools is great for both. People from Cognizant, like myself, who want to contribute to their communities by sharing their knowledge, are now able to volunteer through the encouragement of our company, which is a valuable and fulfilling combination. Citizen Schools’ students are now being exposed to employees in the STEM industry which can help guide them with their skills as well as understanding what it means to work in the STEM industry. I hope that the students are being encouraged to achieve their dreams and goals by not only Cognizant volunteers, but all volunteers.

Meeghan: Cognizant’s partnership with Citizen Schools definitely helps lay the foundation for a strong STEM workforce. It is so vital to furthering technology that we encourage these studies at an early age. As a Cognizant associate, it is incredibly rewarding to help facilitate that.

Meeghan and her apprentice

Siva: Cognizant is one of the leading technology consulting organizations. With highly qualified and experienced workforce, we deliver innovative solutions to our customers across industries. When we teach at Citizen Schools we bring our experiences to the classes. This gives a realistic view of the industry to the kids, thus helping them understand the subject while relating to the real world.

During last semester’s Solar Cars apprenticeship, what changes did you see in your students in terms of skill development and/or confidence?

Shivani: In the beginning of the apprenticeship, we understood that the kids were bored with just listening to lectures and completing handouts, and they had a lot of energy throughout the hour and half classes. Because of this, we were able to engage them physically with games and smaller groups. This showed a great change in their confidence because each of us were then able to interact with the students one-on-one. By discussing with them their ideas and opinions, along with their questions and concerns, we were able to tackle challenges the students faced through discussions. Their confidence seemed to have increased towards the end of the apprenticeship. They were excited to learn as well as share with the class what they learned and even teach the rest of us by sharing their ideas. Their technical and innovation skills such as designing and prototyping the solar cars had improved with the aid of the "design process". This means there was a lot of iteration where the students designed, built, and adjusted based on the learning in class. We emphasized to them that failing is good because it

Siva and his apprentices

means they can learn from it and create or make something better over time and it definitely showed at the end of the semester. They also developed communication skills through the different activities and games we incorporated.

Over 130 Cognizant employees have volunteered in New Jersey since 2010. We thank all of the Cognizant Citizen Teachers for championing our students, our communities, and our program!

To learn more about Citizen Schools’ apprenticeships, please contact Ashley Drew, Civic Engagement and Operations Associate, at

Citizen Teachers Making an Impact

This is the third post in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools’ program in New Jersey. This installment features a Q&A with two volunteer Citizen Teachers, Scott Bohlen and Michael Manbeck, who share the impact they’re making with students in Fidelity Investments’ Secrets of a Millionaire apprenticeship at Chancellor Avenue Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey. See the first post in the series here and the second post here.  CT-with-Students-300x279Why did you decide to volunteer with Citizen Schools?

Mike: For me, it’s the right thing to do. My upbringing was all about morals, values and doing the right thing by your family and by your friends. This is doing the right thing. As an organization, Fidelity typifies honesty and integrity for doing the right thing for our clients. [Volunteering] is Fidelity doing the right thing for the kids. And honestly, we’ve gotten a lot out of it as well.

Scott: Certainly, Mike covers a lot of the benefits to the community. I think one of the things that I found interesting was the whole idea of providing students with opportunities to understand different careers, the different things that they could do with their lives, and how that ties back to what they’re learning in school. Personally, that was a big tie in–to be able to provide that spark to get kids actually interested in what they’re learning during the day and making that tie to the real world.

Scott, do you have any success stories being that this is your third apprenticeship with us?

Scott: There are always success stories. We’re focused on presentation skills as one of the 21st century skills in this apprenticeship. We’ve been able to develop a great environment with the students where they feel willing to take chances. We have a lot of volunteer opportunities [for the students] to come up to the front of the classroom and share their ideas. I was actually pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks ago when one of the team leaders from Citizen Schools whispered to me that she was so impressed that one of my students presented in front of the class because it wasn’t anything she’s ever seen her do during the regular school day.* For me, that was a great success story. But there are a number of stories like that from my other apprenticeships where we’re making a positive impact.

Mike: I completely agree with Scott. Given that this is my first year doing Citizen Schools, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would advocate that this is the right thing for everyone in corporate America to do-spend their time, come in, and try to help the kids. There are basic foundational principles that will go a long way for the children.

In Secrets of a Millionaire, have you noticed any impacts with the students?

Mike: Scott nailed it. It is about taking kids out of their comfort zone. This evening, I noticed that one reserved student, who was scared to present, got up in front of more than 20 people during the site visit. I went over and gave her a big pat on the back. She said, “Wow! I did it.” I replied, “Since you did it once, you can do it a second time, third, fourth, etc.; keep increasing the size of the audience and even the topics can get more complicated.” You could see the proverbial light bulb going off in her head at that moment. She had a great sense of accomplishment and in turn, so did I.

How is your apprenticeship preparing students for the future workforce?

Scott: Our apprenticeship is focused on financial literacy, so obviously that is a big target for us. Our firm’s primary goal is to help people live the lives they want and one way we can start to do that is by building financial literacy with students. But it is also things around [financial literacy] that are just as important like problem-solving skills and presentation and communication skills. These are skills that students are actually going to use throughout the course of their careers.

CT SpeakingWhat has been your favorite moment thus far?

Mike: Getting the kids up and presenting what they are learning, and the children seeing themselves accomplish the things they didn’t know they could do–except for me. I see them getting to a different playing field, essentially going from the minor leagues to the majors. These are skills that they will carry on for years to come.

Scott: My favorite moment was actually tonight. We had 7 volunteers present to a room full of people on a topic that they had 15 minutes to think about. The fact that they had enough confidence in their presentation skills, which we’ve been working on throughout the course of the apprenticeship, impressed me. In moments like that, I can see that we’re really making a difference.

*Citizen Schools campus staff works with the school’s staff during the morning’s “first shift”.

Manbeck and Bohlen

Fidelity Investments is a proud national partner of Citizen Schools. Thank you Scott and Mike for your leadership!

For more information about being a Citizen Teacher in New Jersey, please contact Ashley Drew, Civic Engagement and Operations Associate, at


Insights from a Beautiful Girl

This is the second post in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools’ program in New Jersey. This installment features a Q&A with a student who took the "Beautiful Girls" apprenticeship this fall. In light of the article, “Why Striving to be Perfect is Keeping Women out of STEM Jobs,” it has become apparent that we need to close the “confidence gap” in young women in order to close the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry.

The Beautiful Girls apprenticeship, aimed towards building positive self-esteem in young girls to help them achieve their personal and career goals, is closing this “confidence gap” for thousands of students across the country. We sat down with Beautiful Girl, Georgina (age 11), to ask about her experience in this apprenticeship.

Georgina with her volunteer Citizen Teachers: Meeghan Salcedo from Cognizant, Vanessa Ackon and Nina Barber

What are you learning in Beautiful Girls?

I’m learning that it’s not about how you look on the outside, but how you feel on the inside, about personality and self-esteem. We’ve been learning about true friendship and how we need to be a good friend in order to have a friend. We learned how to voice our opinions proudly, and that we can be whatever we want to be!

How have you changed since taking this apprenticeship?

I’m more true to myself and I’m able to express my feelings. I’m not trying to fit in or be like other girls; I’m just trying to be my old, silly self. I’m learning to face my fears. At the beginning of my apprenticeship, I thought no one would like me. I don’t talk to a lot of people, but I learned how to make new friends. In Beautiful Girls, we’re learning S.P.E.A.K. We have to present for the WOW!, so we have to practice proper speaking skills.

Georgina with her role model Teaching Fellow Ms. Evans.

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

How can you apply this to your goals in life?

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

What makes you a Beautiful Girl?

My personality and how I feel when I accomplish something. I like to be a hippie, take away the negative energy and enjoy my life!

What has been your favorite moment during Beautiful Girls?

My favorite moment was when I was talking to [volunteer Citizen Teacher] Ms. Vanessa during girl talk. We’re both from Ghana, so we talked a lot about Ghana. I liked that moment because most people in my school aren’t African, so I got to share my culture and connect with someone. I don’t get to do that a lot in school.

Cognizant is a proud National Leadership Partner of Citizen Schools. Thank you Meeghan for your leadership!

Read more about the “Confidence Gap.”

For more information about apprenticeships contact Ashley Drew, Civic Engagement and Operations Associate, at

Words from Citizen Schools’ CEO Steven Rothstein

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools' program in New Jersey. The first installment is a Q&A with Steven Rothstein, CEO of Citizen Schools, reflecting on his recent visits to Citizen Schools New Jersey and vision for the organization nationally.  You've traveled to New Jersey often these past couple of months. What opportunities do you see for Citizen Schools New Jersey?

Steven: I am excited about the opportunities in New Jersey and across the country for Citizen Schools. I am impressed with the team, enjoyed meeting students, and recognize the impact our team members and Citizen Teachers are having every day.

I'm particularly proud of how Citizen Schools is getting students ready for high school and job opportunities through the 21st Century skills being taught in our apprenticeships. In addition to being introduced to a wide array of career options ranging from financial management, software, technology to cooking; students are also learning about working with others, leadership skills, and public speaking. This combination is helping to prepare Newark students for the future workforce.

As we look forward, we hope to reach more middle school students in Newark and in other cities.

Steven and Keely

What has been your favorite moment thus far as the new CEO of Citizen Schools, and what are you looking forward to?

Steven: My favorite moments are visiting our schools and seeing the students we serve. I have been to half of the schools in our network and really love the energy, enthusiasm and leadership from our AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, campus leadership, and other team members. I had a great time visiting Chancellor Avenue School [in Newark] recently, and visiting three special apprenticeships there including “Beautiful Girls”, “I Scream, You Scream,” and “Secrets of a Millionaire.”

What are your future plans for Citizen Schools? 

Steven: Citizen Schools is on the move. I am excited about strengthening our existing partnerships, establishing new ones, serving more students, and looking for ways to expand our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focus through our apprenticeships and US2020. We also want to broaden the representation on our state boards.

As we look forward to 2015, we are preparing to celebrate our 20th anniversary. This is a great opportunity to reflect on our work, celebrate the extraordinary citizens who have served over the past twenty years, and prepare for the next 20 years.

Our focus will remain on the quality of our program, expanding our services, and playing a key role in policy initiatives at the local, state, and national levels.

For more information on Citizen Schools New Jersey and how to get involved, contact Kit Nugent, Director of External Engagement, at

Citizen Schools Featured on Public Media's American Graduate Day!

This fall Citizen Schools was a featured on Public Media’s American Graduate Day for the second year in a row. American Graduate Day is a live TV event that celebrates organizations that provide support, advice, and intervention services to students, families, and schools to promote higher graduation rates in communities across the country. See Citizen Schools' segment below.

American Graduate Day is part of the public media initiative, American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen, created to help more kids stay on the path to graduation. Hosted by bestselling author and education advocate Wes Moore, the third annual broadcast was centered on recognizing one million American Graduate Champions who volunteer their time, talent, or other resources in their own communities. Citizen Schools' volunteer Citizen Teachers and AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows are among this celebrated group!

During Citizen Schools’ segment Jacor, a 7th grade student at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, Piyush Modak, three-time Citizen Teacher from Endomedix, and Chanelle Baylor, Deputy Campus Director of Citizen Schools at the Eagle Academy were interviewed by NBC News Correspondent Rehema Ellis, about their experience in Citizen Schools. Piyush and Chanelle described the deep connection between the school’s staff and Citizen Schools and the benefits volunteers and students gain from the program. Jacor impressed with his in-depth knowledge of solar car engineering and design, which he learned in his solar car apprenticeship.

Jacor also had a special experience outside the studio that illustrates the important connections Citizen Schools fosters for students. Jon Rubin, WNET’s Director of Education Services, shared this story:

I was with host, Wes Moore, all day and in the late afternoon we walked over to the social media area located on the Lincoln Center sidewalks on Broadway Avenue. Once we were there we saw Jacor from Citizen Schools and I thought it would be nice to introduce him to Wes. As they chatted I stepped back and then I saw two West Point Cadets who happened to be walking by at the time.


Since Wes was in the military, I went up and asked if they knew who he was and wanted to meet him. They immediately said yes and began to quickly walk over.


As they approached Wes – in unison the two U.S. Military Academy Cadets said…


”Hey Jacor!!!”


It turns out the previous weekend they had met Jacor at West Point during a Citizen Schools college visit. Talk about a pathway of powerful experiences for kids!


Looks like Jacor trumps Wes on Broadway Street.


Amazing kid…amazing program.

Citizen Schools is grateful to Jacor, Piyush, and Chanelle for sharing their experiences on the panel, to Eagle Academy for their continued partnership, and to the WNET American Graduate Day team. We are proud to be among a group of dedicated and impactful organizations that are helping to increase graduation rates for children like Jacor across the country.

Students Take Part in Building Their City

The We Build This City apprenticeship team Have you ever been told “You have the power to change something. Where will you start?” Students can spend years living in the same city and community without knowing how they can play a part in improving their surroundings. A young person may recognize a problem in their neighborhood, but solutions may seem out of reach. Enter Deborah Schulze, a public school teacher with city planning training.

Deborah is a Citizen Teacher at Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark, NJ, though she is a teacher at another school. Once a week last fall, Deborah came to the school to teach the apprenticeship "We Build This City," supported by AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, Kayla Crooms. In the apprenticeship, students focused on transforming neighborhoods through about city planning and the power of community in Newark.

In their initial planning process, students suggested they develop a vacant lot near the school into a park. The vacant lot attracted crime to the area, despite the school being so close. The group thought that a park would add more value and create a relaxing space for residents.

The team poses by the vacant lot they plan to renovate.

With Deborah's city planning experience, the students learned how to compile a proposal, draft a letter to the mayor, and strategize techniques for achieving their goal. The project gave students a new purpose. They weren’t working for a grade, but for their community.

“After learning the history of Newark and exploring what it takes to build a healthy community, they developed a ‘can do’ attitude and started to ask themselves ‘What can I do to help?’,” said Kayla.

In the spring, the students were given the opportunity to pitch their idea at City Hall. After proudly presenting the proposal, the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development, Dan Jennings, invited the students to join the planning board for the redevelopment of the lot.

Kayla recalled that exciting afternoon with the planning board:

“The girls were invited back to give their input to the city planning board. Along with Deputy Mayor Muniz and Director Jennings, the girls sat down with Ms. Gin Dawson of the Michael's Development Company to go over the vision for the upcoming project.


Ms. Dawson provided students with the building plans for the new senior housing development currently being build in the farthest lot, the plans for the large community park as well as a small green area in the courtyard of the senior building. She explained as part of the plan, there will be a community center located on the first floor where families from the community would have partial access.


During the discussion, Deputy Mayor Muniz suggested using the community center as a way for the students at Louise A. Spencer to give back and take ownership of their community. The girls came up with the idea of creating a club at school that would partner with the building manager to maintain and beautify the grounds, organize fundraisers, and hold events for the senior citizens.


In addition to the students' long-term involvement, the girls were invited to speak about their project and cut the ribbon next spring at the ribbon cutting ceremony. On campus, we are looking forward to bringing our ideas to Principal Pellegrine to organize a club with the mission to keep Newark beautiful!”

Given the tools and support, students can be empowered to have a role in improving their community and taking charge of its future.

“They discovered their voice and their ability to advocate,” said Deborah. “It’s a new beginning.”

Cognizant Volunteer is a Force of Good in Newark

For Shivani Mehta volunteering isn’t just a weekend activity, it runs through every aspect of her life. Throughout high school and college she gave her time to make an impact in the lives of children. When she started working at Cognizant in New Jersey, Shivani was able to participate in a new volunteer opportunity, teaching an “apprenticeship” class with Citizen Schools.

eagle blog postCitizen Schools is a national non-profit that partners with low-income middle schools to extend the learning day. One afternoon a week Shivani arrives at Eagle Academy for the Young Men of Newark, transforming from a business analyst into a Citizen Teacher, and leading students on a journey to master photography. During this apprenticeship, students gain an understanding of all aspects of photography including the power of a story told by a picture. By filling the afternoon with activities like this, students develop skills that help them succeed in high school, college, and beyond.

Since she began working at Cognizant, Shivani has taught four apprenticeships ranging from robotics to professional networking. She even recruited some of her sorority sisters from Iota Sigma Beta to teach with her. But for Shivani the experience is more than teaching students a new skill, it’s about presenting herself as a mentor and role model. “I feel that it’s my job to be a force of good in their lives regardless of the challenges they may face outside of the classroom.”

shivaniIn fact, students have felt so comfortable in Shivani’s class they have come to her for advice. Sometimes it’s about furthering some of the skills they have gained in the apprenticeship, other times it’s more serious. “I remind them all the time that they have a bright future ahead of them.”

This month, we are proud to recognize Shivani Mehta as our Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Meet Shivani…


Describe your biggest WOW! moment to date:

“That first semester sticks out in my mind. Watching the students get into coding a robot and wanting to learn more in a hands-on way. You could tell how proud they were to present their projects to their families and the community at the WOW! showcase”

eagle blog post2What have you learned about yourself through this process?

“I’ve learned how to be more patient and how to relate to students. Through personal experience, I’ve seen how intimidating their environments outside of the classroom can be. I’ve learned to try to connect with them beyond the teaching and just try to be a force of good in their lives.”

Have you faced any challenges?

“I haven’t really faced any challenges. My supervisor and Cognizant are incredibly supportive of my decision to teach an apprenticeship.”

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.


'Tis the Season to Say Thanks for Volunteering!

Tis the season of giving-- a perfect opportunity to thank those who have given so much in support of middle school students across the country. As an organization we rely on the community to join together to help close the gaps between students and successful futures. Thanks to our dedicated and passionate volunteers like those from National Leadership Partner, Cognizant Technology Solutions, students are discovering new dreams, and have the skills and confidence they need to achieve them. What better time to thank them than now?

NJ WOW!Joelle E. Quilla, VP-Legal; General Counsel-Corporate Services at Cognizant, can’t resist giving her time and resources when she sees something that needs to be done in the community. That sentiment led her to Citizen Schools, where we partner closely with Cognizant to help connect students to real-world learning experiences.

Joelle sits on the board of advocates for Citizen Schools New Jersey, ensuring that middle school students in Newark have access to high quality mentors. As an important connector, she is dedicated to bringing people out of their offices and into the classroom to work directly with students on hands-on projects. Thanks to Joelle’s leadership, students have had the chance to build robots, launch rockets, and more with some of the country’s smartest people.

Joelle has also been a mentor, or “Citizen Teacher,” herself, leading two apprenticeship classes, one afternoon a week for ten weeks. It was during one of these classes that she helped transform a young lady’s outlook on life. Joelle recalls, “A very bright, but quiet young lady in one of my apprenticeship classes would always come to our class wearing her sweatshirt hood on her head. I could tell she was somewhat uncomfortable in her own skin. One week I brought in a group of guest speakers who told the students their stories of overcoming incredible challenges in their lives. One of the speakers reached out to the student, encouraging her to portray herself as a strong, intelligent young lady, and that if she can feel that way inside, others will also feel that way about her. That student never came to class wearing her sweatshirt hood up again.”

Joelle’s passion to connect students to the people and resources they deserve, allowed this young lady to have a moment of discovery that could impact the course of her education. Joelle said, “It’s important to give back for many reasons, and when we talk about our children’s education, I really think you cannot underestimate the power of providing all children with opportunities to be successful. The impact is not only on the children themselves, but on the local, national, and global community as well.”

At Citizen Schools, we want to say a sincere thank you to givers like Joelle. You make a real impact on the lives of students and we are grateful to have you as part of the team.

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.


Volunteers Turn Curiosity into Dreams

Ranjani Ganeshmurthy is a two-time Citizen Teacher and volunteer intern with Citizen Schools. 

Last fall, I took on the challenge of getting a group of middle school students interested in engineering. I signed up to teach an afternoon “apprenticeship” class about building solar cars with my husband who works at Cognizant, a partner of the nonprofit, Citizen Schools. This was our second time volunteering with Citizen Schools and we were a long way from being experts in the field of teaching.

solar cars1The curriculum required more effort and planning than we initially estimated and let me tell you, the energy from 17  boisterous students can do more than just bring the roof down! Figuring out  a way to channel all of that energy into productive work, while still inspiring the students, was going to be a challenge.  All the students had unique personalities--ranging from studious, calm and composed kids to fun-loving, out-of-the-box thinkers. The goal to not only teach the kids about solar energy and how to build the cars, but to inspire them to consider engineering as a future career goal, suddenly seemed even more daunting than I had originally thought.

In the first week, the students seemed way more enamored with the possibility of building “really cool cars" than with the actual process of engineering. One young man in particular comes to mind.  Moreyke had a lot of natural curiosity, but needed direction to channel it into a potential future career. Over the next few weeks, we learned a lot about his young inquisitive mind.

Moreyke wanted to get down and dirty with the construction of solar cars. He and his fellow "young engineers" wanted to be engaged from the start and were not the least bit intimidated with the wires, motors and axles. Using that excitement, we split the group up into teams and we saw that some of the very enthusiastic students like Moreyke quickly emerged  as the ringleaders. Over the next few weeks, gradually the other students started stepping up and taking responsibility for their cars, helping out their teammates in the process. Even the typically quiet ones in the class started coming out of their shells, following the example of the group leaders.

solarcars3It was casually during one of our test runs toward the end of the project that we asked Moreyke and his friends about their future plans and he proudly said, “I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up. I even know which college I am going to go to. My sister went to that college too. Maybe I will build a solar car for Ms.Babbe one day and I will build one for you too, Ms.G!"

I was beaming! Following his example, a couple of his friends exclaimed they wanted to become mechanical engineers too. It was a moment I will never forget!

That day I had a revelation. All children have incredible potential and they just need a constructive outlet to channel their curiosity. Moreyke started the class as an inquisitive middle schooler, knowing he wanted to do something important but without an idea of how to get there. Ten weeks later he was on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. To be able to have a student discover a dream and gain clarity is something that makes the experience worthwhile. Moreyke proved to be a natural leader who was able to lead his friends by example and we got to witness the way he blossomed from a child to a confident young man!

solar cars2At the beginning of the semester we thought getting the students excited about engineering would be a challenge. Thanks to these wonderful children and their natural curiosity, we learned never to underestimate a student's ability to learn. Through some hard work and engaging content, mechanical engineering became a fun and inspiring reality for these kids.

This fall, I encourage all professionals to take on the same challenge that my husband and I did. In just ten short weeks you can give young leaders like Moreyke something to look forward to in the future. Sign up to teach an apprenticeship today!

Building Relationships through Volunteering

Ranjani Ganeshmurthy is a two-time Citizen Teacher and volunteer intern with Citizen Schools. 

When my husband came home from work one day declaring that he had signed us up to volunteer with middle school students once a week, I was filled with apprehension and self-doubt. Having worked at an IT firm before, I was not convinced that I could manage a classroom full of students. So it was with quite a bit of persuasion on his side that I agreed to teach my first “apprenticeship” class  with my husband’s company Cognizant and the nonprofit organization Citizen Schools.

My stint at teaching ended up being a great lesson for me and my better half. By taking on the challenge of teaching a group of energetic middle schoolers how to build and program robots, I ended up learning just as much as them. Here are just a few of the lessons learned...


1. Be open. Sometimes we are so caught up in our ways that it takes something totally out-of-the-box to give us an awakening. Teaching this group of enthusiastic children was that moment for me. What had seemed a daunting task turned out to be fun the moment I entered the classroom. Meeting the students, who were very eager to learn, was a total boost to my confidence. There is something about being looked up to as a teacher, which breaks barriers and opens one’s mind to trying new things.

2. Engage. After our first class, it became clear that we had to do a lot more than just get concepts through to the kids. We needed to really engage them! In order for them to love what they were doing, we had to be engaged with the material as well. We not only taught from the lesson plans but brought in outside materials- like videos of active industrial robots to show the kids. Those videos came in handy when we explained why certain parts had to go in certain places of the robots. Going the extra mile made all of the difference. We didn’t realize it then, but by us being engaged and excited about the content, the students became engaged and excited too.

ranjani13. Synchronize and support. One of the reasons we agreed to volunteer was because it would be something that we could do together as a couple. We spent several weeks before the class started debating over the lessons and working on the robot. They were fun-filled evenings that strengthened our understanding of how the other works under stress and how much our patience could be stretched. We learned that supporting each other was fundamental to working better as a team in a professional setting.

4. Trust. One of the most important things we learned was to trust.We had to trust each other to put in the effort to make each lesson great for the students. Sometimes, he had to trust me to think of creative ways to engage the students and work on lessons while he was busy with work. Other times, I had to trust him and our fellow volunteer Citizen Teachers to facilitate the lessons, even when we weren't as prepared as we would have liked to be. As we learned to trust each other as teachers, we got much better in the classroom.

Even though I was apprehensive at first, I am proud to say that now I have taught  two apprenticeships with my husband and his colleagues from Cognizant. I learned so much from the experience-- like the impact that volunteering can have on children and adults alike.

You can be a part of this phenomenal change by signing up to teach an apprenticeship this fall. Whether you teach with your spouse, your friend, your colleague or even someone you don’t know, you will both grow from the experience.


Newark Community Celebrates Student Success

If you've ever been to Newark, New Jersey you will notice one thing very quickly-- this community cares about each other. Over the past four months, 400 middle school students have gotten the chance to experience the impact of a community that cares about their success. Thanks to volunteer "Citizen Teachers" from community organizations and corporations, these students have transformed into solar engineers, esteemed bloggers, and masters in martial arts through the Citizen Schools apprenticeship program. With guidance from these experts who come from all walks of life, they've gained real-world knowledge and built skills necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace. On June 15, 2013 the young men of  Eagle Academy showed off what they learned during their apprenticeship classes at a community-wide celebration. These students took guests down their path to discovery as they presented their final products and presentations. Here is a peek at a few of the featured apprenticeships...

6 degrees photo1. Six Degrees with Prudential Black Leadership Forum

Networking can lead to big opportunities--even for 6th graders! Every week a group of students headed down to the Prudential building to meet with volunteers from the Black Leadership Forum, which is a business resource group within the company dedicated to professional development of its black employees.  The volunteers made deep personal connections with the students, showing them how to present themselves professionally and confidently. After ten weeks, these students have big dreams and they are "six degrees" closer to achieving them.

Jared Noll, Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow said, "Our students have really grown over the last ten weeks in our Six Degrees apprenticeship. Many of them have already established career goals and began making connections with professionals to further those goals. I look forward to partnering up with Prudential again next year and seeing how much further we can push our students! Good job, Eagles!"

Larry w- Astronaut Charlie Camarda2. Solar Cars with Endomedix

Piyush Modak, a Laboratory Engineer at the medical technology company Endomedix, made science come to life for students as they learned how to build real solar cars. The students had the unique opportunity to present their cars at the New York Academy of Sciences to a room full of scientists, engineers and even NASA Astronaut Charlie Camarda, who has been into outer space and back. They even had a special visit from the CEO of the company who shared brand new technologies that are being used in operating rooms to help save lives.

Piyush said, "It was an amazing opportunity. To be able to share my passion for science and engineering and critical thinking with the kids was an unparalleled experience. Some days I struggled and on some I triumphed, but seeing the kids apply their minds to create "something out of nothing" was truly rewarding. I made them think."

Martial Arts - Eagle3. H.E.A.R.T Martial Arts with Sensei Jim 

Sensei Jim has been a member of the Citizen Schools family since 2009, bringing his love of martial arts to students in Newark. Over the past several years he has taught 20 apprenticeships! Twice a week, students not only learn the discipline of martial arts, but also learn the value of giving back to the community by writing letters to the elderly in nursing homes, cleaning the local Jesse Allen Park, and making pet toys for a local animal shelter.

Sensei Jim said, "A friend was speaking to a colleague about me and the H.E.A.R.T. Martial Arts program and how I teach the students for free. His colleague's response was, 'Your friend is a rich man!' His colleague is right, I have many golden moments over the years where the students have made me so proud. The joy of teaching and the experiences that Citizen Schools has afforded me cannot be measured in a monetary sense."

The students of these three apprenticeship classes and more truly WOWed the crowd as guests witnessed the magic of bringing schools and communities together to impact the lives of students.


Greatness From Where You Least Expect It

Oscar Robles is the Manager of Civic Engagement for Citizen Schools New Jersey. Marcus was not the student I imagined would shine in the Spoken Word class I taught last fall at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Newark, New Jersey. He never showed any initiative or particular interest in the subject matter. He never raised his hand to answer questions or volunteered to read any of his poems in front of the class. I was absolutely amazed by what happened ten weeks after I met him...

As a staff member for Citizen Schools, I recruit volunteer "Citizen Teachers" to teach apprenticeship classes to middle school students about what they do professsionally or a topic they are passionate about. Last fall, I decided to step into their shoes and teach my own apprenticeship class. As a creative writing major in college and a self-proclaimed poet, I decided to teach my passion and share my love of writing and poetry with a group of students at Eagle Academy once a week for ten afternoon sessions.

Oscar Robles & Spoken Word Students

At the end of the ten weeks, a final presentation was scheduled to take place at the school. This "WOW!" event is a chance for the kids to teach back what they learned during the semester. When I got there to practice with the kids, they were anxious, but excited.

As audience members started to filter in, I purposely didn't want to stand too close to their table as not to pressure them. As I was walking around learning from some of the other apprenticeships, my colleagues kept coming up to me to say how well my kids were doing. I was so proud to hear that not only could they explain the vocabulary they learned, but that they also were able to apply the words to different areas. All of the students were able to give examples of how they would use the skills learned in this apprenticeship in college and their future careers.

Everyone kept mentioning one student in particular that was doing very well - Marcus.

When I asked Marcus about it he said he knew all the information but was shy. It seemed that the opportunity to present to his peers, family and other community members gave him confidence to share what he learned in the apprenticeship.

That confidence also led him to say that he wanted to recite a poem during the performance section of the WOW! As we all moved into the auditorium to get ready for the performances, I could see how nervous the poets were. They were holding their stomachs and wiping sweat from their palms. I told them I would be in the front row and that they were going to do great!


Marcus was the third poet to perform and when he opened his mouth to speak, stage fright hit him full force. He was speechless. Words of encouragement started to come from the audience, but Marcus felt too much pressure and left the stage.  When Marcus finally returned to the microphone, he was able to get the first line of his poem out, but when he couldn't remember the second line, he started to walk off the staff again. This time, the entire audience started to chant his name. Marcus! Marcus! Marcus!

He and I made eye contact and I could tell he was still afraid. I smiled and mouthed, “You can do it!” It seemed like Marcus wasn't so sure and just when I thought he was going to walk off stage again, Principal Vaughn Thompson walked out to meet Marcus on stage.

Principal Thompson asked Marcus to face him and held the microphone as he said, “Just say the poem to me, Marcus.” While still a bit shaky at first, Marcus was encouraged by facing Principal Thompson instead of a full audience. He spoke his poem and I was shocked by the level of honesty and rawness in it. He told a story that spoke of hope and it was incredibly revealing. At the end, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. I don’t know about anyone else in the house, but my eyes were not dry.

Now when I recruit volunteers to teach apprenticeship classes I can tell them with confidence that I've witnessed the impact firsthand. Allowing a student to shine who might have been shy, disengaged or insecure is an unforgettable experience. Every Citizen Teacher has the chance to find their own Marcus, and to help him find his voice.

During the apprenticeship, I introduced the students to all types of poetry. They introduced me to a realness that I hardly knew existed. It was present in our classes everyday. It was there on stage in Marcus's poem. And it will stay with me for a long while to come.

If you're looking for a chance to make a real impact on students, like Oscar had on Marcus, fill out this form today. 


Capturing the Citizen Teacher Experience: Part 3

Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment in a series by Citizen Teacher and Fidelity Risk Manager Albert Terc. Albert recently completed a semester of teaching a documentary film-making apprenticeship in Newark, New Jersey. This past fall I took on a role that was brand new to me; Citizen Teacher. Upon reflecting on the ten weeks in which I led a group of middle school students on a path to discovery I am proud, fulfilled and overjoyed.

Albert Terc with Citizen Schools staff members

Honestly, I had a few reservations going into the semester. The first few classes with my students were difficult. I had never taken on this type of volunteer commitment and I really didn't know what to expect. The students seemed timid at first. Their attitude was one of “having to be there” rather than “wanting to be there.” I envied the teachers who seemed to know what they were doing.

Everything changed when the students held a camera in their hands. What surprised me most about my time with the students was the way they came to life when they began actually working on their film. I figured they would start off really engaged and trail off towards the end of the sessions. The total opposite happened. When the students broke out into groups, taking on the roles of cameraman, director, and interviewer, they took complete ownership of the project. They had been listening those first few weeks, even when I thought they weren't. They took the knowledge I had given them and truly ran with it.

Framing the shot

My favorite moment of the semester happened when the students interviewed their peers as part of the filming. As I mentioned in my previous story, the students chose school lunch nutrition as the topic for their film. During the interviews I overheard some of the students go off script.

They wanted to start a petition to actually change the lunches at their school. They explained the issue to their peers and inspired them to join the cause. Seeing the students willing to go that extra step is what this is all about. They saw how the issue directly affected their lives, and saw how documentary film can play a role in making change happen. They saw how they could actually make a difference because of the apprenticeship. That was the moment I saw the true impact I had on them.

I witnessed the students grow over the ten weeks I spent with them. I truly believe that whenever they come across something that they feel is unjust they will be able to make a difference and find ways to solve the problem whether with film or not. They developed very adults skills in the class-- teamwork, social skills, problem solving -- and I saw those skills at work in the film they created.

I was transformed during the experience as well. I gained communication skills and definitely learned how to play to my audience. They’re not adults, but they’re not just kids either, and I had to learn to speak to them so that they would have the light bulb moment where they would say, “Oh, I get it.”

At the WOW! event at the end of the semester when the students had the chance to show their film and teach back what they learned, the kids knocked it out of the park. I was proud to have my colleagues from Fidelity attend, along with the students’ families and teachers. Several of the parents actually asked for a copy of the film so they could send it to the school district to get the ball rolling on improving school lunches. The kids were able to enact change and inspire the audience. It was an incredible moment.

If there is anything that teaching an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools has taught me, it is to expect the unexpected. I didn't expect the students to become so invested and enthusiastic about the topic, but they continued to amaze me throughout the semester. Things didn't always go as planned and there were several extra Sunday afternoon planning sessions with my Teaching Fellow staff partner, but we worked with what we had and the end result was great.

I definitely recommend this experience to anyone considering it. It beyond exceeded my expectations and I am a better person because of it. Seeing the kids come to life and become so invested in a topic they previously knew little about was truly remarkable.

You can experience the same transformation as Albert by signing up teach what you know and love today.

What I Learned by Teaching Robotics

Jared Noll is a first year Teaching Fellow at Eagle Academy in Newark, New Jersey. I knew virtually nothing about robots when I was assigned to support a group of volunteers in leading a robotics class at Eagle Academy in Newark, New Jersey. I felt like I had little to offer the volunteers who were relying on me.  Needless to say, the first few weeks of the class were pretty stressful.

2012-12-12 04.38.00 (1)Luckily, the four volunteer Citizen Teachers from Cognizant were there to guide me through the material, just as I was there to guide them through being in front of the classroom. Every Wednesday after our class they stayed late to discuss the following week’s plans, and how to best lead the lesson. Even though I wasn't 100% clear on the material, I was confident that our lessons would go smoothly because we worked so well together.

After some time, I got into the swing of things. Robotics became easier to teach when I saw how much the students loved working with the Citizen Teachers and how well the Citizen Teachers knew the material. As soon as they walked in the door, the kids became more focused and willing to get to work. They were excited to learn about engineering and programming. I fed off of their enthusiasm.

The real fun began when the students started actually building the robots. They were broken up into groups, and each was assigned a role to perform to keep everyone on task and working. While most of the kids loved the apprenticeship class, there were some students who were less than thrilled with their roles.

2012-12-12 05.17.18One student, Wilkins, refused to work with his fellow students on the robot, and spent a few classes moping and unwilling to contribute. When I talked to him about it, he simply told me that building a robot was boring, and that he wanted to be moved to another apprenticeship. After some coaxing, he agreed to work with a different group on their robot. By the end of the semester, he was begging me to let him sign up for Robotics again in the spring.

To see a student change so much in just a few weeks and to show so much pride in his work is a tremendous feeling. Teaching an apprenticeship certainly isn’t easy, but like most everything else in life, hard work pays off. The Citizen Teachers I got to work with taught me a great deal about the subject matter, and in turn I was able to help show them how to manage a classroom. It showed me the real impact that Citizen Schools has on kids by connecting young educators with professionals from the community to teach students incredible topics-- like robotics. I learned that the volunteers and the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellows have much to offer each other, and that when everyone is in sync-- the students  will be inspired.

You can join the movement to inspire kids too. Even if you've never taught before, your Teaching Fellow partner will be there to show you the ropes. You'll both learn something together. Sign up today. 

6 Degrees Closer to Their Dreams

At Citizen Schools the theory of six degrees of separation is much bigger than a connection to actor Kevin Bacon. We've seen the power of networking come to life in our students. This fall at our 6 Degrees networking events across the country, they've met engineers, bankers, artists, scientists and more. This is what happens when American citizens connect with kids...

1. New Jersey

In Newark, New Jersey, a group of 6th graders from the Louise A. Spencer School experienced 6 Degrees in an apprenticeship class led by two employees from Cognizant and Citizen Schools staff member, Jessica Fick.

On December 5, they gathered at the Cognizant office to show off their newly developed skills. Citizen Teacher and Cognizant employee, Young Lee, was proud as the kids met with his colleagues. He said, "I believe that making a good first impression and connecting with others is an important life skill to have. I was really proud to see our students grow in confidence during the event. They eased into the exercise and grew comfortable speaking with strangers and showed their confidence."

The event served as a catalyst for one young man, Abdullah, who realized that he wanted to become a mechanical engineer and work for Cognizant in the future. To read Abdullah's story and find out more about the 6 Degrees of Newark event, check out this blog post by Jessica Fick.

2. New Mexico

On November 30, a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders from Van Buren Middle School headed to the Fidelity office in the Mesa Del Sol building south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a room full of Fidelity employees, community volunteers, members of the Air Force and even former state Senator Tom Rutherford, the kids participated in an evening of speed-networking.

Interim Executive Director of Citizen Schools New Mexico Liza Aguirre-Oviedo said, "The 6 Degrees of Albuquerque event unleashed and embraced many outstanding skills and talents of Citizen Schools students.  Mobilizing over 30 volunteers representing a variety of professions, students were engaged and excited to showcase their newly developed networking skills.  Connecting with each student, listening to their take-aways and teach-backs, was truly a most compelling experience."

The students were excited too. Here's what they had to say:

Christopher Robison, 8th Grade: "We were able to use our networking skills to meet new people and learn about jobs that we might be interested in."

Kathy Rojo, 8th Grade: "I learned that if you want to be successful in life you have to have a good educational background because all the jobs that promise you a future require knowledge from college."

Jose Hernandez, 8th Grade: "I had fun because I got to talk to professional people. They gave me advice for high school and college."

3. Texas

17 students from Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston, Texas had the unique experience of learning the power of networking from Citizen Schools Texas Executive Director Todd Litton and his brother Charles Litton who is a wealth manager and UBS.

Professionals from many industries gathered at the Center for Houston's Future's downtown offices for a networking event on December 4. The event was planned in coordination with the Center for Houston's Future as a way for their forum graduates to get involved in the community. The volunteers helped show students that education makes dreams come true.

Catherine Mosbacher, President and CEO of Center for Houston’s Future said, "Not only were our Forum and LeadershipNEXT alums impressed by the students’ interviewing and networking skills,  they were delighted to learn how to impact the educational trajectory of our future leaders through Citizen Schools."

3. North Carolina

This fall students from Neal Middle School and Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham, North Carolina, explored career pathways in the 6 Degrees apprenticeship led by volunteers from Fidelity.  On November 29 they got to meet  professionals from their dream careers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

During 6 Degrees of Durham, the students had the chance to network one-on-one with professionals from careers to which they aspire. The evening ended in an open- networking reception where the students got to experience the energy and excitement of being in a room full of successful adults.

Click here to meet the students and learn more about 6 Degrees of Durham. Click here to see photos from the event.

6 Degrees is an exciting experience that uses the power of networking to help students connect with professionals and learn about potential careers. You can support the 6 Degrees and other exciting initiatives at Citizen Schools by donating here.

Networking Inspires Dreams: Abdullah's Story

Jessica Fick is the National Community Engagement Mananger for Citizen Schools. Abdullah knew he wanted to be a professional football player. On the very first day of the networking class I led with Cognizant employees, Joelle Quilla and Young Lee, at the Louise A. Spencer School in Newark, New Jersey, Abdullah told me about his dream to join the NFL.

During the class, called 6 Degrees, we wanted to help the students gain professional networking skills so that they can achieve any career in the future. I wasn't sure how to respond to Abdullah. I didn’t want to crush his dreams, but I also wanted to make sure he was setting himself up for educational success. What happened over the next ten weeks was nothing short of amazing...

I wanted to better relate to Abdullah and my other students so I did some research. I came across an article on the NFL players association website that explained that professional football players only play in the NFL for an average of three years.  I knew I could use this to connect with Abdullah.

In the next class, I had a one-on-one conversation with him where I shared my newfound information. I then asked him, “If you are only playing in the NFL from ages 23 to 26, what do you want your career to be from 26-60?”  This got his attention.

Throughout the semester Abdullah held on to his NFL dream, but he did a great job exploring other careers as well, like becoming an FBI agent or a mechanical engineer. Last week, Abdullah and the 6 Degrees students attended a networking session at Cognizant's office.  Abdullah worked the room.  He talked to every Cognizant employee in attendance.

I overheard a conversation that he had with a woman from Human Resources.  He said, “How old do you have to be to work in this building?”  She chuckled and said, “It isn’t about age.  You have to get good grades, graduate, and go to college.”

He then went on to question her about all of the things he needs to do to work at Cognizant one day.  He even asked if she would hire him and smiled when he got an affirmative response. I was so proud.

My co-teacher Joelle Quilla was thrilled as well. She said, "Education is a great equalizer.  Cognizant’s workforce is about as diverse as they come, employing people from all over the world with different backgrounds, economic circumstances, cultures, and experiences.  The common denominator is that all associates are educated, passionate and committed to working together towards a common goal.  It would be easy to see Abdullah in this type of environment."

Abdullah had a Catalyst Moment this semester. After his trip to Cognizant, he wants to be a mechanical engineer and work for Cognizant one day.  The 6 Degrees apprenticeship helped him learn the importance and power of education and he even discovered a new dream.

The future doesn't just happen--we create it. Donate to Citizen Schools this year! donate now

Capturing the Citizen Teacher Experience: Part 2

Editor’s note: This is the second monthly installment in a series by Citizen Teacher and Fidelity Risk Manager Albert Terc. Albert is halfway through a semester of teaching a documentary film-making apprenticeship in New Jersey. As they say, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." That has been my motto as my community and much of the east coast deal with the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. The storm was definitely an unexpected setback for the apprenticeship. Making up for lost time will be a challenge, but I am confident that the students' enthusiasm for the topic will pull us through to a great final product.

My first time in front of the kids I was pretty nervous. I thought, "I'm in a room full of boisterous middle school students. Oh no. What do I do?" Before I started the apprenticeship, as I mentioned last month, I was a little worried about being able to keep everyone focused and on the same page. At first that was a challenge, but I am becoming more and more comfortable at the front of the classroom. I have developed a new level of confidence. Picking up on the kids' personalities and seeing their enthusiasm for the topic has helped a lot with that.

The students have selected nutrition and school lunches as the topic for their film. Their excitement and interest have allowed us to venture beyond the curriculum, and bring in more resources to add to the experience. We showed them a popular YouTube video created by high school students called We Are Hungry.

The students drew ideas from the film and were able to see how the work they are doing within their school connects to a larger issue that students across the country care about. That's part of the fun, tying everything together for the kids and helping them make real-world connections.

In the few weeks that I've been working with the kids I've already seen several of them come to life. One young lady who was shy and unsure at first, surprised me with her leadership. When we broke out into groups to practice the roles for the filming, she was one of the first to volunteer to be an interviewer. It made me realize that the material is really sinking in and I was so pleased to see her coming out of her shell.

Much of the apprenticeship's success is thanks to the excellent team I teach with. I am fortunate to be paired up with Jackson Jayarai from Cognizant who has experience working with this age group. I feed off his energy and comfort level and am growing into this role from working with him.

Our Teaching Fellow who supports us in the classroom, Jaleesa Jones, is excellent at keeping the kids focused and on the same page. She helps remind the students that we aren't teachers. We are citizens here to help them learn new skills that will benefit them down the road. I have to give teachers a lot credit. It's not an easy job!

By next month, my students will already be filming. Each student will have a role-- director, interviewer, editor, etc. Despite our setbacks and small challenges along the way, I am confident that we will put together a great documentary film to present at the WOW!. I am looking forward to seeing what these bright students come up with.

I have realized that these kids definitely want to learn, regardless of their experiences. As long as the material is fun and engaging, they'll catch on and run with it. That's what my students have done and I am very proud of them so far.

Learning from Kobe, LeBron and Michael Jordan

Mohan Sivaloganathan is the Director of External Engagement for Citizen Schools New Jersey and an avid basketball fan. Last semester he taught an apprenticeship about the NBA as a business. Here’s the scene. A team is playing for the championship. They have talent across the board, and most people think they’ll win the elusive ring. But when the moment comes, their best player struggles. He misses shots. He’s passive. He doesn’t meet expectations. When it’s all said and done, his team loses in the finals and he’s roundly criticized for his performance.

Now here’s another scene. A talented team is playing for the championship. When the big moment comes, their best player rises to the occasion. He makes all the big shots and all the smart plays. They win the championship, and the player is recognized as the best in the league.

The player in both scenes is LeBron James, and the difference is more than just one year. The difference is humility, hard work, conviction, and focus. After he struggled in the 2010 finals, the rationale for his “failure” came raining in from all angles. Some people said it was because his team didn’t give him enough support. Some people said it was because his opponent, the Dallas Mavericks, was too good and there was nothing he could do about it. Others said there was something wrong with LeBron, and that he would always come up short when it matters most because of psychological issues. Well, what did LeBron do next? He refocused on his goals, got in the gym, and worked.

If Citizen Schools students were still in class on June 22 – instead of on summer break – that’s the lesson I’d share with them when the bell rang. Not a recap of how Miami was hitting shots from everywhere, or how Oklahoma City struggled. Here’s how I’d break it down:

1) Sometimes you have to lose in order to win.

One of Michael Jordan’s greatest commercials ends with this line: “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” What can losing do for you? Losing can teach you humility if you’re over-confident. Losing can expose your opportunities so you know where to improve. Losing can give you a vision and benchmark for aspirations. Losing can give you fuel to improve so you don’t have to relive the pain that comes with it. Whatever losing is for you, just be sure to embrace it in the right way.

2) Of course, just losing by itself is not enough.

You don’t automatically become better at something because you lost. If only life were that simple. Last semester, I taught an apprenticeship on the business side of the NBA, also called NBA General Managers. A bunch of my kids expressed interest in becoming NBA players in the future. When I heard that, I’d always ask them, “What time did you wake up this morning?” They’d typically say they woke up around 7. Then I’d ask, “Do you know what Kobe Bryant was doing at 7 a.m.?” After the inevitable pause, I’d tell them that Kobe is not only working out, but he’s actually been working out for the past hour. And he’ll continue to work out for another 1-2 hours after that. And after a day of work – team practice, video review, and so on – he’ll work out again in the evening. Not every student can manage a schedule like that. Nevertheless, what they need to recognize is Kobe Bryant, a five-time champion and one of the greatest players ever, does not stop working.

3) You are never good enough to stop working.

This goes right in line with the Kobe story. Kobe’s five championships were not good enough. LeBron’s three MVPs were not good enough. Michael Jordan’s career shooting percentage of nearly 50% was not good enough. Why? Because there’s always a way to get better and another challenger who wants your spot. Those who fall asleep after ascending to the top will quickly find themselves at the bottom.

Our kids operate in an environment where naysayers are running rampant and image can overshadow results. It’s important that when they see players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan, they aren’t caught up with the loud haters or the flashy dunks. These guys have lost over and over again, they worked their tails off to reach the top of the mountain, and they will continue to work hard to sustain excellence.

In any successful career there are wins and losses, and a whole lot of hard work. You can show kids the habits that got you through your obstacles. Get in the game: volunteer to teach an apprenticeship.