STEM Advocacy Coalition

15820696688_46b3241edd_mDid you know that New Jersey has 1.4 STEM jobs for every one unemployed person?* The STEM Advocacy Coalition (SAC), which addresses New Jersey’s growing skills gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries, was created in partnership with Dale Anglin, Senior Program Officer, Victoria Foundation; Ross Danis, President, Newark Trust for Education; Catherine “Kit” Nugent, Director of External Engagement, Citizen Schools New York-New Jersey; and Sarah Keh, Program Officer, Prudential Foundation. The Launch Committee is comprised of representatives from the Mayor’s office, Newark Public Schools, Newark Workforce Alliance, Urban League, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Schools Who Can, Students 2 Science, Newark Museum, Liberty Science Center, NPower, GlassRoots, PSE&G, and Panasonic among others.

SAC’s mission is to develop Newark's future STEM workforce by closing education, access and opportunity gaps by utilizing cross-sector collaborations between STEM industries, institutions of higher education, school districts, and workforce development agencies to align STEM education with New Jersey’s projected economic growth and global leadership. The overarching goals of SAC in formation

  • Align STEM education with training programs and with necessary job skills.
  • Explore and scaffold existing mentorship programs to opportunities in apprenticeships, internships, job-shadowing, and more.
  • Create a pipeline for talent recruitment and professional development.
  • Advocate for mutual policy positions which champion education, equity, and workforce readiness.
  • Develop “real time” communications and marketing materials, which feature collaborative STEM Newark “good news”, highlighting programs and best practices for reaching across sectors, agencies, and partnerships.

17070976939_fceb38a0ab_mTo date, SAC has had three launch committee meetings in order to collect information, share ideas and identify resources. This organization hopes to galvanize educational institutions, community-based organizations, businesses, and parents to inspire and train Newark's young workforce to become the nation's next innovators in science, engineering, and technology.

Listed below are the panelists that met on June 16th to address the need for alignment of STEM education to workforce readiness job skills in STEM.

  • Kendall Ademu-John HR Specialist, Diversity Outreach & Talent Acquisition, PSE&G
  • Stephen Cafiero Group Manager EEO/AA Diversity & Recruiting, Panasonic
  • Sally Nadler Manager, Workforce Development, PSE&G
  • Evo Popoff Chief Innovation Officer and an Assistant Commissioner, NJDOE
  • Jennifer L. Stegers Accounting Manager, NJ Chamber of Commerce Foundation

For more information contact: Barbara Glassman, Managing Director of External Engagement at Citizen Schools New York-New Jersey at

The SAC is a work project of Kechia Gay, STEM VISTA. Citizen Schools appreciates Kechia’s leadership and support of this effort.

*Source: Change The Equation’s Vital Signs

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.”

'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.


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.

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

Lessons from Sandy

Superstorm Sandy robbed so many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans of their sense of normalcy. Even though it took so much, the storm gave us an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons about kids...

1. Kids are resilient.

A child's ability to bounce back is incredible. When our students were finally able to get back to school I was amazed to hear about their reactions.

Krista Purnell, who oversees Citizen Schools' Newark programs, said, "With the storms leaving students in Newark with out power, heat, and water, in some cases, it was encouraging to hear about how much they wanted to get back to the business of learning. It is good to know that even as our communities are weathering the aftermath of the storms, the students are still invested in school and our program. This truly speaks to the resilience of our students, families, and communities at such a challenging time."

Aaron Bothner, Campus Director at Newark Early College High School, was overwhelmed by the students' response.

He said, "Our students came back to school a day earlier than we were able to start program again because of the Nor'Easter. I went to school and spent lunch with them that day. Immediately when I walked to the cafeteria a full table of students pulled me aside begging me to run program. It was great to see their excitement for Citizen Schools and for life to return to normal so they could get back to learning."

2. Kids are compassionate.

Even though so many are still suffering the damage from the storm themselves, our students have graciously stepped up to help others in the community.

The kids at Newark Early College High School wrote letters to victims staying at a local shelter that is housing families displaced by Sandy. In the letters students show a tremendous sense of optimism in the face of disaster. It's inspiring. Here's what one letter said:

"We all need someone to lean on in these bad times. Don't think you're the only one going through things because you're not. All I can say is I'll pray for you from the bottom of my heart. I'm sorry for what has happened to you."

3. Kids are up against a lot.

A natural disaster like Sandy is one of many possible hardships that kids face outside of school. They might come from a single parent home. They might be an English-language learner. Their parents might work difficult hours. Sometimes children are up against really tough odds. We can help them through it by making sure that school is a place of opportunity-- where every student, regardless of situation, is able to learn, grow and succeed.

Lucy Castillo, Executive Director of Citizen Schools New Jersey said, "Citizen Schools taps into the bountiful skills and talents of the community every day to execute our program to students across Newark.  So, I have always known everyday citizens to be incredibly generous with their time and talent.  They are the differentiators that help us realize our mission of "Educating students, strengthening communities" daily.  However, I was bowled over by the level of generosity, resilience and compassion exhibited over the last few weeks for Hurricane Sandy relief.  Newark was hit hard, but its people, its communities are tougher than Sandy!  Newark is known as Brick City and it is because together we can and must build our future, brick by brick."

You can be a building brick in New Jersey and New York, long after we recover from Sandy. By continuing to serve each other and the community you can help build the future. The spring will be here before we know it. Sign up to teach an apprenticeship and show these resilient, compassionate kids that they can beat the odds.




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.

A Lasting Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful Experience for Both of Us: A Mother Reflects

Kali Erstein is a Citizen Schools Teaching Associate at the Louise A. Spencer School in Newark, NJ.  “We were jumping up and down screaming,” she reflected. “I took a picture and saved it on my phone... I said to myself ‘God, I thank you.’”

Ms. Mallette reminisced about watching her son, Jaryd, receive a STEM award for his participation in Robotics, the highest rated apprenticeship at Louise A. Spencer during the Fall 2011 term. Ms. Mallette and her youngest son, Jayden, screamed in excitement as Jaryd accepted the award with such pride and joy. “His whole face was lit up,” she said. Ms. Mallette commented on how informative and interesting the Fall WOW! event was at Spencer. “Jaryd was nervous during his presentation but he still managed to explain everything,” she reflected. Jayden, Jaryd’s brother, told his mother at the WOW! that he couldn’t wait until next year when he would be in 6th grade and could participate in Citizen Schools.

As the weeks flew by the Fall semester, I noticed that Jaryd really started to enjoy his Robotics apprenticeship. Jaryd connected his passion for drawing with stenciling pictures of characters from the famous series Transformers. During Citizen Schools, after Jaryd completed his homework, I gave him permission to draw pictures of robots and he would show me his creations with the biggest of smiles. I could really see a transformation in his confidence and self-esteem. Even his fellow classmates noticed and complimented his artistic and creative talent.

“I’m getting a better idea of what Jaryd may do in the future,” Ms. Mallette told me. “I want these kids to make it. Pick an awesome career… Just do it.” She encourages his drawing and interest in robots at home. As a special-needs student, Jaryd is catered to with various teaching and learning methods to meet his educational needs. The Robotics apprenticeship opened a world of opportunity for Jaryd to learn and explore something that really interested him. “People don’t know where he came from,” Ms. Mallette explained to me, “We didn’t think he could come this far and look, in his first year [at Citizen Schools] he wins an award in front of everyone!” Ms. Mallette commented that with his learning disabilities, he is a walking miracle to be able to do all that he is doing. With Citizen Schools, “he’s achieving so much,” Ms. Mallette said, “people don’t know what this [program] does to help.”

Ms. Mallette also noted that through his involvement in Citizen Schools, she has seen Jaryd become more independent and outgoing, and is getting better at handling conflict situations in a more mature way. “It’s been a beautiful experience for both of us,” Ms. Mallette said. From my own earlier experiences with Jaryd, in instances of conflict in the classroom, Jaryd used to shut down or even act out. Nowadays, Jaryd handles confrontation in a much more calm and collected manner, and has learned to just walk away.

Ms. Mallette mentioned three obstacles that Jaryd faces: “[If] you’re born black, you’re in Newark, and you’re male… those three things are held against you. You don’t want to be just a statistic.” Ms. Mallette constantly encourages her two sons, and wants them to continue to learn and grow in a healthy environment. As for the future, Ms. Mallette said: “I want them to own their own homes, their vehicles, and work when they can and want to.”

 “They need more teachers like you,” Ms. Mallette said, “that care and have patience, work with their (students’) flaws, and encourage them in their futures.” Although I am flattered, my reply to Ms. Mallette is that we equally need parents like you, who encourage and support our young scholars so that they may achieve success in both school and the real world. Parent support is so crucial to our work at Citizen Schools. Positive encouragement at home, at school and in the community is necessary to build a support network students can rely on. Ms. Mallette’s continued support and positivity are examples of how parents and family members help keep our program at Louise A. Spencer strong and in demand for students.

Continuing to Impact Students - Despite School Closure

Sylvia Monreal is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the MLK Jr. Community Campus in Newark, NJ Last month, the superintendent of Newark Public Schools announced her plans to close seven schools in the district. One of those schools happened to be our site, Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Campus. It seems like just yesterday that I wrote on this blog the challenges we would face in the Kingdom (as we’ve come to call the school) as the first Expanded Learning Time site in all of Citizen Schools New Jersey. It would be tempting to write up Superintendent Anderson’s announcement as an end of our mission but that would be far from the truth.

Marian Wright Edelman, the president and founder of Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

There is no doubt that Superintendent Anderson’s announcement will bring great change to the lives of our students, but, hopefully, so will the daily work that we continue to do as a part of Citizen Schools.

Last week, our campus held its fourth Apprenticeship Fair - an event where volunteers enter the classroom and pitch students on the ten-week courses they're going to teach - and it was a stunning success. A new batch of new Citizen Teachers joined some inspiring veteran volunteers to dazzle our students with the promise of upcoming Apprenticeships. There was no sign of resignation to be found in the building, only excitement about future learning. I remember poking my head into a room to see a group of sixth grade boys that you normally couldn’t pay to sit quietly silently investigating their “fossil” samples for clues, guided by the Earth Science volunteer teachers. In a different room, a group of students with special needs crowded around to study a lemon circuit in the BEAM (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) Robotics presentation.

Just last Monday, during our Explore! Time, the Team Leaders and the students set aside their worries to practice a different sort of learning. Together, they worked on constructing racecars from recyclable materials, sculpted office supplies out of clay, and dabbled in pop art. Some 8th grade students even took a break from their game and helped a younger boy with his homework so he could join in with the fun.

I believe that these are the daily moments that Edelman called for in order to change a nation, even in the face of sometimes sudden and drastic political changes. Anderson’s announcement looms overhead, but our campus remains committed to our everyday work and our students until the very end.

Where have you seen small differences that will add up, overtime, to make big differences?

Students Learn: It's Never Too Late to Change Paths

Andreas Jackson is a Teaching Associate at Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark, NJ Recently, the 6th grade students of Louise A. Spencer Citizen Schools Campus in Newark, N.J. received a very special visit from two social impact leaders from within their very own community.

Al-Tarik Onque co-founder of anti-violence organization Stop Shootin' Inc. and Karimah Williams from Newark Community Solutions a community justice initiative, engaged the enthusiastic young learners by sharing their own personal narratives of triumph and redemption over the various trials and tribulations many young people are confronted with on urban streets. Their messages emphasized becoming productive contributors to society and serving the community of Newark in thoughtful and innovative ways.

Karimah Willams talked about her position of Alternative Sanctions Specialist for Newark Community Court. Her job is to help increase sentencing options for non-violent offenders in Newark Municipal Court including community service and counseling. Williams expressed deep concern for her fellow residents of Newark, and explained that when she sees someone in need during her travels through the city, she feels compelled to offer them money for a warm meal. When asked by a student whether she ever got involved with the negative elements of street life in her younger days, Williams explained that her mother was very strict and never allowed her to get close to bad influences.

Al-Tarik Onque candidly talked about his troubled past as a young man growing up in one of the rougher neighborhoods of Newark. With remorse in his voice, he spoke about the bad decisions he made earlier in life that cost him years of freedom. When asked by a student whether he ever shot someone before, he replied quite frankly, “unfortunately, I did”. He proceeded to explain that his negative choices were a result of his belief that “everybody was doing it, so I thought I was supposed to do it, as well.” However, Al-Tarik was quick to emphasize that his thinking was not correct at all.

After spending several years in prison Al-Tarik along with a couple of friends brainstormed how they could possibly help other young people in the city make better choices and decisions. This was the moment that Stop Shootin’ Inc. was born.

Students listened in astonishment as the man who once spent his time as a youth inflicting harm upon his fellow residents, now proclaimed his service for them by working as an advocate for Newark Mayor Cory Booker himself, in City Hall. This prompted one student to say out loud. “You changed your life around quickly”. As the 6th graders inquired about Al-Tarik's past, he reminded them to focus on what he and his colleagues are doing now to uplift the city of Newark and not to focus on their past.

To the delight of the entire room, Al-Tarik capped the discussion with a positive freestyle rap verse, demonstrating his prosocial entertainment initiative Stop Shootin’ Music and evoking Oohs and Ahhs from the crowd.

The event ended with students showing their appreciation for genuine messages of service and commitment to the city of Newark given to them by their dynamic guests. In addition, they learned firsthand that no matter what mistakes you may make in life, it is never too late to take a more positive path. Now that’s empowerment!

A Teaching Fellow Reflects on Fall Semester

Sylvia Monreal is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at MLK Middle School in Newark, NJ

It seems to me that you can use December in a couple of different ways - you can look forward to the next year or you can look back on what this year has brought you. While I’m busy writing out my New Year’s Resolutions like most people, there’s a great big WOW! Showcase standing between me and 2012. It’s a wonderful reminder to stop, reflect, and celebrate all the adventures of 2011.

Looking back, I’m amazed to see just how many things have packed themselves into the few short months of the Fall Semester. There were tears, natural disasters, weird smells and noises from the heaters, and entirely too many grey and rainy Mondays. There were a lot of times when I left work feeling like I wrestled a gorilla. I’m sure there were even more times when the students have left the school feeling the same way.

There was Courage, too. One Team Leader gave her class a speculative prompt that challenged them, “What if you had the powers to cure anything but every time you healed someone you lost a little of your own life?” As I graded their writing, I couldn’t help but be moved when, essay after essay, students declared they would take care of their family, friends, even their communities as long as they could manage.

And there was Pride. Last month, our campus team worked closely with the administration of the school to throw a celebratory lunch for the students that made the Honor Roll. One student’s mother hid in our office to surprise him when he arrived to collect his certificate. Though he must barely come up to my shoulder, I think he stood the tallest when it was time to pose for a picture with the Principal and his mom.

I think, above all else, there was Joy. I know that I have countless new memories from this last semester that, even now, put a smile on my face. For example, I hope I never forget the afternoon that a 6th grade boy, blind in one eye and all too quick to fight, ran up to me to show me a complete 3D puzzle, shouting, “I did it! I finally did it! It just took patience, just like you said!”

When asked about the trick to finding success, the author Robert Strauss replied, “It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.” Every day, students have to face gorillas in their schools, whether it’s the looming Achievement Gap or just a bad breakup. Fortunately for our students, there’s a great big WOW! Showcase standing between them and Winter Break. I hope that it helps them look back and find things to celebrate, too.

What are you going to remember most from 2011?