Namaste! Sandia National Laboratories Citizen Teacher Kayla Norris teaches afterschool yoga in East Oakland

Namaste! Sandia National Laboratories Citizen Teacher Kayla Norris teaches afterschool yoga in East Oakland

While many at Sandia know Kayla Norris (8100) as a financial analyst, a class of students in Oakland knows her as “Ms. Kayla,” their afterschool yoga instructor. For ten weeks in the fall of 2017, Kayla taught a yoga and mindfulness class at Roots International Academy, a small middle school in East Oakland.

Citizen Schools Sets Sail with Lending Club

Close your eyes. You’re stepping onto the netting of a 105-foot trimaran sailing boat. See the white sail majestically swell above you. Hear the seagulls call out, echoing against the hull. As the boat gains speed on the water, feel the spray of the San Francisco Bay against your skin. This morning, you boarded a school bus in East Oakland with your classmates, and this afternoon, you are no longer a 12-year-old middle schooler. You’re a young sailor on your first expedition out to sea. Lending club blog photoOn June 17, 2015, 12 students from Greenleaf K-8 School in Oakland and their families had the unique opportunity to go on their first sailing adventure, thanks to Lending Club, a new corporate partner for Citizen Schools California headquartered in San Francisco.

CEO Renaud Laplanche and co-skipper Ryan Breymaier chartered the maxi trimaran--now called the Lending Club 2--and they have selected an international team for a racing program to take place over the next 7 months. The crew has journeyed from Europe to both the East and West coasts of the United States, hosting sailing trips for colleagues and friends, which now includes Citizen Schools students, families, and AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows.

This year, Citizen Schools welcomed Lending Club as its 2015-2017 Financial Education-Banking Apprenticeship Sponsor in California. Citizen Schools is the company’s first official education non-profit partner, helping to launch its “Doing Good” program, which supports Lending Club employees’ efforts to make a difference in their community. Laplanche spoke about the need for these efforts: “An opportunity gap exists in financial education. Lending Club and Citizen Schools share a goal to narrow that gap, and we’re very excited to launch this partnership and get started.”

Lending Club employees will be forming teams to teach financial education apprenticeships across Oakland and San Jose in the 2015-2016 academic year. This summer, Citizen Schools and Lending Club are collaborating to develop an interactive apprenticeship curriculum that introduces youth to basic financial concepts like “credit”, “debt,” and “savings.”

Citizen Schools California knows the value of intentional partnerships with companies like Lending Club. The apprenticeship model thrives and benefits our students most when we partner with individuals, across a multitude of industries, who understand our mission and recognize the larger implications of sharing their specific knowledge and resources.

“An overwhelming number of low-income students don’t have access to educational opportunities at the same level as upper-income students,” says Laplanche. “Citizen Schools has built an admirable program that effectively addresses that gap. We look forward to having a hand in leveling the playing field and helping Bay Area students develop their financial literacy.”

About Lending Club

Lending Club is the world’s largest online marketplace connecting borrowers and investors. They’re transforming the banking system to make credit more affordable and investing more rewarding. They operate at a lower cost than traditional bank lending programs and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.

I Moved Back To Oakland to Fight Inequality


Nhi Truong is a second year Teaching Fellow in Oakland, California. 

I moved back to Oakland after college because I wanted to do my part in fighting educational inequity in my community.

For my first two years of high school, I went to a public school in Alameda, a pretty well-off island right next to Oakland. The last two years of high school, I attended a public school in West Oakland called McClymonds High School. My experience in those two very different environments taught me a lot about the structural racism and economic injustice that the Oakland community faces. Even though those two communities are really close in distance, one school has access to all sorts of resources and opportunities like a librarian, student government, clubs, and after school programs, and the other did not.

My classmates and I at McClymonds didn’t see education as a strong asset for the future because we weren’t given the resources like clubs and afterschool programs that would help us make that connection. Instead, I depended a lot on a few teachers and leaders in the community. They helped me get through school and showed me how important and necessary it is to go to college and give back.

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I was the first one in my family to go to college. It was a tough transition leaving Oakland, where most of my friends came from low-income families from all different racial backgrounds. There were many moments in class when I felt like I did not belong due to my background, but I convinced myself that this is where I, and my folks from Oakland, need to be. We belong in universities. I was determined to bring more students like me into college. Students from communities like Oakland need someone to show them that they are powerful and loved and amazing--and that they deserve to go to college too.

That sentiment led me to Citizen Schools and the AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship.

I had never worked with middle school students, but I was excited to have the opportunity to work with students at this very special age, when the right resources can make the difference for them for the rest of their lives. I remember when I was in 5th grade, new to America, and a teacher named Mr. Nguyen was like a father figure to me. Not only did he make school fun, he showed me that he really cared about me and every single student in his classroom. He inspired me to become a teacher and show the same love he has given me to all my students. I still keep in contact with him now.

But I was lucky. Thousands of kids like me didn’t get those connections. That’s the reason why I want to be there for my students. I see myself being like Mr. Nguyen when I crack jokes that he used to use, and I’m strict when I need to be like he was. Drawing on the opportunities I was given motivates me to be a better teacher.

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I feel like so often people from my community don’t always come back once they get the opportunity to leave and pursue different opportunities. But I was excited to come back to “the hood.” I am constantly reminded of Tupac & Professor Jeff Ducan Andrade’s theory of roses in concrete. Once you’ve been nurtured in the garden, it’s important to take what you’ve experienced back to the streets to pull the other roses out of the concrete.

If it weren’t for the leaders who came back to help me, I might not be where I am today. I want my students to see themselves in me the way that I saw myself in leaders like Mr. Nguyen.

I want them to know that we may not have the same struggles, but if I can make it, they can make it. And I’m here to let them know how powerful and beautiful they all are.

You can help students prepare for the future like Nhi does, by applying to the National Teaching Fellowship today. 


Nine-Hour School Day is the Norm, and a National Model, at Oakland Middle School

In Susan Frey's recent article on EdSource, also picked up by the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, and The Hechinger Report, Citizen Schools' Expanded Learning Time (ELT) partnership with a middle school in Oakland, CA, is highlighted as a model that works. Elmhurst Community Prep's principal, Kilian Betlach, describes his vision to close the opportunity gap for low-income students by bringing a variety of experiences to life. Partnering with Citizen Schools is a powerful alternative to traditional after-school programs, he says, because it allows him to create an integrated longer school day filled with academic support and enrichment like apprenticeships:

Rodzhaney Sledge, dressed in the light-blue school uniform, is new to the school as a 6th grader, but she already understands how the after-school part of the program supports her academic work. For example, she took a class called Tools for Peace, where she learned to meditate. Meditation, she said, has helped calm her so she can focus on academics. She also appreciates the help with her homework she receives for at least an hour each day.


“I don’t understand the students who have problems staying after school until 5 p.m.,” she said. “You can do your homework and don’t have to do it when you get home. You’re free.”


Betlach and community partners – primarily Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit that focuses on providing quality expanded learning programs for middle school students in low-income communities – have cobbled together federal, state, local and private funding to support the unique program...


What makes the expanded school day economically possible is the school’s reliance on AmeriCorps teaching fellows like [Ashur] Bratt. The fellows are funded by the federal government and receive special training from Citizen Schools staff on how to teach in an urban environment. They are involved in both the academic morning program and the after-school classes from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, helping to provide a seamless transition for students. The schedule also allows the regular academic teachers an hour each afternoon, from 2 to 3 p.m., to work collaboratively and plan.


In exchange, the AmeriCorps fellows will have earned their intern teaching credential at the end of their two years at Elmhurst.


Edgard Vidrio, a sixth grade history teacher who joined the Elmhurst staff this year, said he appreciates the variety of opportunities the program is offering his students...Vidrio says the young, dynamic AmeriCorps teachers develop deep relationships with their students. If a student in his class is upset, he or she will often ask to talk to one of the teaching fellows, Vidrio said...


AmeriCorps teaching fellow Jeannette Aames, who is finishing her second year and hopes to teach high school math in Oakland Unified in the fall, said teaching a math intervention class was her most rewarding experience at Elmhurst. The class of three girls and nine “rowdy boys” could not grasp the concept of negative numbers.


“Direct instruction didn’t work with them,” Aames said, requiring her to develop more hands-on approaches to teach the concept...


The students also get opportunities through Citizen Schools to participate in apprenticeships with “citizen teachers,” any adult from the broader Bay Area community who has a passion, such as robotics or radio reporting, to share with the students. The citizen teachers receive basic training on how to teach from Citizen Schools staff before they begin the after-school class.


The citizen teacher is partnered with an AmeriCorps fellow who assists the teacher with handling classroom management. At the end of the apprenticeship, the students make a presentation (called a “WOW!”) to their parents and business and community leaders, showcasing what they have learned.


In addition, local companies invite students to their offices for apprenticeship experiences. At Pandora, students learned how to make an app.


“It was a video game where you dodge fireballs,” Betlach recalled.


The positive school culture that Frey captures is the result not of a miracle education reform formula, but of a committed collaboration of human beings, caring and working really hard.  The students, AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, and teachers whose voices fill the story bring that to life better than most research briefs and infographics. We're proud every day to serve alongside Principal Betlach, Mr. Vidrio, and the rest of the ECP community, meditating, dodging fireballs, and dreaming big!

Apply to the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellowship today and you can join next year's team at ECP!

Read the full article on EdSourceOakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, or The Hechinger Report.

5 Lessons I Learned from Networking with 8th Graders

Guest Post from Rob at ONGIG.com who attended our Citizen Schools California 6 Degrees Bay Area event in January. I was privileged to participate in a Citizen Schools event in which 8th graders from Oakland, California got to practice their networking skills with a handful of “adults” with jobs, like me.

The whole idea was to get these kids to practice networking skills: handing out their resumes, talking about their career aspirations. Awesome!

1) Kids Like To Smile More Than Adults

Even though these 8th graders were super-nervous, they were full of smiles. I wish us adults did that more often at our professional events.

2) Kids Can Be Quite Serious About Their Careers

This guy above (on the right) walked right up to me and said:

“You are an entrepreneur. I want to invent something and start my own business. Let’s talk.”

Right on!

3) Networking Is Not Natural — It’s Downright Scary

I shook a lot of sweaty palms and most kids had a hard time looking me in the eye.

Once we broke the ice, they relaxed.

But it reminded me that we as humans are not born with the ability to network. We have to learn it.

4) Kids Dream Big But Also Within Reason

Kids I talked to said they wanted to be a:

  • Professional soccer player or wrestler
  • Lawyer
  • Psychologist
  • Fashion designer
  •  Videogame designer/tester
  • Doctor
  • Rocket Engineer
  • Cosmetologist

And the majority wanted to attend Stanford University for college!

5) Kids Work Hard & Are Committed To Getting The Job Done

These kids attend middle school until 6pm every night! They were here networking with me after 8+ hours of schooling.


Thanks again to Joe Ross, Nora Germano, Danielle Sharon and the rest of the Citizen Schools crew for helping to make this happen (and Minnie from Google for connecting us).

How An Accident Brought Out the Best in Students

Tom Anderson is a First Year Teaching Fellow and Former Teaching Associate at United for Success Academy in Oakland, CA. He has AB Negative Blood.

While helping out in a reading intervention classroom, I bumped my head rather severely on a television set twice in a span of forty minutes. I wasn’t rushed off to the hospital mainly because I had thirty-two nurses in training who assisted me. It wasn’t just the caring nature of the dedicated and passionate 6th grade students, but two of my coworkers, Darielle Davis and Mica Warton who remained cool, calm and collected during this outrageous accident.

I grabbed three napkins and tried my best to hide the blood from the students. This incident taught me that it’s not always about teaching fractions and why a comma doesn’t belong in a certain place, but that when someone falls down and gets hurt, we stand together to help them out. Our expectations at United For Success Academy are R.I.S.E. (which stands for Respect, Integrity, Scholarship and Enthusiasm). Each student showed respect by checking to see if I was okay. They showed integrity by acting like leaders and staying clam in the situation. The students showed scholarship by remaining on task with writing their 'choose your adventure' stories. And, the students demonstrated enthusiasm by remaining positive about the situation and asking if there was anything they could do to help.

Ms. Davis notified our Campus Director who took control of my classroom while I went to the health center. I was overwhelmed by thirty-two faces who were genuinely concerned for my well-being. There constant questions of, “Are you okay Mr. Anderson?,’’ made me feel cared for and showed me that there are positive lights to the end of the tunnel even if some days it doesn’t seem so.  After the Health Center cleared me to return, I rushed over to my team because I wanted to help my students and staff who quickly responded to my distress. Throughout the day, my staff made sure I was okay and in a challenging job like the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship, it’s nice that you can count on the people you work with to help make the days a little more bearable even if you happen to bonk your head on a television set because you’re too tall and lanky.

Was there a time when an unfortunate incident led to you realizing the people around you care for and support you? Share your experience here.