Student Success

Passion and Purpose celebrated at Citizen Schools New York WOW!NOW

Passion and Purpose celebrated at Citizen Schools New York WOW!NOW

On Tuesday, June 11th, Citizen Schools New York hosted our first annual WOW!NOW breakfast event. We invited all of the friends and families of Citizen Schools, including our corporate and foundation partners, our AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows and other staff members, our students and their family members, and our wonderful Citizen Teachers. The event included a showcase of our students’ great work from their semester-long apprenticeships, as well as a seated breakfast and program, during which we heard from some key members of the CS community.

Bridging Two Worlds - DACA Recipient Admitted Early to Harvard

Bridging Two Worlds - DACA Recipient Admitted Early to Harvard

An avid soccer player, Santy explained that the only reason he even heard about Menlo School, a private school in Atherton, was because of an after-school program, Citizen Schools, where he would wait out the gap of time between the end of school and the start of soccer practice and took an extracurricular course about local private school opportunities.

Harnessing the Power of Persuasive Writing to Advocate for those in Need

Jacky Bailey is a volunteer Citizen Teacher who joined Citizen Schools, after moving to the Bay Area from Australia, because she missed working with students and wanted to get to know her new community. When Bailey decided to teach an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools for the second time, she wanted to ensure her students could enact and advocate for change in the real world - and not just theoretically in the classroom.

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

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

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

Meet Brenda...

How did you create My Guided Personal Story?

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

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

How have you seen the apprenticeship impact students?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice do you have for other volunteers?

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

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

Why should people volunteer to teach students?

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

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

A Teacher's Perspective on the Expanded Learning Day

Female student smiling in front of lockersAmy Bednar is a teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here is her take on how Expanded Learning Time and Citizen Schools are impacting her school community.  How long have you been involved in the education field?

This is only my second year as a teacher at MLK. However, I have been involved in the field from a young age - always reading with elementary children, working at summer camps, working as a peer tutor in college, and volunteering with after-school programs.

What brought you to the education field?

I have always wanted to be a teacher. In every autobiography I wrote for school growing up, I wrote that I would be teaching (and illustrated myself beautifully of course!). My little brothers had to sit through countless "lessons" with me, and I loved going to work with my dad to use the copy machine. My mom is also a teacher, so I guess that rubbed off pretty well! I was always the girl who loved going to school. I am naturally curious, so everything interested me. I also had awesome teachers who went above and beyond to ensure we had what we needed to be successful. I went into teaching to instill this love of learning onto the next generation and to be as influential and inspirational to my students as my teachers were (and still are) to me. Plus, I get to continue doing what I love to do!

What are your views on expanded learning time?

As a teacher, I absolutely love it. I appreciate how Citizen Schools supports us in reinforcing important topics after school. We only have 90 minutes per day to teach, which sounds like a lot, but it most definitely is not! The students are able to get the extra attention that they need after school in a smaller class setting and expand their knowledge with extension activities. Citizen Schools also reinforces important middle school habits such as the importance of completing homework, how to develop study skills, how to set and achieve goals, and how to use an agenda. I love how the program emphasizes the same values that we hold in the first shift, so our students are really getting what they need to be successful.

How do you see the Citizen Schools program impacting your students?

The biggest impact that I see Citizen Schools having on my students is giving them the confidence they need to be successful and happy in class. However, they are not only improving their academic skills and developing study habits. They are also given opportunities to engage in activities that they would not have time to do during the regular school day, such as apprenticeships. The WOW! event is my absolute favorite night of each semester. During these events, I see my students visibly light up while presenting everything that they have learned and experienced. My students speak with such passion because they are interested in what they chose to pursue. Their preparation is evident and I can see the pride on their faces. This confidence follows them into the classroom and helps them see that they can accomplish what they put their minds to do.

"You can do it!" Meet Robert France, January's Citizen Teacher of the Month

Citizen Teacher Bob France works with students. “I’m interested in bringing the best possible hands-on experiences to as many students as possible.” 

Robert France has seen first-hand that students learn best by experiencing something new, while being supported by a mentors who believe in them. Robert began teaching in 2013 after learning about Citizen Schools through his role at SanDisk as VP of Customer Technical Support. He teamed up with a couple of colleagues to teach robotics at Joseph George Middle School in San Jose, CA. “Team teaching is great: it provides more viewpoints for the students, coverage when someone is out, and the ability to maximize hands-on time, as one person can run the lesson while the others can set-up the activities, said Robert.

We recognize Robert as the January Citizen Teacher of the Month for his dedication to teaching students and belief that every student has potential! “I believe that if [we] can excite students and show them that they can do something new, maybe that is the nudge that will change that student’s path for the better.”

Meet Robert...

What apprenticeships have you taught?

My first class as a Citizen Teacher was in 2013 teaching robotics. I just finished preparing and teaching a class on 3D printing with my team. Each student got to go through the whole process from creating an idea, to modeling in CAD on the computer, and ultimately printing in the classroom on a printer. The two most popular colors were silver and glow in the dark!

Do you have a favorite WOW! moment? Did anything surprise you about the students?

There are so many great mental “snapshots”, it’s hard to pick just one. But one that stands out was when we started printing the first student-designed object in the classroom. 3D printers make a very distinct sound and the motion is mesmerizing. Seeing the class’ reaction was really priceless. I think the reaction was partly because it is just such a cool thing to experience. But partly I believe, at least for some, that that was the point where they understood that they really did it, from concept to reality.

Why do you think it’s important to provide students with hands-on opportunities?

I am a huge believer in learning by doing. There is no better way to build confidence as you gain proficiency. You also find that there are usually a couple of failures along the way, and that is okay, too.

During the 3D printing WOW!, I was watching the printer working away and listening quietly to one of the students explaining the process. He was showing and describing the layers in the object, not just reading off of the presentation board. It was really great to hear his explanation. But I was especially excited about the idea that these WOW! moments would continue for our students beyond their presentations, and this idea is a driving force for me.

I knew that after the class was over, every time one of the students showed their 3D printed object to someone, I could just imagine the person saying something great to them like, “It is so cool that you did that!” Because that is what this is all about for me – to show these students that they can do it. Sure some things you have to work at, but they are not beyond reach. The ability to extend the WOW! moment for as long as possible, to have as many WOW!s as possible, continues to reinforce the message: you can do it!

What is one piece of advice you have for new Citizen Teachers?

Believe in the students. Do not underestimate them. Pick something you love and challenge yourself to challenge them. If you are teaching a complex topic, it will take some work to make it age and grade level appropriate. But it also gives you the richest opportunity to make the experience engaging and challenging for your entire range of students. You have many resources to help you with this, partner teachers, other Citizen Teachers, colleagues – ask for help!

Why should others volunteer to teach with Citizen Schools?

Education changes lives. Confidence changes lives.  Working with students is fun, rewarding, and occasionally a little tiring trying to keep up with all those brains. Citizen Schools and SanDisk have partnered together to make it easy to spend a little time, invest a little energy and in return have an awful lot of fun sharing something you love with some very energetic, really special students. The Teaching Fellows manage the classroom part (thank you!) so you can focus on your topic. And who knows, maybe one day, you’ll get a second thank you note, that you did in fact make a difference in someone’s life. I hope I do!

Boomerang: From Citizen Schools Student to AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow

Sophia Pompilus is a first year AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow in Boston, Massachusetts.   Like most younger siblings, I copied everything my older sister did. So when my parents enrolled her in Citizen Schools, as a copycat, I was ready to join along with her. My sister always came home excited, chatting away about all the fun she had with her Team Leader (now known as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow or School Support staff who lead instruction during what has become Citizen Schools’ expanded learning day). However, as an eight-year-old, I was too young to join Citizen Schools at the time.

Then the summer before the third grade arrived and I was finally old enough. I joined Citizen Schools in 2000 as a member of a summer day camp program. From there, I went on to be a part of the fall, spring, and summer sessions for the next four years. As a youth, I continued to enroll in the program because of all of the opportunities Citizen Schools exposed me to. I was living in such a vibrant city but was unaware of my surroundings. My Team Leaders opened up my eyes to see what was out there. My parents also really appreciated the high level of family and community engagement. They loved how my Team Leaders kept them informed of what Citizen Schools was doing and made a joint effort to shape my future. Citizen Schools greatly impacted me as a youth growing up in the Boston Public Schools, and the relationships I had with Citizen Schools staff then still continue today.

During the fall of my senior year at Georgetown University, I made the decision to apply for the AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship through Citizen Schools. I remember reflecting on all the people who had played a part in my education and I could not help but jump first to Citizen Schools. Of course, I had awesome teachers, but in schools with low funding, limited resources, and large classrooms, my teachers could not provide the one-on-one time and mentorship I had with my teachers in Citizen Schools. I knew I was lucky to have been in a program where people were committed to looking out for me, even beyond my participation in the program.

Fast forward 14 years and I now serve as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, MA. I see a lot of similarities between my students at Orchard Gardens and the younger Sophia Pompilus. I too had parents who immigrated to the United States recently. I too grew up in a large family, with parents who worked long hours. I too had nominal exposure to the city and world around me. But just like the students I teach, I too had a lot of potential to succeed academically. My Team Leaders helped me see the potential in myself, and now I can do the same for the students I serve.

As an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow I fulfill two main roles at my school. For four days a week, I partner with an amazing 6th grade science teacher to assist her classes during the school day. In this capacity, I work with a diverse group of students; some are English Language Learners, some are top scorers, some are struggling. Being able to work with a veteran teacher in the morning helps me establish credibility as a supporting adult for my students. Throughout the week, I work with a smaller group of students, mainly the English Language Learners, in order to reinforce the material their class is learning. I teach these students the same concepts the rest of the class is learning, using modified assignments in order to best accommodate them. Since the beginning of the year, I have seen students who were once wary of asking for help, reach out to me for assistance in any situation.

In the afternoon during Citizen Schools, I also work as my campus' Student Engagement Lead (SEL). I support other AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows with behavior management by running our school’s Step Up Room, where students go when they need to be refocused or redirected. Our students are in school for 10 hours a day and there are many underlying things going on in their lives. Oftentimes, this results in a lack of focus as the day goes on. As a SEL, I am a counselor for the students, helping them think through the challenges they face and guiding them in finding solutions. My room is an open and safe space where students can advocate for themselves regarding issues happening in and out of the school.

The students I serve are rapidly developing, revealing personality traits I didn’t even know existed two months ago. I get to hear about their interests, their fears, their goals, their families, their pets, you name it. Hearing about these their lives reminds me of why I was so eager to join Citizen Schools as an eight-year-old, and today, these are the same things that motivate me each day I wake up for work.

Join Sophia as an AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellow! Apply here!


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.”

North Carolina Students WOW! the Crowds

A Neal Middle School student shows offs his golf swing What happens when middle school students present to a group of adults on topics like the physics behind a golf swing, how to invest  in the stock market, or how to launch a rocket? Chances are, they won’t just be impressed, but they will say “WOW!” From top executives of major companies to parents and teachers, the adults that fill the room at the culminating WOW! events are consistently blown away by what students have learned with volunteer “Citizen Teachers” over the course of a semester in Citizen Schools.

This spring things were no different at three schools in North Carolina...

Students from Citizen Schools’ three North Carolina partner schools in Durham and Charlotte presented what they learned throughout the semester to over 800 guests including a member of Senator Richard Burr’s office. They might have been a little nervous, but it didn’t show. With confidence, they demonstrated how a robot operates, how a computer works, and their design for an air quality sensor that will be used in the community.

After the Lowe’s Grove WOW!, one parent commented, “Our son has received more educational and real life experience than we could have imagined…[He] was able to meet various professionals in different industries from biologists to electrical engineers ... We believe this will help him diversify his outlook on what field he would like to pursue in college."

The true “WOW!” moments are when students wow themselves, like when Angie and Tyresse from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Charlotte shared  essays they wrote on their hopes and goals for the future:

Angie, a Martin Luther King, Jr. 6th grader, speaks at the school's WOW!

“When I grow up I want to be a crime scene investigator. I know I will impact the world in so many different ways. All the children in the world will be someone when they grow up,” said 6th grader Angie.

"My dream is to become a psychologist and help people who have a disorder. I believe those who are Autistic are born with a gift. Autistic people will show the world that they are smart, genius people who can do anything in the world," said 7th grader Tyresse.

And just like that, an aspiring  crime scene investigator and psychologist are on their way to making a difference in their communities.

These are just a few of the many moments that keep volunteers coming back to work with middle school students in North Carolina, and across the country. Sign up to volunteer this semester and see for yourself, that all students are capable of amazing you.



Expanded Learning Time Panel Discusses How Community Partners Can Make an Impact for Students "Extended learning may be the only reason some young people come to school." - Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education.

On May 19, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a panel, All Hands on Deck: How Expanded Learning Time Schools and Community Partnerships Work Together to Improve Outcomes for Students, to discuss how expanded learning time (ELT) and community partnerships can create a positive impact for students and schools.

The event featured remarks from Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President of Policy at CAP, and Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder and President of the National Center of Time and Learning, and included Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, Megan Bird, Managing Director of Program for Citizen Schools Massachusetts, Chris Caruso, ExpandED Schools Senior Vice President, and Kerri Ayn Seow,  Third Grade Teacher, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School.

The panelists discussed how community organizations, such as Citizen Schools, have partnered closely with schools and their administration to make an impact for students, teachers, and the community at large with an expanded day. The additional hours allow for more time for academics, more enriching activities, and more time for teacher collaboration and planning.

"ELT gives me the chance to teach what I wasn't able to during class and the extra activities enrich my lessons," Kerri Ayn Seow.

Read more about the event here.



How Volunteering Can Change the Lives of Students in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 


Volunteer Impact: Take It From The Pros

Every semester as we gear up for our apprenticeship classes to start, we prepare our volunteers to take on a role much different from their jobs as engineers, computer programmers, lawyers and bankers. We get them ready to take on the challenge of being a Citizen Teacher-- and opening a lifetime of opportunities for middle school students across the country. As we train our volunteers, they repeatedly hear from us about the incredible transformation that happens during the apprenticeship experience. This time, don't take it from us. Take it from the pros,  the Citizen Teachers who have witnessed the impact firsthand...

"Seeing the students too scared or shy to stand up in class on the first day, to seeing the students stand in front of judges, a jury and a packed courtroom with confidence is the story that lends this program to such great success."

- Jeremy Eisemann, Liberty Mutual, MA


"Starting with a disruptive and somewhat disinterested student at the beginning of the course and seeing him become one of the most engaged students by the end of it, was very special. It took some effort and didn't happen over night, but it did show the value of persistence and not taking things personally when the initial attempts did not work."

- Darren Schulz, Pfizer, NJ

"It gave me great joy and encouragement when students picked up on new and tricky concepts and retained the information! They encouraged me to challenge them and challenge myself as well."

-Lauren Yager, Memorial Hermann, TX

"We had one student in particular that was more of a handful than others. We worried that he didn't take things seriously, that he didn't want to be in our apprenticeship and that we might not even be able to include him in the WOW! at the end of it all. Then when the WOW! came he was able to relay so much more information to adults asking him difficult questions about the apprenticeship. Turns out the whole time we had this brilliant young mind absorbing this information just waiting for an opportunity to show it off. This leads me to wonder how many more diamonds in the rough we have out there. I have been a pessimist about the state of our future, particularly when it came to our education. Now when I have these feelings I think of this student. I think of how our hard work and dedication to these children will lead to more of these "WOW" moments."

Christopher Otto, ExpressJet Airlines, IL

"The first day of the apprenticeship, the kids were a little wary. One girl in particular was a little standoffish -- as if she were thinking, "this is kind of nerdy, I'm not sure it's cool enough for me." By the second week, she was totally engaged. And now she's one of the most enthusiastic kids -- with the zeal of a convert."

Robert Cassels, Google, MA

Ernst & Young LLC Apprenticeship at Yankee Stadium

"One of our students has special needs and is constantly bullied and jeered at. With some coaxing and special attention, he really was able to show how smart he is. He's putting together the bulk of the presentation for his team and is really proud that he can showcase his work - even if he's too shy to say so."

Suanne Li, Ernst & Young LLP, NY

"Witnessing the shyest, sometimes most troublesome kids in the class suddenly transform themselves into public speakers for a school newspaper. Feeling empowered and trusted by Citizen Schools staff and DeVargas Middle School staff to come into the school to play my part in helping the kids achieve in the apprenticeship. Walking down the halls at lunch time and hearing the kids call out my name as if they were happy to see me. Watching the kids who said they couldn't do it, actually do it."

Robert Nott, Santa Fe  New Mexican, NM

So there you have it. Teaching an apprenticeship changes lives. Want to see for yourself? Fill out this form today.

Longitudinal Study Shows Promising Results in Charlotte

Think back to your first day of 6th grade. You were probably brand new to middle school–trying to find your classrooms, looking for familiar faces, trying not to get squashed by one of the big 8th graders. Six years ago, Mary Espinosa was one of those kids. But she wasn't just any new middle schooler. She came from an immigrant family that was brand new to Charlotte, North Carolina and starting middle school in an unfamiliar, lower-income neighborhood.

After a year of making new friends and meeting students from Spanish speaking households, one- parent households and all types of families, she joined a program called Citizen Schools in 7th grade. Her experiences there helped shape her trajectory–and that of her peers.

Citizen Schools was also brand new to Charlotte when Mary signed up, and its leadership hoped that its model would be as transformative here as it had been in Boston, where it was founded in 1995. The district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), has defined its goal of achieving a 90% high school graduation rate by 2014 (compared to 75% in 2012). To accomplish that, it partners with a variety of programs. Citizen Schools is one.

Mary's High School Graduation

Mary and her fellow Eastway Middle School students stayed after school to experience academic support, caring mentors, and Citizen Schools’ signature enrichment opportunities–apprenticeships. Professionals from community companies like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft come to the schools to lead projects in a range of skills, helping kids discover new career paths and set goals for the next stage of their lives.

Now, the question for Citizen Schools and the district is “Did it work?” Can we tell if participating in a given program has had an impact on children’s lives, and how long does that impact last?

Answering this notoriously difficult question requires investing in a rigorous form of evaluation called a longitudinal study. Citizen Schools looked at its oldest cohort of alumni in Charlotte and their peers–more than 600 students. With additional data provided by CMS, we were then able to match the Citizen Schools participants to peers who were similar to them demographically but did not participate in the Citizen Schools program. This gave us the opportunity to measure the impact of Citizen Schools during middle school, as well as to and through high school.

Here’s what we learned.

Engagement and Achievement

Overall, across all cohorts, Citizen Schools participants had fewer absences during the Citizen Schools program year. Citizen Schools 7th grade participants identified as academically at-risk the year prior to Citizen Schools participation were 15 percentage points more likely to score proficient in Math in 7th grade than their matched peers. Hispanic Citizen Schools’ participants achieved a Math proficiency rate of 80% during their program years of participation in Citizen Schools–a rate 20 percentage points higher than their matched peers. 

In high school, Citizen Schools participants consistently scored higher and had a greater proportion pass the End-Of-Course exams than their matched peers, increasing their likelihood of on-time high school graduation and college readiness.

Charlotte Data


In middle school and high school, Mary and her Citizen Schools classmates actually got more education. They had a higher attendance rate than matched peers, reducing absenteeism by an average of 49% in 9th and 10th grade. They also had fewer out-of-school suspensions. In 9th grade, for example, the cohort had zero suspensions, compared to an average of 1.5 suspended days for matched peers.

In addition to engagement, the Citizen Schools alumni had impressive academic achievement. In 8th grade, the cohort achieved a Math End-of-Grade (EOG) proficiency rate 15 percentage points higher than matched peers, and 8.3 percentage points higher in Reading. Continuing that culture of achievement in high school, the cohort achieved an Algebra I End-of-Course (EOC) proficiency rate 20% points higher than matched peers, and 4.9% points higher on the English I EOC as well.

Higher Education

What accounts for this difference? Ask Mary, and she’ll tell you that her dedication to working hard stems from a dream she discovered in 8th grade, as part of Citizen Schools 8th Grade Academy (8GA). As she writes in this essay for Citizen Schools’ inspirED blog, as a young child she never considered the possibility of college. No one in her family had, and she figured it would be too expensive anyway.

But during 8GA, she went on a number of college tours, learned about financial aid and scholarships, and started to realize that college could be within her reach with hard work and determination. She wanted to be the first person in her family to go college, and now, she is. Mary is one of 46% of the first CMS Citizen Schools cohort who have seamlessly enrolled in college in fall 2012. This rate surpasses the national average of 40% for students of all income levels.

Half of these Citizen Schools alumni are currently enrolled at 4-year colleges, including excellent in-state schools such as UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte (where Mary attends), North Carolina A&T State University, and similarly strong out-of-state schools such as Howard University. The other half are currently enrolled at 2-year colleges, with the large majority enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte (CPCC)–a nationally recognized community college. Statewide in North Carolina, nearly 40% of students that earned a 4-year college or university degree last year had previously attended a 2-year college like CPCC. Nationally, fewer than 10% of low-income students earn a degree by age 25.

Mary and the other Citizen Schools alumni are on their way to that top ten. Mary considers herself to be one of the lucky ones. This year, when she was volunteering with a local youth group, she saw other kids like herself. She realized that they don’t usually hear someone say that they can go to college in the future, and she used her own life story to change that expectation. “After Citizen Schools, I definitely felt like I could go to college,” she said. “Giving us that mentality was very empowering.”

This data tells a compelling story about the effectiveness of programs that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is working with to ensure that all of its students graduate from high school. It is, however, early data on a small set of students. It will take sustained commitment from every teacher, parent, and community member to help Citizen Schools students and their peers stay on track, attending school more regularly, staying out of trouble, and achieving at higher rates.

Mary’s advice to current Charlotte students is simple. “Pay attention, work hard, and keep your eyes on the prize.” Mary and the first Citizen Schools cohort in Charlotte are not only beating the odds. They’re fundamentally changing the equation and closing the achievement gap through high school and into college. This data shows that there is hope for even more kids to do the same.

How this Citizen Schools Alumnus is Beating the Odds

Mary Espinosa is a first year student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). She is an alumnus of Citizen Schools North Carolina. In middle school I didn’t quite realize the situation my peers and I were in. We were first generation Americans in a low-income community. I always knew that some families weren’t from the United States, but at that age I didn’t realize the importance of it.

I was born in California to Mexican parents. We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in sixth grade where I attended Eastway Middle School. Eastway had a program in the afternoon called Citizen Schools. A lot of my friends were in the program and having fun so I decided to join in seventh grade.

Mary Espinosa

I loved Citizen Schools! I really liked the apprenticeships. They gave me the opportunity to branch out and try new things that I wouldn’t normally try. I’m not very artistic, but the art apprenticeship was my favorite. We painted a huge mural in the school cafeteria which is still there today.

The most meaningful part of Citizen Schools that really changed my life came in eighth grade. In 8th Grade Academy (8GA) we went on college tours all around the state. It was a really valuable experience at such a young age. Learning about college in middle school gave me an idea of what to expect. Going to real colleges motivated me to stay in school and work toward becoming the first person in my family to go to college.

A little over two years ago I co-founded a local youth group and it hit me. The kids we worked with couldn’t afford to go college and didn’t think they could attend. Just like some of the kids at Eastway.

I was one of the lucky ones. After Citizen Schools I definitely felt like I could go to college. Giving us that mentality was very empowering.  I saw the same thing with the youth I worked with. These kids don’t hear that very often. I’m personally glad that I heard it because when I was younger I remember thinking that I couldn’t go to college because it was too expensive. Citizen Schools really helped me reconsider that thought and made me believe that I could.

High School Graduation

Now I’m a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I am the first person in my family to go to college. My parents are from Mexico and they moved to the United States before I was born. It was a huge deal to them and they’re really proud of me. I have three younger sisters and now I am setting the right example for them.

I am majoring in social work and considering going to law school. I want to help kids who come from immigrant parents have access to college. I do a lot of community work and a lot of organizing around immigrants. I think that if I go into law, I will have a chance to more directly impact the lives of these young people by helping them get into college so that they can work and contribute to the economy and the country.

My message to Citizen Schools students everywhere is to take advantage of the program. Every time you visit a college campus you have to think, “I can be here in a couple of years.” Pay attention, work hard and keep your eyes on the prize. You have to fight the odds. It’s about moving forward and being able to educate yourself. Prove everyone wrong who said, “You can’t do it,” because you can.

Why Kids Don't Hate Citizen Schools

Our education friends are buzzing about a provocative manifesto that Valerie Strauss posted on her blog recently. The artificial intelligence pioneer Roger Schank blasts every traditional school subject as being "a complete waste of time." "Every single subject taught in high school is a mistake," he cries.

It's a fun read, and I understand why a teacher who has devoted her life to teaching high school chemistry might find the premise hard to stomach. But at Citizen Schools, we've seen that he has a point-- at least as far as what really excites students.

1. Chemistry. Schank doesn't believe kids should be forced to memorize things they'll never use in their daily lives, like the periodic table. I know I've never used it and I got an A in chemistry. But when taught in a practical environment, chemistry can be extremely worthwhile. Middle school students in New York learned how to become forensic scientists in a "CSI" apprenticeship. They collected samples of chemicals from a fictional crime scene and tested them for evidence. Chemists examine the interactions between substances and make hypotheses. That's exactly what the students learned to do in CSI, without memorizing NaCl or NH3.

2. History. Schank believes that history textbooks tell a biased version of the facts. Sometimes they do. But looking to history is a great way to address modern issues. In an apprenticeship called "Champions for Change," students research an issue affecting their community such as poverty, racism or illiteracy. In doing so, they learn from the mistakes of the past and work on finding practical solutions. Instead of just reading about history, they're actually preventing it from repeating itself.

3. English. Schank is not a fan of book reports or term papers. He is however, a fan of learning how to write well. I was the random kid who happened to love writing papers, but I much preferred writing on topics I truly cared about. Kids can become excellent writers by producing a school newspaper like they did in Henderson, North Carolina in an apprenticeship called "Hot Off the Press." Led by the editor of their local newspaper, they got to practice writing every day and produce something meaningful while doing so.

4. Biology. Schank sees this subject as one worth knowing, but the way they teach it in high school, "can't get any sillier." Instead of amoebas and dissections, he recommends teaching kids how to take care of their bodies and how to stay healthy. The National Institute of Environment Health Sciences teamed up with Citizen Schools to lead an apprenticeship called "Happy Lungs, Happy Living." The kids took a deep dive into the human respiratory system and learned how the lungs are effected by the environment. That is definitely worth knowing.

5. Economics. "This subject in high school is beyond silly. Professional economists don’t really understand economics," Schank says. But learning how to balance a checkbook and how to set a personal budget are definitely important lessons. A group of students in Massachusetts became money savvy in an apprenticeship called "Invest Like a Millionaire" led by Fidelity Investments. They learned the fundamentals of budgeting and how to spend smartly. I had to learn that the hard way.

6. Physics. Even Schank recognizes that we use physics every day of our lives. But he says the right things just aren't being taught. He said, "The Wright Brothers did not have any theory of flight. They simply tinkered with stuff until their plane flew."  Speaking of tinkering, kids in California did the same with kites until they flew in an aerodynamics apprenticeship led by IBM.  Just like the Wright Brothers, they saw physics instead of memorizing it. 

Now, none of this necessarily means that traditional academic subjects are irrelevant. The chemists we know love the periodic table, and use it and other things they memorized for reference and inspiration. But what motivates a professional is different than what motivates a student. And the motivation comes from the real world, not just from textbooks. Do you think academic subjects are obsolete?

Student Success Depends on Hope

The 2011 Student Gallup Poll revealed a shocking reality about American kids. Only 54% of students have hope that their future will be better than the present. The poll surveyed approximately 1 million children from grades 5 through 12 from 2009 to 2011. The poll defines student "hope" as the belief that "the future will be better than the present, and that they have the power to make it so."

According to Gallup, hope is a better predictor of student success in college than a high school GPA or even ACT and SAT scores.

Yesterday's Education Week article takes a closer look at Gallup's measurement of student hope and engagement and their effect on academic achievement.

To measure engagement the poll asked kids to what extent "they feel safe, important, and acknowledged in their classrooms." According to the article, overall engagement was high.

However, a significant dip in engagement takes place in middle school. Shane Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup, said students feel less valued and recognized in middle school than in the younger grades.

Perhaps most notable from the article is that according to Lopez, student hope has almost no correlation to family income. Regardless of socioeconomic status, only half of American students believe that they have what it takes to be successful in the future. What happened to hope? Where are the dreamers?

Hope is vital to a student in middle school, which is arguably the most critical time for kids to be engaged and excited about learning. Poor kids might not even realize what they are up against. As middle and upper class kids experience sports, camps and enrichment programs they have a chance to build up their hopes and dreams for the future. But for poor kids who don't have the same opportunities, what will become of them?

Kids need mentors. Kids need more time to learn in an active, hands-on environment. Kids need to get their hands dirty. They can't hope or dream something if they can't see it. By providing all students with more access to caring, successful adults and changing the look and feel of the school day, American kids can find the hope they've been missing. Hope, after all, is what this country was founded on. We can't give up on it.

Tennis Camp to CEO: Learning Success

Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, didn't always like school. In fact, he didn't like it at all during middle school. When I heard my boss say at our summer training sessions that at one point he didn’t even like school, I had to pause and make sure my ears weren’t clogged. This is the man who founded Citizen Schools, and he didn’t even like middle school? What?! His story that followed made me understand…

Let's go back a few years to 13-year-old Eric. It was August and the end of summer gloom was drawing near. He hated school at that point. One day while dreading going back, Eric got a letter from his camp councelor. It was a hand-written note that began, "Eric, your serve is wicked good."

13 year-old-Eric had gone to tennis camp that summer and now he had this badge of honor bragging about his talent. It was filled with praise and memories of a great summer experience.

That letter made young Eric feel good. He kept it in a wallet for a long time and read it often. After spending hours with his counselor, here was proof that his time paid off. He learned what a good backhand and serve felt like, and that muscle memory stayed with him.

In retrospect, it did something much bigger than that. It described an experience of developing the muscle memory of success. It wasn't just the physical memory of how to complete the perfect serve, but the memory of what success feels like. It was the feeling he hadn't gotten at school.

Young Eric never forgot that muscle memory, and it took him through summer jobs, internships and well into his adult career.

In his upcoming book, Eric Schwarz will tell stories like this one, reflecting on his childhood and the dazzling array of opportunities he had to flex his success muscles. As he pointed out in his recent response to David Brooks’ Opportunity Gap article, these types of opportunities that are available to middle class kids are widening the divide between families that have, and families that have not.  Struggling in middle school is common but, tennis camp, clubs and internships are not.

After hearing that story I saw how Citizen Schools gives kids the chance to develop that muscle memory of success while giving them more time at the end of school day. They develop social skills and social networks while experiencing multiple chances to be successful with successful adults.

Eric’s story made me remember that there was a time when I hated middle school too. But after joining the chorus, running track and acting in the school play, I left 8th grade loving school and loving life. I might not ever have a "wicked serve" in tennis, but I got to experience success and I liked how it felt. I carried that feeling with me through high school, college and to Citizen Schools where I watched our students stretch and grow that same muscle in their apprenticeships and academic support sessions.  Citizen Schools can help the 13-year-old Erics, and all students see what success feels like.

Now in August of 2012 the "back to school gloom" is here again. This semester you can be the one to help a child who might not like middle school stretch and grow those muscles. Teach an apprenticeship and show kids what makes you successful. There is still time to sign up for the fall semester and make a difference in closing the gap.