Coding: The Building Blocks of Imagination!

Citizen Teachers While many middle schoolers love to play Mario Kart, Legend of Zelda, and Angry Birds, not many get to play video games they designed themselves. Neither had the students at Edison Middle School until they took “Video Game Design” with Roger Pease. “All of them had used computers before, but not many of them had ever been exposed to computer programming. I wanted to show them that it was accessible,” Pease said.

Pease, who works as an embedded program developer at software company Enbase LLC, taught the students how to program their own version of Frogger, a popular 1981 arcade game in which the player helps a frog cross a highway and a river to get to safety while avoiding oncoming cars, logs, or alligators.

“We chose Frogger because it involved a number of different aspects (of programming) but wasn’t too complicated,” he said.

Pretty soon, the students wanted to do more than move the frog back and forth.

“Some kids wanted to create a chess game or replicate the Game of Life. I would tell them that it was a great idea and that they could do it someday.”

So how did Roger transform these middle school students into tech-savvy game designers?

It was not always an easy journey, especially since he only had one assistant, an AmeriCorps teaching fellow, to help him teach the class.

“When you teach computers you have to be really detail oriented and sometimes you say something in a way kids don’t understand. It was hard not to have another person who understood the material there to correct me.”

About halfway through the apprenticeship though, the students were creating their own virtual worlds. The setting for the original Frogger is the highway, the river, and a bare patch of green in between. They decided to revamp the landscape by making extra ponds and trees to dot the blank scene. When trees and ponds became too basic, they moved on to creating new characters and new cars (Ferarris, of course!)

One environmentally conscious student, who was tired of the streets and roads, even changed the entire highway scene to create a dirt path with bikes! These students were building their own worlds not with bricks and mortar, but with JavaScript and HTML.

Sometimes though, students mastered codes and commands without the help of a teacher! And sometimes, they even discovered something that wasn’t part of the curriculum to begin with!

“One girl had figured out how to make the cars move in different directions. I hadn’t even taught her that. She learned it just from paying attention!”

Of course, when learning something that is so technical and detail oriented, it is always helpful to have a helpful and understanding mentor.

“Patience and kindness flowed out of him easily, and never have I ever seen him frustrated with a child. He would sit down with each of them, take his time to explain if they were having trouble, and kept them on track with the goal of the apprenticeship,” said Helen Tai, the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow who taught the class alongside Pease.

Pease’s secret to mentoring middle school students: stay the course and don’t expect a reward right away.

“They’re not automatically going to be excited about things as you may be. Many may decide that computer science isn’t for them, but I wanted to show them that it was something they could do.” Please join us in congratulating Roger Pease as Citizen Teacher of the month.

From 6th Graders to CEOs

Citizen schoolsDo you remember when you first learned what a budget is? It probably wasn’t in school and it might not have been until you were presented with a situation where you needed to know how to manage one. Students are often unprepared to deal with the finances and economic realities they face as they enter adulthood. Even adults are often unaware of how to best manage their finances. Greg Crowe wants to change that. As a senior vice president at Wells Fargo and a veteran banker, Greg knew it was important to pass his financial knowledge onto his sons as they were growing up. “I knew I wanted to share this with more kids though. We’re faced with learning about financial planning when we get into the real-world. Young people can encounter difficulties if they don’t learn it at an early age. It’s not rocket science; it’s a lack of knowledge,” said Crowe.

This spring Greg is teaching the “Your Financial Future” apprenticeship to a class of sixth graders at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston, TX. Students are learning the ins and outs of balancing a budget and are given real-world challenges each week.

“I wanted an authentic scenario as our basis for teaching the financial literacy curriculum,” said Greg. “We began with each student representing a four-member household. They were given a job, weekly salary, house, car, and set expenses. We outlined a one month cash flow, noting what funds were fixed and what was discretionary.”

He adds, “They also had options such as choosing a fancy car or a premium TV package. We then encouraged them to think of the future and see how much they could save if they planned ahead. The students quickly began to understand the purpose of a budget.”

By providing the students with relatable scenarios, they were already gaining the concept of planning and budgeting after the first few classes. They also apply their math skills during Greg’s weekly challenges. They have had to figure out gas allowances based on their weekly mileage, decide whether they could afford a trip to Disney World and plan for a weekly grocery shopping trip based on their needs and wants.

“My goal in teaching this course was go beyond teaching the students financial planning, but getting them to really think about spending and appreciating money rather than focusing on their desires like a new pair of shoes,” said Greg. “The students have a short attention span though so I try to use different tactics to emphasize the same point from a new angle.”

Half way through the semester, he transitioned the class from focusing on a family’s budget to a company’s budget. “In this scenario, each student is a CEO. Everyone has the same hypothetical company, which in our case is an oil company. We gave them a cash flow for the first three months of the year and projections of what’s to come in the next quarter and what’s happening in the industry.”

Greg took what was presented in their personal budget management and is creating new challenges as they further grasp the concepts. “We told the students that their cash flow is dwindling and they will be expecting a call from their banker soon concerning the repayment of a loan. The students have to think of ways to convince the banker that they will be able to repay the loan. They roleplay with one student playing the role of CEO and one as the banker in this challenge. They sit in the room negotiating, the banker gives objections, and the CEO has to confidently present three ideas to ultimately save the company,” said Greg.

The students are not only grasping essential financial concepts to apply to their personal lives and a business environment, but they are also practicing their math skills and learning negotiation tactics. The students will enter seventh grade already transformed into financial advisors, ready to help a family or company balance their finances utilizing their budgeting skills learned in the class. For their final challenge the students will advise their families, teachers, and peers on budgeting and planning for the future during their WOW! event next month.

Campus Director Spotlight: Q&A with Matt Wheeler from Citizen Schools Texas

mattwheelerMatt Wheeler is Campus Director at the Edison Middle School in Houston, TX As a Campus Director, Matt ensures students have a quality Extended Learning Time program that offers many different authentic academic experiences. Which is a multi-dimensional task and requires flexibility. Matt is in his second year as a Campus Director, currently leading a team of three Citizen Schools staff members.

What brought you to Citizen Schools?

It was the apprenticeships. In the education field you hear of authentic activities and authentic assessments stressed as instructional practices and how powerful they are for student achievement. When looking at the different program elements that Citizen Schools offered, I thought to myself that this is authenticity in the classroom. As a former classroom teacher, I strove to create authentic opportunities for students but often found it difficult to do so frequently primarily due to the lack resources available. Citizen Schools provides teachers and students with the resources, the expertise through Citizen Teachers, and the planning and structure through the driven Team Leaders (Americorps National Teaching Fellows and School Support Staff) to create these powerful and authentic opportunities for our shared students.

What has working here meant to you?

Working here has meant learning to serve our students through supporting my Americorps National Teaching Fellow campus team. Whether it be supporting them logistically, operationally, instructionally, or simply listening to them during our one-on-one meetings, I have learned that when I do everything I can to support their needs, they are better able to serve our students.

What was your biggest achievement since you began working here?

My biggest achievement is a collection of the many fascinating and powerful observations I have seen as a result of the Citizen Schools program on my campus. Some of these include seeing 6th -graders creating electrical circuits and intelligently discussing ohms with a NASA engineer, watching a group of students finish a 5k run and receive medals, and playing a computer game created by 6th graders. These are simply a few of the apprenticeships and examples that I have had the opportunity to be a part of at Citizen Schools. An exhaustive list would be impossible because it would also include numerous, less noticeable, but equally important, moments. Such as seeing a father’s pride as his son received a value star award from an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow or a student frequently checking his tie because he wants to look as professional as possible before sharing what he learned in his apprenticeship with his parents and community members.

What are you looking forward to in your next 6 months at work?

I am looking forward to Edison Middle School’s next WOW! event. Students finally saw what it meant, the exposition of what they learned, and the celebration with their families at the December WOW!. Now, everyone from the school community - the schools’ staff, Citizen Schools’ staff, students, families, and I - are all looking forward to the students showcasing what they’ve learned at the end of the semester at the WOW!


Citizen Schools Texas Fills in the Blanks of Student Success at Luncheon

Citizen Schools CEO, Steven Rothstein with student speaker, Michael As 8th grader, Michael, stepped away from the podium at the conclusion of his speech, a roar of applause could be heard throughout the venue. He was the student speaker at the Citizen Schools’ Texas Grad Libs Luncheon: Filling in the Blanks for Student Success. Melba Navejar followed with an equally moving account about the impact that Citizen Schools has had on her son, Sebastian. See the full speech below.

Held at the Junior League of Houston on November 11, 2014, the luncheon was a tremendous success! Steven Rothstein, Citizen Schools CEO flew in from Boston to share his vision for the organization’s future with the 300 guests in attendance. The event was an inspiring demonstration of Citizen Schools' incredible impact and a look at its continued efforts.

Texas luncheon slideshow photo_bigger

A special thank you to our luncheon co-chairs and principal sponsors: Abbi and Rob Antablin, Anne and Andy Calder, Sharman and Derek Wilson, Bobbie Nau/Liz Stepanian and Silver Eagle Distributors, Nicole and Jim Perdue, Perry Homes, Selwyn Rayzor and Rick Moses. A heartfelt thanks to all of the individuals and organizations who gave generously to help us raise more than $125,000 to support our efforts in closing the educational and opportunity gap for Houston middle school students.

Parent speaker, Melba, addresses the crowd

Melba's remarks:

I wish to begin by briefly describing Sebastian as he was in elementary school. As a result of his being an only child, Sebastian grew into a very shy boy. By nature of him spending a lot of time by himself, he would tend to isolate himself in school. He also acquired the habit of moving at his own pace, and doing things on his own time-frame.


The summer before Sebastian went to middle school, I sat him down for one of those talks. I wanted to prepare him for the transition to middle school. Most specifically, I wanted to warn him that the differences between elementary and middle school could be somewhat traumatic for a student his age.


To be honest, I was preparing myself for the transition as well. Watching Sebastian as he readied to leave the comfort and familiarity of elementary school and set-sail for the great unknown of Middle School raised a lot of apprehension.


As a parent, I believe we all have some fears that we always carry with us when it comes to our children. I was constantly worried that Sebastian would be bullied when he went to Middle School.


I became more at ease when we both attended an orientation at Jackson. During the orientation, it was touched upon that JMS was anti-bullying school. Hearing that definitely put my worries to rest.


It was also at this orientation that the school mentioned some of its programs that provide students with a variety of experiences. One of these programs specifically for 6th graders was Citizen Schools. We raised our hand to request a brochure, I looked it over, and told Sebastian that this was the program for us.


Right away I could see that my son would benefit from being a part of Citizen Schools. I’ve always reminded Sebastian how important it is to be involved in all kinds of activities at school. I believe that the more included a student feels, the more likely they are to excel. Students with commitments tend to stay busy, keep out of trouble, and ultimately become a better, more involved people.


This is precisely what Citizen Schools has done for Sebastian. Upon enrolling, we instantly gained five more adults that were committed to ensuring his success. I know that if I ever need an additional copy of his report card, I can call the CS office, and someone will take care of it.


I also rely on CS as a means to communicate with other Jackson teachers. I believe in the old saying, now more than ever, that it takes a village to raise a child. My village is made up of Citizen Schools, Jackson teachers, and of course, my family. We work as a community to ensure Sebastian is able to achieve the utmost success.


More than just helping Sebastian to feel like he belonged, Citizen Schools has helped Sebastian come out of his shell, and find what areas he excels in. The first apprenticeship Sebastian joined was “So You Think You Can Dance.” Sebastian decided to brave this class made up of mostly girls because he wanted to improve his agility for football next season. And it worked! He is one of few 7th graders that played for the 8th grade team!


After dance came Mock Trial. Sebastian put on his best suit and traveled with his class to South Texas College of Law to state his arguments declaring why his client Veronica was actually innocent, despite what Betty had to say on the matter.


Watching him practice diligently for both of his apprenticeships has made all of the difference. The seriousness he applied to both dance and Mock Trial, Moving Making and CSTEM have done so much for him. This was confirmed again for Sebastian when he took home a  prize at the national CSTEM Challenge. Not only has he come out of his comfort zone and has found multiple categories in which he excels, but he also began practicing the life-long cycle of working hard and getting results.


As a mother, I am very in-tune with Sebastian and all the ways he changes from day to day, year to year. It is when others begin to notice, that I know we’re really on to something here. Sebastian’s teachers began to approach me and ask what we were doing differently. Not only had he begun taking more positive risks in class, but he was becoming more focused and more studious.


This summer Sebastian attended a week-long summer camp session at Chinquapin Preparatory.  If you would have asked me if I thought this possible in the summer of 2013, my answer would have most certainly been no. Ask me now that he’s in 7th grade, and I’ll tell you we’re getting ready to apply to magnet high-schools.


Through his continued involvement with Citizen Schools, Sebastian has taken risks, experienced success, felt supported--and we’re not stopping. Stay tuned to see how my son continues to forge a path of success--bringing others along with him as he goes.


While I can only speak on behalf of my own son, I know my story is not the only one of its kind. There are stories of students just like Sebastian happening in other schools in HISD and across the nation. But let’s not get comfortable. As a parent, I want more and more students to be able to access Citizen Schools so that their parents may too have an opportunity to brag about their children like I am today.


Thank you for your time.



NASA Volunteer Demystifies the World for Houston Students

6196461465_0204ebf89d_oDr. Baraquiel Reyna likes to make the world a little less mysterious. The Houston-based Citizen Teacher teaches “Wired Up,” an apprenticeship course about electricity and electronics. Every semester he demonstrates how simple adjustments to a helicopter motor can make a flashlight illuminate or a flying saucer fly. He always hears a resounding “Wow, that’s so cool!” from the students when he demonstrates this for the first time. And just like that the world is a little less mysterious. Dr. Reyna, Deputy Manager of Exploration Medical Capability at NASA, was recently recognized as the 2014 HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference) Most Promising Engineer at the Great Minds in STEM Conference, in part for his efforts to teach Houston middle schoolers about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) through Citizen Schools. For Dr. Reyna, volunteering with the organization centers on showing the class the possibilities that exist within electricity and their futures.

“Growing up in Houston, I had the benefit of all of my peers being the sons and daughters of ExxonMobil engineers. From a role model perspective, I had access to plenty of individuals who showed me what was possible and available,” said Dr. Reyna. “Students who are lower on the socio-economic scale and don’t have access to those role models don’t know they can grow up to work at NASA. I want to be a real-world role model and show students that someone who looks and talks like them can work at NASA.”

At the same time, Dr. Reyna recognizes that this role is not easy. Though teaching a class of middle schoolers can present challenges, he has worked to engage his audience by incorporating different kinds of learning activities including lessons that appeal to auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners. “Taking an abstract thought and showing it physically only reinforces the lesson. The more senses you can use the better you will retain information.”

And it’s not only about the students retaining the information now but also having the tools to follow up on their interests after the apprenticeship is over. “I’ve had to evolve my content to make sure that I was appealing to students’ interests while making sure that students understand how to grow their interests and what they need to do to take that interest to the next step.”

We congratulate Dr. Reyna on his HENAACC award and thank him for taking some of the mysteries out of life for Houston middle schoolers by showing them what’s possible.

Making Sure Students Succeed By Serving

Malcolm Morse is a first year Teaching Fellow in Houston, Texas.  americorp_logo20I count myself lucky. I always had people around me who inspired me, people who I looked up to and admired. I participated in activities like Boy Scouts and church choir that put me around older people who were successful and hard working. I remember thinking, if this is working for them, it can work for me. But not all kids have the same opportunities and I have friends who didn’t have the same level of support, who weren’t as fortunate.

That’s why I like what we’re doing at Citizen Schools in the AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship. The choice to take school seriously and make it something that you can use to better your future happens at a young age. We’re here to make sure it happens for our students during those very important middle school years.

Some people might shy away from it, but I wanted to be with the 6th graders. There are definitely some tough days where the kids will push your buttons, but they are so malleable at that age. I was fortunate enough to have positive influences outside of school when I was their age but, I didn’t have any young, cool teachers who cared about me in school. That connection is important when you’re trying to get them excited about their education. Just by getting to be with them every day at school and building connections with them is doing a huge service.

Winter WOW! 2013 067As a Teaching Fellow, we have several jobs in one. We teach lessons, manage behavior, mentor, counsel, analyze data, support other teachers, and more. Now I understand and respect the plight of the teacher because there is so much work to do, but you can see the impact in small ways every day.

In the mock trial apprenticeship I helped lead in the afternoon, the students didn’t seem to be excited or ready for their mock trial event at the end of the semester. I was very discouraged and was starting to worry that they wouldn’t even show up. But when the day came, not only was every student there, but they instantly transformed into serious mature young people when they excitedly changed into their professional clothes. One student even wore a tuxedo to look like an extra sharp lawyer. They did an incredible job, and I was so proud. Moments like that make me realize that the students are growing and so am I.

photo (9)A lot of people don’t take the time to do programs like AmeriCorps before they go on to pursue their careers, but there are so many reasons why they should. It does make a difference. It might not be lucrative, but it gives you a chance to do something for the love of doing it, something that really matters. You’ll grow so much during this experience and you’ll take that perspective with you when you go on to pursue the next step in your career.

At some point years down the road, at a random moment in my life, I hope that a young man or woman comes up to me and says, “Hey Mr. Morse, do you remember me?” I feel as if the ultimate reward for teachers is to see how much their students grow and succeed in life and that’s what inspires me to show up every day ready to make a positive impact.

You can make a positive impact like Malcolm by applying to be an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellowship today. 

VIDEO: Citizen Schools Students Selected to Perform in Concert

A group of students from the Citizen Schools program at Fondren Middle School in Houston, Texas is getting ready to hit the stage. The kids of the "Music to My Ears" apprenticeship class lead by Houston hip-hop artist Matthew Gunther were selected to perform at the Texas Beacon of Light Love Speaks Concert. The apprenticeship class registered for the Love Speaks contest which is designed to unite the youth of  the Houston around a cause. The challenge was to write and produce an original song about showing love in the community. The apprenticeship students chose to sing about a cause near and dear to the hearts-- stopping bullying at their school.

After composing, writing lyrics and filming a music video, the group was selected as one of the top three contestants. Their prize is to perform at the concert coming up on May 21, 2013. The kids will perform alongside popular local artists including  Ramiro Garcia, a former American Idol Contestant.


Take a moment to cheer on these great kids by watching their video and sharing it with your network!

6 Degrees Closer to Their Dreams

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

1. New Jersey

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

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

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

2. New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Texas

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

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

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

3. North Carolina

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

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

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

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

Houston's Got Style

So you're an ambitious, adventurous college senior about to set out on a path to career success. As you consider the The National Teaching Fellowship, consider this: Citizen Schools operates in eight unique states. This is the second of a regional series to profile each of our locations. This installment: Houston.

1. Belt Buckles go out on the town.

The Teaching Fellowship is a rewarding and challenging experience. In addition to teaching middle schools students, Fellows must also learn how to live on a stipend.  Although all Teaching Fellows quickly learn to budget grocery bills and eating out, our Texas Fellows find a bigger value in their culinary options.

According to Kat White, “Texas cuisine is a mash up and has a well-deserved reputation for being mind-blowingly, belt-busting-ly good.”  Barbeque, Tex-Mex, Soul Food, Cajun, Creole, and of course, steaks are traditional favorites.

Because the cost of living in Houston is lower than other Citizen Schools regions, Fellows can be found enjoying inexpensive restaurant meals in outdoor seating.  And true to the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” Fellows take the rest of their huge portions home for an addition meal.

2. Belt buckles sparkle in the sunshine.

Citizen Schools utilizes the community to help students shine their inner lights and passions.  In addition to becoming part of the national community of AmeriCorps members, Teaching Fellows quickly become part of local outings offered in their city's spaces.

Kat White adds that Houston’s warmer weather allows green space lovers to thrive.  Because of the affordable cost of living, residents may have a greater chance of having a backyard, porch, or garden at their houses.  Fellows and staff head to Houston’s downtown park, Discovery Green, which offers everything from free classes of Zumba and Yoga, outdoor movies with live music soundtracks, and lawn games.

If you’re like first-year Teaching Fellow Christina Cooley, you might even join an intramural sports kickball league, or run along the Buffalo Bayou trail.  Native Texan Alicia Vasquez also suggests the Miller Outdoor Theatre for concerts.  After such busy and long days in the classroom, both first-year fellows recommend a donation-based Yoga studio.

3. Belt Buckles go with all outfits.

Since 1995, Citizen Schools has been re-imagining the learning day to bring more time, volunteers, and relevant learning to middle-school students in low-income neighborhoods.  By getting citizens into the classroom, we’re closing the achievement and opportunity gaps and increasing student access to opportunity.

With different Texas constituents gathering in the classroom bringing their personal cultural experiences, it’s no surprise that Houston is the most diverse city in the country.  Houston is also home to education reform partner KIPP, and hosts major players such as Teach for America, Yes Prep, Harmony Schools, Education Pioneers, Breakthrough Collaborative, Stand for Children, and more.

4. Belt buckles are travel sized.

Citizen Schools has grown from a Boston program to one that serves in eight states.  We hit the road to expand to Chicago this year, and if you live in Houston, you’ll be hitting the road too and taking that belt buckle for a drive.

A car is important to have when living in Texas.  Although there may be traffic, Christina Cooley suggests additional adventures to Austin, College Station, Waco, Dallas, and San Antonio being worth the drive. Such destinations feature a favorite pastime of fellows and staff: sitting in an inner tube, floating down a river.  If inner tubes and rivers are not your scene, other fun festivals recommended by fellows include the GatorFest (dedicated to Gators) and the Renaissance Fair.

Regardless of your style preferences, keep your mind open to belt buckles and Houston as a region to serve as a National Teaching Fellow. The next application deadline is December 3rd. Don't wait to purchase a new belt buckle and make Houston your new stomping ground. Apply today.

From the Coffee Shop to the Classroom: A Longhorn's Journey

Jessi Worde is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. She is a UT Austin Alum, Class of '06.  Congratulations!  You’ve earned your undergraduate diploma from an excellent institution of higher learning in the forever-young city of ATX!  Now leave.

No, seriously.  Get out of there.  There are no jobs.  Especially if you’ve earned some sort of liberal-artsy major, which, be honest, you probably have.

Sound familiar?

I graduated from UT Austin in 2006 with 2 degrees, a minor, and 4.0. 

Then I worked as a barista for 4 years thereafter. 

I worked coffee with people who had Ph.D.s and Masters’ degrees.  Granted, I got to coordinate zany outfits with my coworkers and when a new owner told us we could drink wine with our lunch, “Wine Time” was born.  Yes, you can make good money and party endlessly in food service, but that soul-crushing feeling that you could do more?  That you want to do more?  Citizen Schools might be a good option…

I’m not going to lie.  I joined Citizen Schools because I was desperate.  At night I dreamt of forgetting to bring someone their soy sauce (the sushi job), giving a vegan whole milk (the barista job), rolling silverware (the hostess job).  I wanted out.  I decided to apply for any job not in food service.  Yet this act of desperation has turned into an act of salvation.  Working for Citizen Schools is far harder than food service in a lot of ways, but far more rewarding in even more ways.  I still get to wear colorful outfits and I still have fun every day.   For example, a couple of students have nicknamed me “Rio” after the colorful birds in the movie of the same name.  Our office motto is “Can’t Be Tamed!”  (Yes, a Miley Cyrus reference…).

I moved from Austin to Albuquerque on a whim, and found Citizen Schools somewhat randomly.  My recently Anthropology degree-ed roommate and I spent hours after running food and hostessing on our laptops looking for jobs.  When I saw Citizen Schools’ posting on Craigslist, I felt a glimmer of hope. When I was accepted, I was thrilled.

I spent my first year with Citizen Schools managing volunteers, leading a 7th grade team, teaching a college class to 6th graders, and teaching math to special needs students.  This year I’ve managed teacher communication, our math lessons, and 2 different apprenticeships each semester.  Each role (and indeed, each day), provides me with a variety of experience, challenges, and triumphs.

Last year, I would sometimes be making the trek from Albuquerque to Santa Fe for a training and find myself tearing up, thinking about how much I loved my students.  This year, I get excited every day around 2:30, when there’s only half an hour left before we go meet our students.  It’s difficult for me to imagine someone working with our students and not feeling deeply impacted by them.

Today when I ran to get coffee (oh how the tables have turned), I was chatting with the barista.  “Your job sounds awesome!” he exclaimed.  And I had to admit that it was.

It’s strange, at this point, to be applying for a variety of jobs (Investment firm?  Tech camp for teens?  In-take administrative assistant?  Why not?) and find that my experience with Citizen Schools truly has prepared me for a vast variety of jobs. 

Food service taught me everything I need to know about multi-tasking, respecting people, and dealing with emotionally unstable people and insane dietary demands.

Middle school education helped me develop as a professional, as a leader, as a team member, as an educator, and as a Jill of all trades.  At the beginning of my time with Citizen Schools, I would stand in front of my team, ready to give an instruction, and feel a wave of anxiety that no one would listen.  Now I stand before students and peers and knowing that I have the presence and the experience to make my voice heard.

Want an experience like Jessi's? Apply for the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship by May 18th