achievement gap

Utilizing Blended Learning to Close Opportunity and Achievement Gaps: Lessons from Citizen Schools Digital Courseware Pilot

Utilizing Blended Learning to Close Opportunity and Achievement Gaps: Lessons from Citizen Schools Digital Courseware Pilot

In the 2016-17 school year, Citizen Schools completed the second year of our initiative to pilot and evaluate digital courseware across our national network to learn more about how best to integrate technology into Expanded Learning Time (ELT) for middle school students.

The Kids Teach the Teachers

Libby Monahan is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, MA

The thing that attracted me to Citizen Schools the most was that not only are they working on closing the achievement gap, but they also recognize that the achievement gap is much more complex than just academics. They work towards closing an opportunity and access gap as well.

I work as a Citizen Teacher Lead for the Orchard Gardens School. So I have the opportunity to work with all of our students and teachers, and work with our apprenticeship programs, to provide that access and opportunity to our students.

My team of students last year challenged me to be a teacher, and they taught me how to be a teacher. One of my closest students to me, her name is Julienette. And I would credit her with being the student who taught me how to be not only a teacher, but just a providing and caring adult for a student.

Julienette was one of those girls who ran with the popular girls, and you know, she thought she was too cool for school, was consistently getting D’s and F’s in all of her classes, and couldn’t have cared less. No matter how much I pushed her, she was not budging.

So, one day, I was down in the main office doing door duty, and she was with her tutor, and she walked away from her tutor, came into the office, sat down in the chair next to me, didn’t say anything, and just started crying. And I had no idea why. I was right out of college, and never had a student sit there and cry to me before, so I was very out of my element.

And she just told me she had been being bullied, and that’s why she wasn’t caring about school. It was her best friend that had been bullying her, and peer pressuring her into doing negative things...

That presented me with an opportunity, and a window, to really provide impact in one student’s life. And since then, I paid for her to go to our Thompson Island Summer Project program. I’ve worked with her throughout the summer; I’ve worked with her throughout the school year, and really became more than a teacher. I became a mentor to her.

And I think I’ve seen change in her from over the summer, and I see change in her this school year, and it’s just a good story to tell when you think about the work that we do, and that it’s not only about getting their grades up. It’s about helping them become whole people, and that’s why I do the work that I do.

7 Reasons To Become a Teaching Fellow

 Beth Hannon is a former Teaching Fellow (2007-09) and is now a National Recruitment Manager

1. The Achievement Gap is wide, but you alone can help close it

By 4th grade, African-American and Latino students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their white peers. As a Teaching Fellow you can work with middle school students in hands-on projects that accelerate their basic understanding of core subject areas. Trust me, they will listen to you if you tell them that fractions are cool.

2.Laughter is good for your health

I can think of multiple times where tears were actually streaming down my face. The kids’ humor, their ability to surprise you, and the funny situations you get in as a first-time educator make laughter essential medicine for your fellowship experience.

3. Project management can’t be taught in a college classroom

They’ve written books from the comfort of offices, but no expert has ever had the intense, front-line, “boot camp”, experience of the fellowship. Learn, first hand, how tools and skills in project management, lesson planning, and academic coaching can only be mastered with practice.

4. Your roller skates need to be dusted off

Seriously, when was the last time you had a valid reason to go roller skating?

5.What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

Middle school youth will rock you to the core. If they don’t break you, they will respond to your style and love you. There’s no greater joy than building lasting relationships with students and helping them see their amazing potential.

6. Everyone needs a Jaquon in their life

My first month on the job was tough – I didn’t know what I was doing. Then, Jaquon walked into my office. “Hey! Are you Ms. B?” They were the words that changed my life. Jaquon moved to Austin, TX after Katrina. Alone, scared, and getting bullied for his accent, Jaquon had heard about Citizen Schools – a program that builds leadership and teamwork. He wanted to be part of a team. 5 years later, I still visit Jaquon and talk to him regularly. He’s become a caring, smart, and entrepreneurial young sophomore and his future is bright.

7. Being agents of change requires a strong, resilient team

Jane Addams once said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” Education is the common fabric of our societies. Changing education will take a movement. The team is ready, we’ve assembled. Will you join us and secure the very best education for the youth of our future?

Apply for the Teaching Fellowship here. If you have any questions about the Fellowship experience ask in the comments section!

Mind the Gap: 5 Lessons I've learned about the Achievement Gap

 Otto Katt - Second Year Teaching Fellow - Irving Middle School Roslindale, MA


Anyone who has traveled the London Underground has heard that refrain. And in the work that I do, I too must “Mind the Gap.” I'm not talking about the gap between the platform and the subway car, no, I'm referring to the  achievement gap - that widening chasm of achievement that separates the educational success of students from primarily suburban areas and higher socio-economic backgrounds, from their peers who are chiefly minorities from urban and rural areas and lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s a touchy subject that some people choose to ignore, others say is implacable and un-closable, and I say is a reality that presents more challenges and obstacles than solutions. But there are solutions.

I was always somewhat aware of the gap. And after a year working in a school deemed failing, where 85% of students are eligible for both free and discounted lunch (a common indicator of the economic background of a school’s population) I’ve learned a few things about the gap:

1. The gap’s effects start early, by middle school it is possible using attendance, behavior issues, and grades to predict with devastating accuracy whether a student will graduate from high school.

2. Students are aware of the gap and they aren’t afraid to talk about it. Pretending that their educational path isn’t fraught with difficulties and challenges is demeaning and makes you lose credibility fast.

3. It is possible to make a change. Real, honest, and at times incremental, but long lasting change.

4. Minding the gap is hard. There are cultural, social, economic structures and trends that no amount of money, effort, blood, sweat, and tears is going to erase overnight.

5. Students want to erase the gap more than all the pundits, talking heads, policy wonks, and activists clamouring on TV and the blogosphere want. It’s their lives and futures at stake.

That’s my birds-eye take on the gap. I don’t have any magic bullets, or cure-alls. Just limited experience, a desire to make a difference, and evidence that it is possible to close that gap. I want to say that one day the gap will be closed.  I know that there is work that I can do to help students escape its effects, and so I will continue to “MIND THE GAP”.

What lessons have you learned from 'minding the gap'? Share your thoughts.


From Australia to Revere, MA: What Studying Abroad Taught Me About America’s Achievement Gap

Lindy Smalt

In the spring of 2009, I packed my life into two small suitcases, kissed my family goodbye, and got on a 20-hour flight that would take me 10,000 miles away from home. My knowledge of Australia fell somewhere between Steve Irwin, kangaroos, and Mary Kate and Ashley’s Our Lips are Sealed—but I knew if there was one thing that would change those conceptions, it would be that mythical and insurmountable experience of studying abroad (or so everyone said).

The following year, I graduated from college and became a Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools. Though eager about the new challenge that lay before me, I couldn’t help feeling like I was largely unqualified to be working in the inner-city. I had, after all, grown up in the suburbs of New York City, gone to college in the suburbs of Chicago, and studied abroad in a first-world nation—at least my older sister went to Africa!

But as I got to know and love my nineteen incredible sixth grade students, a series of unexpected parallels began to emerge between their struggles and those of the Australian people. I was stunned. Up until that moment, I felt I had failed to integrate my overseas experience with my pre-established life in America; was it really possible that my desired incorporation of worlds was going to be found here—in Revere, MA?

The answer was yes. Being a globalized citizen, it turns out, is not just about utilizing iPhones and social media; it’s about making interdisciplinary connections—absorbing our cross-cultural experiences, however different they might appear, into a holistic worldview uninhibited by our unseen biases.

One of the ways that my experience in Australia continually informs my work in Revere is through a growing understanding of national myth. While the “American Dream” informs us that any individual can achieve success regardless of means or circumstance, the Australian “Tall Poppy Syndrome” seeks to equalize achievement rather than encourage it (poppies grow at exactly the same height, strangling any plants in the field that grow higher than their surroundings). Without American-like competition, it is not uncommon for Australian children as young as fifteen to drop out of school and begin working, and even students who do receive a high school degree often take at least at one gap year or attend TAFE (a type of vocational school) before contemplating college. Although I still often struggle with this Australian methodology, it continues to give me a framework for approaching many of my low-income and immigrant students in Revere. Rather than examine them through a lens of what they don’t have—my own commitment to often externally-validating academic achievement—living among the Australian people taught me to better see them for what they do have: tight-knit families and neighborhoods that value relationships and shared experience above anything else (whereas the five members of my family are all currently pursuing their own idea of “success” in five different states). In realizing this, I take steps to meet my students where they are—by regularly communicating with their families to ensure that both home cultures and school cultures are in consistent agreement as to how to provide the best future possible. And as an added bonus, this realization also consistently reminds me to take a step back and remember why it is that I work for Citizen Schools: to work through cultures—not to “make them more like mine.”

Overall, the most impactful experience I had during my four months abroad was gaining the ability to see America through the eyes of an outsider. Despite a Massachusetts address, many of my eleven-year-olds feel like outsiders; they see images of success and have no idea how to make that success into a personal reality, or even to discern what kind of success they truly want for their own lives. Is staring on a reality show success? Or being discovered on YouTube? Or something else entirely?

As the behavior management specialist on campus, a large part of my role includes finding creative ways to inspire students to reach for their own definition of success. When they misbehave, I ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And then I let them talk until I see that little click  go off in their eyes—that moment when they realize, “Whoa, I actually get to decide my life for myself!”

It’s been two-and-a-half years since I left for that sun-burnt country. Occasionally I’ll click through old Facebook albums, giggling at pictures of me dancing in front of the Sydney Opera House or holding a koala near the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll post, “Meet you in Australia?” with a smiley face on my old roommate’s wall. But then, for a moment, I’ll remember the things that Facebook could never capture: stories of stolen children, faces of protesters in the capital city, and the impossibility of my own four-month struggle to adapt to a culture in which I—for the first time—was labeled as an outsider. For somewhere between Vegemite and sunshine, there was an incredible authenticity to my experience, one that taught me just as much about humanity as it did about a country.

It is that wisdom that translates to my work with Citizen Schools; in classrooms, in phone calls, in the tears of the students who get picked on for their differences. Every day I get to teach a new generation of visionaries about tolerance, culture, and the future of our world.

What will YOU teach?