apprenticeship

Celebrate Ahmed Elsayed as the June Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Citizen Teachers Volunteer Citizen Teachers pair their personal passions with their expertise when teaching apprenticeships, helping to foster student excitement around new areas of study and future possibilities.

This spring, Ahmed Elsayed of Hikvision paired his enthusiasm for alternative energy with his engineering skills to teach an apprenticeship on alternative energy vehicles to students at Chase Elementary School in Chicago, IL. Students spent ten weeks learning about different ways to fuel and design a vehicle. At the final presentation, called a “WOW!”, students presented their designs for a car that used alternative energy. The apprenticeship was provided through a new partnership with Hikvision fostered through the leadership of Anna Boudinot, Content Manager.

“Hikvision is growing fast in the U.S. We’re in the process of creating the identity of the company here,” shared Anna. “One important element we wanted as part of our growth is to create an environment supporting employees who want to give back the community. As a tech company, we wanted to team up with a non-profit dedicated to STEM education. The U.S. is lagging behind in this field and can’t address the growing need for people with training in STEM within the U.S. I started doing some research and came across Citizen Schools. I reached out to Hikvision employees and presented Citizen Schools at a national sales meeting to find interest.”

Students with Ahmed and Frank

Ahmed approached Anna, who was looking for a way to share his passions. “I always wanted to volunteer in the community and it was exciting to hear Anna was moving Hikvision in that direction,” said Ahmed. “I’m a huge proponent of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and getting into renewable energy. I do it at home and really wanted to pass it off in the classroom, as well as pass on my knowledge of electrical engineering.”

Join us in congratulating Ahmed Elsayed as our Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Why do you volunteer as a Citizen Teacher?

“I want to share my skills and give back. There have been people in my life that have gone out of their way for me. One person in particular is my father. He was a mechanical engineer and growing up we always did projects. I got in trouble for taking stuff apart and not always putting them back together. Our transmission was being reassembled in the kitchen one time and while putting it back we forgot the reverse. He was always a self-sustaining type of person and that helped launch my interest in engineering.

Has being a Citizen Teacher changed you?

“It’s made me want to get more involved. During the WOW! it was really cool to see how much the students had learned and to see them explain it to others.”

What is your favorite “aha” or “WOW!” moment from the semester?

“There was a group of girls really shy and reluctant to engage. One of the activities was building a structure that could hold the most weight. They didn’t really want to do it. We talked about what they could use as materials and I shared that anything that was on the desk could be used. That included chopsticks, tape, and rubber bands. The girls really thought outside the box because they ended up using the tape dispenser itself as a stand. That was their WOW moment. They ended up winning the design challenge. They realized that they could do it and after that moment they were much more involved and successful.

The two girls that were the most involved were very different from each other. One of them was the quietest girl in the class and she rocked it. The other was very high-energy. To see her take that energy and rechannel it into giving a very detailed explanation of how hydrogen cars work was pretty mind-blowing. It was awesome to see them explain it to Anna at the WOW!.”

Volunteer Card Ahmed

What is your favorite way to connect with students?

“My favorite is through hands-on design exercises. That’s the way I connect with my son. We’ll build birdhouses. When you hand them the tool, that builds the trust that builds the bond. Giving a student a little more responsibility and trusting them with it solidifies that trust, that bond.”

What advice do you have for new Citizen Teachers?

“Patience. That is a big one.

The kids come from all walks of life. Patience is the one I had to learn.  Find ways to keep an open mind, think outside of the box, and create ways to make the lessons fun.

The response was always the best when you could come up with an activity that involved them instead of standing up in front of the room and lecturing. Give very clear instructions and something that allows them to choose what they want.”

Anna had the chance to visit Ahmed’s WOW! and shared the following:

“What blew my mind was going to the WOW!, meeting the students in person, and having them explain the technology behind alternative energy vehicles. The students talked about the benefits and disadvantages and when these cars could hit the market. They were little encyclopedias. I asked them if they had known anything about alternative energy before starting the class and they said ‘nope.’ It was amazing what information they could soak up in the 10 week timespan.

I was thrilled to see the female students engaged in learning about STEM. I hope that the opportunity these girls received in the classroom taught them they are as equally capable as the males.”

Citizen Schools Sets Sail with Lending Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Lending Club

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

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.

Three Pre-Career Tips for Mentoring a Middle-Schooler

8th grade student networking with Boston area professional. Think middle school is too soon to prep for college? Think again. At Citizen Schools, we're working to close the opportunity gap by reaching students at the crucial time between 5th and 8th grade, providing academic support and real-world apprenticeships. That's why we recently helped bring together over sixty 8th graders for a networking event where they picked up practical tips and inspiration from working professionals. We followed along; here are three takeaways to help you mentor a young person.

Take risks Taking risks sounds like the obvious answer to getting out of your comfort zone. But the unknown can also be unnerving. The good news is that there are varying degrees of risk, and some low-risk chances can have a high reward. If you're shy, volunteering to answer a question and possibly having the wrong answer can feel like the end of the world. But diving in like that should be encouraged!

For another student, taking a risk may be signing up for a different class or sport. We all have our areas in which we excel more than others. Being flexible about trying new activities means that we can avoid tunnel vision and learn about new interests, and middle school is an especially great time to hone new skills as you consider the many potential opportunities and paths ahead.

Gain hands-on experience Academics aren't just intense study sessions at the library - they also include hands-on practice. For some students, academics include designing and coding a video game, and diversifying your academic portfolio can do a lot to impress college admissions staff. When college admissions are considering applications grades are only part of the equation. Proving you can think as well as do will give a certain edge over the competition.

Student test gel electrophoresis

This is why apprenticeships are key to Citizen Schools’ model to close the opportunity gap. By bringing in passionate professionals to teach practical applications of 21st century skills, not only do middle school students earn a marketable skill they may not have otherwise, but it will serve to expand their horizons. Even if students don’t become what they studied as a career down the line, they still opened doors to new professional horizons.

Ask Questions “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is ice cold?” “Why do tigers have stripes?” Anyone that has spent time with a young person knows that one of their favorite things to do is ask questions. Encourage students to keep curiosity alive by continuing to be inquisitive.

Great questions can include what you do for work, why you enjoy it, and what you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s ok to talk about both successes, and scenarios that offered lessons for improvement. The more students are exposed to different career profiles, the more they will feel comfortable stepping outside of their own comfort zones and shaping their own journey.

Modern life offers new challenges and stresses for young people, and mentor/mentoree relationships are powerful bridges between the professional world and our next great generation of thinkers, makers and doers. You can help start the conversation, and middle school is an especially good time to make that happen. And, it's a discussion that is relevant at any age! What advice would you share for someone starting out on this journey? Add your tips in the comments!

Find out more about changing student's lives with Citizen Schools.

Student Ideas Take Shape in 3D Printing Apprenticeship

When he was attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chris Haid and his friends spent what little spare time they had tinkering and building what would become the world’s first fully automated 3D printer. Years later, he is bringing this technology into middle school classrooms in Boston through a 3D printing apprenticeship with the company he co-founded, NVBOTS. 13928389447_9e35dfedab_z

Chris is the Chief Operating Officer of NVBOTs, handling daily operations, customer service, and ensuring manufacturing meets demand. He has broken his routine once a week for four semesters to volunteer as a Citizen Teacher. His goal is to teach middle school students how to design and build with a 3D printer.

Chris is helping to extend NVBOTS' impact with the installation of an NVPro 3D printer at McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The printer is stimulating creativity and providing hands-on learning for many students. It is “one of many” that will be installed in Boston middle schools through the company’s partnership with Citizen Schools.

We recognize Chris as the March Citizen Teacher of the Month for his dedication to teaching students and increasing student access to the state-of-the-art 3D printers!

Meet Chris…

What apprenticeships have you taught?

I teach an Introduction to 3D Printing Apprenticeship. We teach the students how to go through the design process. We help them decide what they want to create and sketch out what they want to design and print. Once we get them through the design process, we teach them how to 3D print the parts. They get to take it home the following week.

This is my fourth time around. We’ve done two classes per semester a couple times around.

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

I get to see them go home and come back the next week only to tell me that they got so interested in this 3D printing design that they went home and looked up new part designs. They’re coming up with new ideas on their own. That’s one of the biggest things for me.

Chris Haid keeps souvenirs of his apprenticeships on his desk.

Some students don’t see the path to get to higher education. That’s how a lot of students start off in the beginning of the class. They say “before I was uncertain about 3D printing and how to design everything.” And now they want to go to college for 3D printing.

That’s really heartwarming. Just seeing the kids get excited about engineering. They’re not constrained in life and they have every ability to create things and bring their own ideas to life. Our apprenticeship shows them they can do that and it’s not that hard. There’s failing but at the end of the day it’s about taking something in your mind and making it into reality.

Why do you think students should engage in hands-on learning?

I think all students have an idea of something they want to create, but they’re often constrained. They don’t have all of the necessary tools at their disposal, but once they see that they have the ability to make something,knowing that they can create those designs gives them confidence.

A student of Chris Haid's shows off 3D printed objects as he explains how they are made.

What advice do you have for new Citizen Teachers?

Get to know your students. Teach something you’re passionate about. Try to build a personal connection with the students and get to know them while still maintaining your role as teacher. That really help to keep the  students engaged.

Why should people volunteer to teach students?

I believe it’s the most important thing to do. The students will be living in the future we’re building and it’s important to arm them with the tools and abilities they need to make a difference.

One day I brought in a prosthetic hand and said, “I designed it but it could be better. This is an application of the tools I’m teaching you right now. That’s why we’re doing this, so we can help each other and make the world a better place.”

Learn more about volunteering with Citizen Schools here!

"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!

How I Helped Middle School Students Make a Difference in Their Community

This blog post was originally published on Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility blog.

By Stephen Liem, IT Director, Global Quality and Support Services at Cisco

Stephen and his apprenticeship students at their end-of-semester WOW event, a Citizen Schools tradition where students teach back what they learned to teachers, parents, and community members.

There is no limit to what education can bring. It opens up many opportunities that otherwise may not be available.

In the past 10 weeks I‘ve had the privilege of teaching journalism to the middle school students in Joseph George School in East Jan Jose, California. Cisco has been partnering with Citizen Schools, a nonprofit organization, to deliver after school educational programs to low-income schools across the country.

Citizen Schools aims to prevent students from dropping out of high school through its Extended Learning Time (ELT) model, which provides after-school mentoring and support to low-performing middle schools. Volunteer professionals, or “Citizen Teachers,” teach 10-week after-school apprenticeships on topics they are passionate about, from blogging to filmmaking to robotics.

On average the schools Citizen Teachers visit do 300 hours less of after school programming compared to their counterparts. In East San Jose, where the graduation rate is at 79%, providing more meaningful educational programs has certainly helped not just the students themselves but also the community.

As a “Citizen Teacher” with the nonprofit Citizen Schools, Stephen Liem helped sixth graders create their own newspaper

In my journalism class, students in the sixth grade learned how to interview and collect data, how to write an article well, and how to express and publish their opinions honestly and truthfully. Collectively they decided on the name of the newspaper – the East San Jose News — and the subject of their stories.

The results were both eye opening and touching at the same time.

Erika and Tracy, for example, wrote that while they do not necessarily like to wear a school uniform, nevertheless it is important to wear one, because, “it protects you from gangs!” The story describes the reality they often must face outside of school, a reality that under normal circumstance they should not have to live with. It is a touching statement.

Christopher in the editorial section wrote about the importance of voicing your opinion to make a difference: “School could be cooler if you just speak up and ask for what you want. Sometimes your answer will be ‘no’ or ‘maybe,’ ‘just wait,’ or straight up “yes.’ But you will never find out unless you speak up and make your voice heard.” They may be in sixth grade, but the students absolutely understand that they can contribute to their community and they are ready to make that difference.

I enjoyed every minute I spent with my students. It was an educational process for me, but most important, I believe it was a tremendous educational experience for the students. In our country, where inequality in access to education and income disparity exist, I applaud Cisco and Citizen Schools’ effort to level the playing field for the sake of our future generation. I am glad that through Cisco, I have the opportunity to give back to my community.

Cisco employees are among Citizen Schools’ largest group of Citizen Teachers – 184 employees have taught 89 apprenticeships – and Cisco has provided more than $2 million in cash and product grants to the organization since 2009. Learn more about the partnership between Cisco and Citizen Schools.

Insights from a Beautiful Girl

This is the second post in a series of blog posts featuring Citizen Schools’ program in New Jersey. This installment features a Q&A with a student who took the "Beautiful Girls" apprenticeship this fall. In light of the article, “Why Striving to be Perfect is Keeping Women out of STEM Jobs,” it has become apparent that we need to close the “confidence gap” in young women in order to close the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry.

The Beautiful Girls apprenticeship, aimed towards building positive self-esteem in young girls to help them achieve their personal and career goals, is closing this “confidence gap” for thousands of students across the country. We sat down with Beautiful Girl, Georgina (age 11), to ask about her experience in this apprenticeship.

Georgina with her volunteer Citizen Teachers: Meeghan Salcedo from Cognizant, Vanessa Ackon and Nina Barber

What are you learning in Beautiful Girls?

I’m learning that it’s not about how you look on the outside, but how you feel on the inside, about personality and self-esteem. We’ve been learning about true friendship and how we need to be a good friend in order to have a friend. We learned how to voice our opinions proudly, and that we can be whatever we want to be!

How have you changed since taking this apprenticeship?

I’m more true to myself and I’m able to express my feelings. I’m not trying to fit in or be like other girls; I’m just trying to be my old, silly self. I’m learning to face my fears. At the beginning of my apprenticeship, I thought no one would like me. I don’t talk to a lot of people, but I learned how to make new friends. In Beautiful Girls, we’re learning S.P.E.A.K. We have to present for the WOW!, so we have to practice proper speaking skills.

Georgina with her role model Teaching Fellow Ms. Evans.

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

How can you apply this to your goals in life?

I want to be a singer or an author, because I like to sing and write. To be a singer, I have to try a lot of new things, I have to have good grades and succeed.

What makes you a Beautiful Girl?

My personality and how I feel when I accomplish something. I like to be a hippie, take away the negative energy and enjoy my life!

What has been your favorite moment during Beautiful Girls?

My favorite moment was when I was talking to [volunteer Citizen Teacher] Ms. Vanessa during girl talk. We’re both from Ghana, so we talked a lot about Ghana. I liked that moment because most people in my school aren’t African, so I got to share my culture and connect with someone. I don’t get to do that a lot in school.

Cognizant is a proud National Leadership Partner of Citizen Schools. Thank you Meeghan for your leadership!

Read more about the “Confidence Gap.”

For more information about apprenticeships contact Ashley Drew, Civic Engagement and Operations Associate, at ashleydrew@citizenschools.org.

Bay Area Googler Fuels Student Success By Recruiting Others to Teach

Jeff Breau helps recruit California Googlers like the one pictured here to volunteer to teach Bay Area middle school students

Jeff Breau, a Googler in San Francisco, has been a personal supporter of Citizen Schools since 2011. Over the years as a volunteer Citizen Teacher he taught three apprenticeships to middle school students in the Bay Area including Rockin’ Robots, Train Your Brain, and Reading the News. Jeff was recently promoted and found himself with a busy travel schedule, making it hard to commit to a semester of teaching. Asking himself “How much am I able to do?” he switched gears and began inspiring colleagues to invest their time volunteering with Citizen Schools. His encouragement worked. Since last spring, Jeff has helped our California team recruit 32 volunteers!

Citizen Schools: Who or what inspired you when you were young?

Jeff Breau: An experiment my dad did with my grade school class comes to mind. He was a professor of microbiology and brought experiments into my class from time to time.  I specifically remember getting excited about one where he brought petri dishes into the class.  We all rubbed our toes in our dish and waited for the cultures to grow, and then looked at the different patterns they all made. That really awakened me to science and biology, the hidden micro world!

CS: Why do you think it’s important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?

JB: Kids aren’t always aware of what adults are doing, and what they could be doing when they get older. Citizen Schools is a way to expose them to more opportunities, creating a better chance for them to find what fuels them to succeed.

CS: What is one of your “aha” or “WOW!” moments from teaching?

JB: I taught an apprenticeship called “Reading the News.” I wanted to hook kids with topics that interested them, like music and sports, and transition them to bigger news stories on international and political levels. My “aha” moment happened when the students organically began debating Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea. They had a conversation about whether Rodman should have visited, if his visit was beneficial or not, and if his trip went against the wishes of the President. Making the leap from a basketball star to the political climate of North Korea with seventh and eighth graders made it apparent that these students were connecting to news stories at a deeper level.

CS: What was it that inspired your work as an organizer to engage more Google Citizen Teachers?

JB:  My new role requires me to travel a good deal and becoming an organizer seemed to be a natural segue. My experience managing teams and organizing events paired with support from Google and Faith [Lin], the Senior Manager of Civic Engagement in CA, made it possible for me to expand my impact. If I recruited 10 Citizen Teachers who impacted 25 students each, I am still doing something good.

CS: How does Google support your involvement with Citizen Schools?

JB: As a Citizen Teacher I had a ton of support all the way up through senior the VP and Executive levels of the company from Christina [Christina Wire, Director Google Helpouts] and Claire [Claire Hughes Johnson, Vice President Google X] who share my excitement for Citizen Schools’ mission. It wasn’t just the luck of also having a great manager, although I did have that, but they recognize that 1-2 hours of outwork time was beneficial and it had only been encouraged. They were all truly supportive of me giving time to the community. Additionally, Google has a tool to log volunteer hours and they give money to your organization based on the hours you work. [Google also supports Citizen Schools as a National Leadership Partner, providing $3.25 million since 2011.]

CS: How did your time as a Citizen Teacher affect your professional development or growth at Google?

JB: Obvious and tangible benefits were that I was able to work on leadership skills and work with different people across Google. Increasing the number of people I knew and worked closely with was great. I found that teaching made my normal job easier to come back to, after teaching I felt rejuvenated and recharged returning to my desk.

Each week I was exposed to so many different viewpoints from kids and I spent time trying to get each of them excited.  Making a subject interesting is a great skill to have, one that was shaped by the work I did with Citizen Schools. Bringing it back to Google, I was just applying it to a different audience.

 

“Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach”

From “Amazing Mazes” to “Life on Mars,” Citizen Teacher Haggai Mark has developed and taught a variety of computer science apprenticeships for over four years. His experience with Citizen Schools impacted his decision to transition from 30 years as an engineer to a full time Computer Science Curriculum Developer and teacher in California! Name: Haggai Mark

Title:  High School Computer Science Curriculum Developer and Teacher

What was the most recent apprenticeship you taught? A STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and programming apprenticeship I developed, called “Meet Me on Mars”. Students learned how to write a game/program using Scratch (developed at MIT) to simulate a simplified solar system, and a launch of a rocket from Earth to Mars.

How did you hear about Citizen Schools? Through work (I worked at Cisco Systems in San Jose, CA. Cisco is a National Leadership Partner of Citizen Schools).

Why do you think it's important to provide students with real-world, hands-on opportunities?

We as human beings learn a lot by doing, regardless of age. Exposing students to new areas of knowledge and new experiences is like opening windows for them, and letting the light shine in. Giving them hands-on opportunities and examples for doing things with this knowledge is like giving them the wings to fly through these windows.

As Albert Einstein said: “Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach." I think that Citizen Schools enables and supports this kind of mindset.

What surprised you most about the students and teaching experience?

An important insight I got after teaching different courses and multiple classes is that you never know exactly which “seeds” are going to fall on fertile ground and grow. In other words, in the complex interaction between your personality as a teacher, the material you are trying to teach, the ways you are teaching it, the students you are interacting with, the knowledge and interests they have, and their personality, it’s very hard to predict which “nuggets” of knowledge and skills are really going to take hold, and make an impact on them. And that’s why it’s important to try different ways and different things, and most importantly – persevere. Sometimes you think you are not reaching them and then they totally blow you away with their actions and insights!

What was the greatest "aha" or "WOW" moment during your time with Citizen Schools?

A couple of years ago I was teaching a STEM course called “Amazing Mazes”, which I had developed. The Amazing Mazes course teaches students to use computers to build mazes in a 2D plane (on the computer screen), create "maze walkers" (think, "mice"), and then teach them, using programming, to successfully navigate through these mazes (or "find the cheese", so to speak).

As the students build their maze, they can see both a “graphic representation” of the paths of the maze, and a “programmatic representation” of the maze, which is the collection of commands they are using. These are two very different representations and abstraction levels. And one question is: which of these forms is “really” the maze? It is hard to fully grasp these concepts in middle school.

As it turns out, one 7th grade girl in class got it! She took the list of commands (which is one form of abstraction) she used for building her maze, added new numbers to all her x-y coordinates within those commands, and re-ran her program to generate a new/shifted maze (a different form of abstraction)!

I’m not sure who was more pleased with the resulting new shape on the screen, I, because I was able to teach, or she, because she was able to learn! I guess we were both blown away.

What skills did you gain or develop by teaching the students?

I definitely learned how to plan for different levels and paces of student learning, in order to create differentiated learning. I also learned how to more effectively use educational tools and technologies to enhance interest and learning.

You’ve made a big transition in your career - from the corporate space into the public school system.  How did your work with Citizen Schools impact that transition?

Due to my unique experience in education, I was able to work with Citizen Schools to have enough flexibility to create STEM apprenticeships and teach them, with freedom to choose topics, educational technologies, and teaching techniques.It really allowed me to explore and validate my interests and capabilities, before making a career change. Education and teaching have been on my mind for many years, but as they say "life  happens when you make other plans" and I ended up doing Engineering for 30 years. When I had the opportunity to make a career change it was very natural for me to choose education.

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I love the fact that I will be doing both curriculum development, starting with designing three new Computer Science courses, and teaching them! I am excited about the opportunity to design curricula from scratch and validate their effectiveness through doing hands-on evaluation.

What advice would you give future volunteers?

Picking an area you are both knowledgeable and passionate about is key! Your interest and sense of excitement is “contagious” – it shows immediately, and usually “rubs off” onto the students. It is important to plan for your lessons, but you also need to be flexible, and be willing to seize learning moments, if and when they come, and they will come. The more connections you are able to make with and for the students between what you are teaching and what interests them (and what comes up spontaneously during the lessons), the better.

Learn more about volunteering with Citizen Schools here!

Congratulations to the 2014 Presidential Volunteer Service Award Winners!

The President of Citizen Schools, Emily McCann, uses the phrase "it takes a village" to demonstrate the amount of talent and dedication needed to create the impact that Citizen Schools has on students. Among the ‘village’ of talent and dedication are our volunteer Citizen Teachers. During the 2013-2014 school year there were over 2,500 Citizen Teachers leading about 1,000 apprenticeships, impacting over 4,900 middle school students across 7 states!   From September to May these volunteers give their time to middle school students, mentoring them on topics such as video game design, mock trial, stock market investments and more. After one semester in the classroom, hundreds of volunteers go on to teach again, for several semesters and even years in a row.

While we celebrate the end of the school year and thank our Citizen Teachers, there is one more individual that extends his gratitude for their service, the President of the United States. Each year, the President recognizes those who volunteer for a cause across the country with the President's Volunteer Service Award program.

This year, 375 Citizen Teachers were recognized by the President at the gold, silver and bronze levels. Each of the levels corresponds to an incredible amount of time inspiring students:

43 Gold award winners for teaching four out of the last four semesters

71 Silver award winners for teaching three out of the last four semesters

261 Bronze award winners for teaching two out of the last four semesters

Throughout the summer, volunteers received their awards at appreciation events across the country. Many companies and organizations have also recognized the great efforts of their employees at the appreciation events and internally.

Join us in celebrating these mentors for helping students to dream big and reach their full potential. In particular, we would like to thank the 43 gold level awardees who have made the commitment for four consecutive semesters to consistently impact students in their community. Congratulations on your accomplishments and impact on student’s lives! We thank you all for your service.

Massachusetts:

Emily Hodge, Choate Hall + Stewart LLP

Jacqueline Mantica, Choate Hall + Stewart LLP

Eric Teasdale, Choate Hall + Stewart LLP

Scott McConnell, Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Timothy Bazzle, Goodwin Procter, LLP

Onalie Sotak, Google

Bill Good, Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization

Jesse Nocon, Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization

Brian Conley, Microsoft

Kyle Crawford, Mintz Levin Cohon Ferris Glovsky + Popeo PC

Anne Bowie, WilmerHale, LLP

Robert Mersereau Jr.

Robert P. Mersereau Sr.

New York

Donna Fontana, Fidelity Investments

Richard Mooney, CAW Afterschool Artworks

Ruth Gitlin, Angelo, Gordon and Co.

New Jersey

Damani Roach, Prudential Investments

Douglas Reagan, Cisco

Douglas Lebrecque, Rutgers SPAA

James Hainis, H.E.A.R.T. Martial Arts

Shivani Mehta, Cognizant

North Carolina

Arthur (Charlie) Everett, EMC

Carol Lenox, Environmental Protection Agency

Edward Lau, Microsoft

Elvira Johnson, CPCC STARS Alliance

Hong Zou, EMC

Jerry Diehl, EMC

Joe Darko, Microsoft

Kathy Cummings, Bank of America

Kim Kiesow, EMC

Megan Petrik, Bank of America

Nanelle Napp, Bank of America

Philip Armstrong, Bank of America

Rebecca Dodder, Environmental Protection Agency

Sasha Bouldin, NC Albert Schweitzer Fellows Program

Sonya “Rudy” Johnson, CPCC STARS Alliance

Taylor Clawson, NC Albert Schweitzer Fellows Program

Illinois

Cindy Gabriel, Deloitte

Texas

Glenn Lowenstein, Terrain Solutions, Inc.

Mark Jernigan, NASA

California

Kimone Gooden, Cisco

Kelley Coyne, Women’s Audio Mission

Susan Dickey, Google

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.

 

 

Cognizant Volunteer is a Force of Good in Newark

For Shivani Mehta volunteering isn’t just a weekend activity, it runs through every aspect of her life. Throughout high school and college she gave her time to make an impact in the lives of children. When she started working at Cognizant in New Jersey, Shivani was able to participate in a new volunteer opportunity, teaching an “apprenticeship” class with Citizen Schools.

eagle blog postCitizen Schools is a national non-profit that partners with low-income middle schools to extend the learning day. One afternoon a week Shivani arrives at Eagle Academy for the Young Men of Newark, transforming from a business analyst into a Citizen Teacher, and leading students on a journey to master photography. During this apprenticeship, students gain an understanding of all aspects of photography including the power of a story told by a picture. By filling the afternoon with activities like this, students develop skills that help them succeed in high school, college, and beyond.

Since she began working at Cognizant, Shivani has taught four apprenticeships ranging from robotics to professional networking. She even recruited some of her sorority sisters from Iota Sigma Beta to teach with her. But for Shivani the experience is more than teaching students a new skill, it’s about presenting herself as a mentor and role model. “I feel that it’s my job to be a force of good in their lives regardless of the challenges they may face outside of the classroom.”

shivaniIn fact, students have felt so comfortable in Shivani’s class they have come to her for advice. Sometimes it’s about furthering some of the skills they have gained in the apprenticeship, other times it’s more serious. “I remind them all the time that they have a bright future ahead of them.”

This month, we are proud to recognize Shivani Mehta as our Citizen Teacher of the Month!

Meet Shivani…

 

Describe your biggest WOW! moment to date:

“That first semester sticks out in my mind. Watching the students get into coding a robot and wanting to learn more in a hands-on way. You could tell how proud they were to present their projects to their families and the community at the WOW! showcase”

eagle blog post2What have you learned about yourself through this process?

“I’ve learned how to be more patient and how to relate to students. Through personal experience, I’ve seen how intimidating their environments outside of the classroom can be. I’ve learned to try to connect with them beyond the teaching and just try to be a force of good in their lives.”

Have you faced any challenges?

“I haven’t really faced any challenges. My supervisor and Cognizant are incredibly supportive of my decision to teach an apprenticeship.”

Sheryl Sandberg Leans In to Video Chat with Bronx 6th Graders

The global phenomenon that is Lean In has recently expanded to reach younger and younger audiences. A second edition of the blockbuster book, Lean In For Graduates, adds material directed to recent grads starting their careers. And, as the Ban Bossy campaign demonstrated earlier this year, the message of leadership and ending bias toward women resonates with school-age girls too. Lean In WOW blog post photo 5

That has proven true for a group of 13 sixth graders at Bronx Writing Academy, who signed up for a “Lean In – Girl Power” apprenticeship as part of their expanded learning day. Under the guidance of volunteers from Facebook, they studied issues that women face and used the book as a jumping-off point.

After ten weeks of eye-opening conversations and mentoring, they had an unusual opportunity to share their solutions with a symbol of female empowerment: Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg herself!

Facebook strategist and lead volunteer Kirstin Frazell brought her students to Facebook’s New York office for their final presentation, and turned on the projector to reveal Sandberg via video conference in Palo Alto. Sandberg listened to the thoughtful and passionate reports from each student, and applauded them for tuning in to inequities even as they start envisioning their careers.

"I'm so glad that you are spending time thinking about this,” she said. “The world’s still not equal. It’s still not equal based on gender, it’s not equal based on race. We don’t give the same opportunities to everyone.”

The afternoon video chat was the culmination of a semester-long volunteer project that Frazell and fellow Facebook volunteers Eunice Jin, Katherine Thomas and Emma Zaretsky embarked on through Citizen Schools, which partners with Bronx Writing Academy and 31 other middle schools across the country to provide apprenticeships in a variety of subjects.

The team of Facebook volunteers traveled to the Bronx once a week to teach these students a course they designed with AmeriCorps member Maddie Oliver, who is serving a two-year Teaching Fellowship with Citizen Schools. "I was so excited with how involved the girls got, and how passionate they got about women's issues at their age,” said Frazell. “I wish I had had that."

Their curriculum gave the students the opportunity to study four issues that women face: the gender pay gap, the media's presentation of women and lack of female role models, stereotypes, and gender policing. Each girl kept a journal, and their final project was to present an issue, share how it affects her, and propose a solution to address it.  The audience included their peers, teachers, and Facebook employees—including Facebook’s famous COO.

Lean In WOW blog post photo 1

"We have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible,” quoted Ebony, one of Frazell’s apprentices. "Beyoncé said that, because we cannot let young girls get held back by stereotyping. This matters to me because boys tell me I can’t play basketball because I’m a girl. This makes me feel useless and like I can’t do what boys can do. This is wrong because that’s hurtful and I need to know I can accomplish anything."

Iesha’s presentation emphasized hope. "I believe that equality is possible,” she read.” Men and women are being treated differently, and we can change that. The gender pay gap matters to me because when I get older and become a teacher, I want to be paid the same, as well as treated the same, as the men in my job."

"The most important thing that needs to happen is a great education,” Sandberg told the group. “So for all of you in Citizen Schools, the most important thing we can do to prepare you for your future is to make sure you have a great education, great teachers, and opportunities to do projects like this."

The Facebook volunteers not only provided their students with a chance to learn about the discrimination that they will likely face as they pursue their goals. They also embodied one of the solutions, by serving as successful female mentors themselves. Frazell, Jin, Thomas, Zarestky, and Sandberg are living examples of what female empowerment looks like in the modern workplace.

“You build these lasting relationships with the students and they start to see you as mentors, not just teachers,” reflected Frazell. “I think that’s really important as they’re going through their educational journey.”

Superpowers and School: Comics Empower Students to Academic Greatness

Would you choose super strength or the ability to turn invisible? Students at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in Newark, NJ carefully consider this and many other superpower-based questions. But for sixth-graders this January, the super hero alter egos they chose would affect the rest of their school year. Thanks to a unique project called 12 Comics and the expanded learning time provided by Citizen Schools, this team was getting energized about learning through comic art. The superheroes now represent their school achievements, and the better they do in class, the more powerful they become.

12 Comics CEO and Founder Mark Hair believes that comics are actually an effective way to engage students in their schoolwork and excite them about history, science, and literature. Since 2003, he has been leading projects that allow every student to create a superhero and then incorporate the superheroes into their lessons.

Student works during extended learning time on his superhero.

12 Comics offers students physical representation of their hard work and effort through trading cards and stories featuring their superheroes. Superheroes grow in strength and prominence based on student grades, test scores, and completed homework assignments. Students want to see their superheroes gain more power and that means doing well on their assignments, or missions.

The science mission involves students learning about the science of superhero abilities through the study of biology and physics. Students learn about historical events, such as writing a short story of what would happen if their superhero stopped the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy, Jr.  Adding a personal superhero into the curriculum inspires students to think about lessons in a new, innovative way.

Using comics to engage students in learning is unconventional, but it works. “I loved seeing how engaged the students were during the creative process,” said Allyson Cook, the Deputy Campus Director for Citizen Schools at Eagle Academy.

“The scholars began to be more proactive to excelling, knowing their progress reports and report grades directly affected their hero,” says Shakirah Islam, the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow who led the comic art apprenticeship.

Eagle Academy student shows off his superhero.

“It was the only apprenticeship that I’ve experience where the students had to be basically kicked out of class because they wanted to stay and finish their missions.” said Islam. Students talked about the comic art program in the hallways and always looked forward to it. Students competed with each other about their word count, an indication of their superhero strength.

12 Comics and Citizen Teachers are natural allies brought together by the experiences of Eagle Academy for Young Men’s Operations Manager, Thomas Owens. Owen’s son went through the 12 Comics program and saw first-hand the benefits of stimulating creativity to raise school engagement.

With Citizen Schools' extended learning time integrated into the school's culture, innovative programs like 12 Comics can fit in seamlessly into the learning day. If the staff of Eagle Academy had superpowers, they would probably have the ability to make partnerships transform.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G98ZGJijq8w

Video: HP Expands Students' Worlds

On Tuesday, April 29, 250 people gathered at the elegant Carolands Chateau in Hillsborough, CA, for Citizen Schools California's second annual gala, benefitEd. Citizen Schools California supporters and champions explored the halls of the exquisite chateau to see Bay Area middle school students showcase their Design Thinking projects, play with the android apps they created, and present the robots they built. The event celebrated the success of Citizen Schools students and honored our partnership with the HP Company Foundation.

Through our partnership with organizations like the HP Company Foundation, we are able to offer more engaging opportunities to students in the Bay Area. This video introduces us to HP’s dedicated volunteer teachers, who connect their passions for technology and photography to the dreams and aspirations of the Bay Area's young minds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNzUF3LF3BI

Film Credits: Director:Aaron Shadwell Producer: Colin Stokes

Special Thanks: Marlon Evans Amika Guillaume Sarah Partin Alison Townley Jim Vanides Alumni, students and teachers at Cesar Chavez Academy

Hands-On Learning Thrives in Cesar Chavez Academy’s Makerspace

TechChal4In a room with purple walls and rubber floors, students from Cesar Chavez Academy buzz with creative energy. They are surrounded by building materials, an abundance of tools, and impressive technology. They drill, discuss, construct, and test prototypes. These students are in the Tech Challenge  apprenticeship class and they are preparing for the Tech Challenge competition. Hosted by The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA the Tech Challenge is “a team design challenge for students in grades 5-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.” This year’s challenge was to create a mechanism that harnesses wind energy to move water.

Mario Cuellar, an after-school STEM Coordinator from the Ravenswood School District describes this year’s challenge as particularly tricky because it requires a complex set-up for students to practice on, as well as advanced knowledge in structural mechanics. Only 5% of teams are expected to succeed. In addition to the difficulty of the challenge itself, Citizen Schools teams from traditionally under-resourced schools lack the basic materials, technology, and human capital that most of the other teams at Tech Challenge have in abundance.

TechChal2However, the students at Cesar Chavez Academy have been provided an invaluable resource: a makerspace. A makerspace is a common work space with an abundance of resources, where engineers and artists collaborate in subjects such as computer programming and mechanics, technology, machining, and digital and electronic art. It is a space where teamwork is encouraged, materials are aplenty, and real world learning through trial and error is essential. Initiated by volunteer Citizen Teacher Robert Pronovost, the STEM Coordinator of the Ravenswood City School District, the district received a grant funded by the Silicon Valley Foundation, DonorsChoose, and a few generous individual donors to build makerspaces in every school in the district. Cesar Chavez Academy is the first to benefit from this invaluable learning space.

The students in the Tech Challenge apprenticeship have spent the spring semester brainstorming and designing their mechanism. They decided to build fans with pulley systems that attach to a funnel that scoops up water and drops it into another container.TechChal3

Throughout the room, students work through various set-backs. One student’s fan base is too light and it

keeps falling over - a lightbulb goes off. The student fills a plastic baggie with nuts and bolts and secures it to the fan base as a weight. The fan stands tall and secure. Problem solved.

The goal behind the creation of the makerspaces and the Tech Challenge are intertwined: to create a space where students use creativity and teamwork to solve real world problems; where imagination is sparked as students utilize the math and science skills they learn in the classroom to build real things with their hands. The space is a breeding ground for creative minds, and ignites new interest in STEM subjects with every opportunity to collaborate and build.

Copy of IMG_4667When asked what his favorite part of the apprenticeship was, one student, Christian, replied that he was really excited to attend the Tech Challenge and represent Cesar Chavez Academy. He shrugged when asked if he thought they’d win the competition. Instead of winning he was focused on the new-found pride he had in his school, his peers, and the effort they put into competing in the Tech Challenge, regardless of the outcome.

Fast forward to April 12, the day of the Tech Challenge. Christian was chosen to present  Cesar Chavez Academy to the judges. When his teacher asked if he was ready to present, Christian answered, “I got this. I will present with confidence!” While Christian’s presentation was charismatic, his team fell just short of moving one liter of water in the allotted amount of time. Meanwhile, another Citizen Schools team from Joseph George Middle School succeeded in the challenge! All students were excited and supported each other throughout the event.TechChal1

This spring we celebrate many successes. While one is memorialized with a medal, the other can be felt in the pride students felt when representing their school, the confidence they gained by presenting in front of a massive audience, and the excitement of participating in a state-wide competition. We all look forward to overcoming greater challenges and celebrating more success next semester.

 

NY Daily News: Citizen Schools Students Get a Boost from Google Volunteers

“One of the things people don’t talk about is the inspiration gap,” said Kamar Samuels, Principal of Bronx Writing Academy, in a recent interview with NY Daily News. “My students don’t necessarily have as many role models, and so one of the things that Citizen Schools brings is a core group of high-functioning, high-achieving adults to help students, to inspire students, to make a clear transition between what’s happening in their classrooms and what it could mean for their life. If you’re thinking, ‘How is math applicable to my life?’ Who better to show you than a Google software engineer?” A senior account manager at Google watches Ethan, a student at Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science, maneuver a robot he built during a  presentation at Google's Manhattan office.

Volunteers from companies like Google help students see how what they're learning in school now relates to a college degree and a successful career. Expanded learning time (ELT) opens up new experiences such as building a robot or writing a computer program that wouldn't be available to students otherwise.

“When they want a program to do something and they finally get it working, it’s totally exhilarating,” said Alexandra Taylor, a software engineer at Google, in the article. “They get the same moments of frustration and satisfaction that I do in my job everyday.”

Read the entire piece, Getting a Boost From Google: Citizen Schools makes STEM education relevant to at-risk students, at NY Daily News.