At Citizen Schools, we understand and deeply appreciate the patience, dedication, and generosity that it takes to be an educator. With the Thanksgiving holiday in mind, last Friday evening, our board member Karen Gordon, Senior Partner BCG, invited the entire New York regional team into her home for cocktails and conversation to show her appreciation for the mission of Citizen Schools and for our educators that work so tirelessly for our students' success.
Executive Director Nitzan Pelman began the evening with a moving address on the current educational and professional landscape and the moral imperative that we all share to change the futures of our students by helping them discover and realize their dreams.
Paige Legree, a current 9th grader and Citizen Schools alumna, charmed the entire room of guests when she told the story of her background and her Citizen Schools journey. Her lighthearted approach to talking about her serious transition from apathy to determination for her future was truly inspiring and had the room lit up with smiles. Watch Paige's speech here, or read it below.
Teaching Fellows, Sara Osias and Peter Doherty, both shared stories with the group about the outstanding improvement, academically and behaviorally, that they've seen in two of their students this year in comparison to last year.
We rounded out the night getting to know our gracious host and her family in a “fireside chat.” Quioni Phillips, a Teaching Associate at Global Tech Prep, lead the interview with Karen that helped us all learn more about her background at Boston Consulting Group and her passion for Citizen Schools and working to close the achievement and opportunity gaps in New York City public schools. Citizen Schools New York is so grateful to have incredible people like Karen supporting our cause and our amazing educators.
Read Paige's speech below:
Hi, my name is Paige Legree and I’m a 9th grader at Manhattan Center High School. You’re probably wondering why I’m here because Citizen Schools only works with middle school kids and I am currently a 9th grader. But I was lucky enough to attend Citizen Schools during middle school and learned a lot about what I want to do in the future from the apprenticeships I took.
When I was thinking about how to explain to you what Citizen Schools is, I decided the best way would be to tell you a little bit about my own story. I live in the projects in a neighborhood called East Harlem. It’s a tough place and I see a lot of negative things in my environment. To me, these negative things seem like a “cancer” (as you’ll see later, I really like metaphors!). It gets really hard to focus on what’s important like school, family, and doing the right thing when I see groups of kids just hanging out, skipping school, seemingly having fun, and doing things that make me feel really nervous. I walk quickly from home to school every day and spend as little time as possible in between.
You may not know this, but in New York City only a little more than half of students graduate high school, and in neighborhoods like mine, it’s only 30 to 40 percent. Pretty sad. School is like a safe haven for me, but it didn’t always feel like that.
Back in 7th grade, I started to struggle a lot. I felt sad all the time, became anti-social, and school really didn’t matter to me anymore. My grades started to slip and I remember thinking about my future and it seemed really hopeless; it was like one day I could see the clear path to where I wanted to be and then the next I was completely lost (see I told you I liked metaphors!).
When I look back at it, I see how much my environment was seeping into me, but at the time I didn’t realize the “cancer” was effecting my mind, my academics, and my future. Now I realize that I was on the same track as the kids on the corner, and I have to admit that I might not have have stayed in school.
Luckily, I had Citizen Schools teachers, like Mr. Crockett who is just as stubborn as me, and helped me get back on track. Everyday he’d take the time to talk to me, ask me what was on my mind and then eventually, he’d get me to do work. At the beginning of each semester we had something called Apprenticeship Fairs, where we’d get to apply for the apprenticeships we wanted to take.
I was really interested in a photography apprenticeship, but Mr. Crockett told me I had to get my grades up in order to get in (which I found out later wasn’t even true, but I guess that’s what you call a white lie). That was enough though! I started to apply myself and aced all my tests the next week! I call this time in my life my metamorphosis – I learned that if I apply myself I can have awesome opportunities and for the first time in a long while I actually understood why school is important to my future.
In Citizen Schools I took a lot of really cool apprenticeships – I learned about things I hadn’t been exposed to before and even got to visit Google’s headquarters! In my photography apprenticeship I was able to be hands on with professional camera equipment and visit NBC studios – things I never imagined experiencing in my life. One concept that I will always remember from that apprenticeship is called “zooming out.” Zooming out means that sometimes you need to take a step back and look at a problem from another angle or see the big picture. I actually apply this to daily life, like in school when I’m taking a test and I panic about not knowing the answers. I try to zoom out, wait a moment, and generally I realize that I do have a solution.
In my Spoken Word apprenticeship we learned about poetry and deep complex literary elements, like metaphors. It was so much fun and I found out that I love creative language. In my high school classes, no one seems to know about metaphors or literary elements, so I feel like I’m really ahead of the class. When kids asked how I know about these things, I told them about apprenticeships and they said “Why didn’t we get apprenticeships in middle school?!” I wish they all had.
To be honest with you, at first I thought Citizen Schools was just an unnecessary after-school program that cut me off from all the TV programs I like to watch. But I couldn’t help seeing that the teachers, volunteers, and apprenticeships were really special. We learned creative ways to study, complete homework, and started to understand why learning matters now and in the future. If you ask me now, I’ll tell you that Citizen Schools has helped me become the driven, sharp, and ambitious student that I am today.
Citizen Schools was definitely necessary – what else can I say? It’s just awesome! I’m proud to tell you that I have a clear vision for my future now. When I graduate High School (not if!) I hope to attend Columbia University, and major in journalism and study abroad in Italy or France. I’m really excited about what’s ahead of me. I want to thank all of the people at Citizen Schools that have given me these incredible opportunities and thank you for inviting me to share my story tonight.