brand you

Showing Students How to Dream Big

A 12-year-old might dream of becoming an astronaut, the president, a firefighter, an athlete. But does she know what it takes to achieve that dream? Does she know what classes are important or what colleges she can go to? Does she know what other careers are out there that might also interest her? Students on a field trip at Bank of America

Thanks to a group of volunteers from Bank of America, middle school students in the Citizen Schools program at Martin Luther King Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina are discovering their own dreams, and learning how to achieve them. This career exposure and journey of self-discovery happens in an afternoon “apprenticeship” class as part of the Citizen Schools expanded learning day program.

Andrew Blaser, an AVP at Bank of America, was part of leading the Brand You apprenticeship class. Once a week, students learned how to apply the principles of branding to their own lives by discovering what makes them unique and exploring future careers that reflect their unique interests and personalities. Throughout the ten week course, the students worked on creating a personal brand message based on their interests, college and career goals, and then had the chance to present their personal goals to executives at Bank of America.

We asked Andrew to reflect on his experience in the classroom. Here’s what he had to say...

One of the greatest parts of the curriculum we chose to teach, Brand You, was that it allowed us to explore potential career paths with our students. This was an exciting opportunity because many of them had never considered the possibilities before this class. Once the class had discovered their unique characteristics, such as strengths, weaknesses, passions, etc., they were asked to put together a list of future careers they would love to have.

Students presenting their brands to executives at Bank of America

We generated a worksheet to help with this exercise, listing potential careers from auto mechanic to surgeon to teacher to financial planner, 42 options in all.  The students loved this because it presented them with so many options that would never have occurred to them otherwise, and, of course, since this list was not exhaustive it helped spark some great creativity in the class to come up with even more great ideas. By the end of our time together, we had students who wanted to be veterinarians, soccer stars, programmers, law enforcement, and everything in between!

Many students were able to choose their possible future careers because we helped them connect the dots through the exercises in class. This is the greatest part as a Citizen Teacher because it shows that we made an impact and helped someone dream big. In particular, I can think of one student who really struggled with deciding on careers and we were able to help her find something she was extremely passionate about.

When asked to create a list of potential career paths, this student was stumped. We went back into her folder and pulled exercises we had completed in class. This included a personal SWOT analysis, brand descriptors, and other personal evaluation tools. Using these, we determined that she had a real passion for music and science. As a hobby, she loved listening to music. It was one of her favorite activities. After some discussion, we thought about how she could share that talent with the world as a DJ.

She loved the idea, but we pushed her a little further. Of course, it is possible to make a career being a DJ, but we wanted to go another step, so we urged her to think about how she could combine music with her love of science.

This opened up the world of being a researcher, where she could pursue an advanced degree in science relating to the study of music. Or she could be a physicist, thinking about how sound waves interact with the world. The list went on, but the takeaway was that by thinking about a career revolving around what she loved, and not as a just a job down the road, we created a list of exciting possibilities that will hopefully inspire her to continue her education and enter a rewarding field down the road.

You can help a students discover their dreams by signing up to teach an apprenticeship. 

Bank of America Volunteers: In Their Own Words

Citizen Schools’ first apprenticeship, in journalism, was led by two young men with a dream to change education. But those young men, our co-founders Eric Schwarz and Ned Rimer, needed more than a dream to make their vision a reality; they also needed people and companies willing to invest money, time and thought partnership in their idea to bring citizens into classrooms as a “second shift” of educators. And Bank of America was right there, ready to invest their resources – and faith – in us. Brand You Apprenitce

Since those early days, the partnership between Bank of America and Citizen Schools has grown and evolved. More than 100 Bank employees have taught apprenticeships to middle school students across the country, on topics from investing to saving for college to branding. One brave Bank of America volunteer even taught Celtic dancing!

Just this past fall in Charlotte, North Carolina (where Bank of America was a founding partner) 17 Bank employees led an impressive four apprenticeships at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. We wanted to know what makes Bank of America employees some of our most dedicated volunteers, so we asked them what the Citizen Teacher experience meant to them. Here’s what they had to say:

“Our students were the stars of the show and made our Citizen Schools experience more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined.  They were simultaneously engaged and engaging, unafraid to ask questions and respectfully contribute their experiences at every turn.  It became quickly apparent that we were being held to a high standard which made us want to give 110%.  You know you’re having a fun and positive experience when you’re looking forward to the next class even before your current one has ended.”

- Jason Last, AVP Business Designer, College Prep Apprenticeship

The Brand You Apprenticeship

“It showed me the real impact that both students and professionals get from the apprenticeship experience. From a professional standpoint, teaching together helped us build a very strong team. We all leveraged each other to make sure that each lesson was as effective as it could be, and had great brainstorming sessions. And for the students, having such a diverse group of teachers made the lessons very accessible. We saw how much they appreciated our time and commitment. That was very powerful.”

- Nanelle Napp, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Brand You Apprenticeship

“We did a lesson about working through our strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day when we asked the students what they had learned, one girl raised her hand and said, ‘I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything.’ It was incredible that she got that take-away and that she believed that. For me that was the number one example of seeing these kids transform and become more like adults. We all had goose bumps.”

- Andrew Blaser, AVP of Business Controls and Monitoring, Brand You Apprenticeship

We've seen the impact that Citizen Schools – with the support of partners like Bank of America - has on children, the community and the country. Without our early and consistent partners, Citizen Schools might still be just a budding idea. Thanks to all of the companies and volunteers who make this work – and our students’ transformation – possible!

Inspiring Scientists with Cubist

At age 12, did you ever watch bacteria grow, or see a rocket launch, or analyze finger prints in a crime scene? Thanks to Cubist Pharmaceuticals, our students at Citizen Schools Massachusetts aren't your average 12-year-olds. They're scientists. Let's see what they've learned over the years... For the past four years employees from Cubist Pharmaceuticals have been leading Boston area middle school students on a path to discovery.

Rob Perez, President and Chief Operating Officer of Cubist, and Citizen Schools Massachusetts board member, said, "What I love about Citizen Schools is it not only extends learning time, but it also turns kids on to the opportunities available to them by having Citizen Teachers, like people from Cubist, coming in and showing them what they do through lots of different apprenticeships...It opens up a possibility they never knew existed." Check out this great video to hear more about how Cubist helps make dreams come true for Citizen Schools students.

The Citizen Schools and Cubist partnership began in the spring of 2009 with former Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Cubist Dave Mantus (now a Citizen Schools Massachusetts Board member) who taught a group of students the basics of physics through rocket science. Check out Dave and his students in action as they fire a vortex canon:


Two years later Cubist employees took on a new challenge, leading an apprenticeship called Cybersurgeons, in which middle schoolers became medical doctors-- studying viruses and learning how to diagnosis and treat patients.

This fall, Cubist led an impressive three apprenticeships! In Ice Scream, You Scream, young ice cream enthusiasts learned the science behind their favorite treat. Down the hall in Brand You, the kids created their own personal brands and learned the business of advertising.

In another Boston classroom students experienced Crime Scene Investigation, where they learned how science is used to solve crimes. 6th grader Remy loved the class so much he even wished they could extend the class time to two hours! If you can make a child wish for more time in class, you know you're doing something right.

Thanks to incredible partners like Cubist, science is fun. Best of all, in every Cubist classroom, young students are doing more than have fun while learning. They're experiencing what it's like to be a scientist and discovering that they can become scientists too.

Making an Impact in Chicago Public Schools

Jenny Methling is a Strategy Manager at AOL and a Citzen Schools Illinois Citizen Teacher. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Chicago Impact Blog.  AOL has partnered with Citizen Schools in communities around New York City and Boston, and this is the program's first year in Chicago, so several of us in the AOL Chicago office jumped at the chance to join in on the fun! Growing up, I always said I wanted to be teacher, but my hopes and dreams have changed a lot along the way. However, I love working with kids and a little part of me still has the desire to teach. Being a part of Citizen Schools has allowed me to reignite that passion, and it has come with some major payoffs.

AOL has two groups teaching at two different Chicago area public schools, and I've had the privilege of teaching and mentoring the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade kids in the "apprenticeship" program at Cesar Chavez in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Both groups are teaching "Brand You," an apprenticeship where students learn about the basics of branding and how to build your personal brand. Whereas a lot of kids in the U.S. prepare to apply for college in high school, these kids actually have to apply to high schools, so learning how to build your own brand is of importance at an earlier age.

Also, English is a second language to a lot of the kids, so teaching them new vocabulary words has also been a focus. It has been so cool to see the students grasp the concepts and use the vocabulary words that we've taught them. They are essentially learning the branding basics that I learned in my first two years of college -- and some of these kids are 12!

There is really no better way to describe the experience than saying it's super cool -- plain and simple. I spend two hours with these students every week, but it's amazing what they remember and how serious they take it. These kids are at school early in the morning until the early evening, but they got to choose to be in the Brand You apprenticeship, and you can tell how much they enjoy it.

I expected that they might build their personal brands as if they were applying for high school, college, or a typical teenage job, but these kids have some high aspirations and expectations for themselves -- which is awesome. They are so creative, and I hope they all pursue their hopes on the career front. There are kids that want to be baseball players, soccer players, video game developers, product developers at Lego, teachers, social workers, and police officers, and I hope they are all successful in becoming those things, because I honestly think they would all be great at their respective professions.

It's imperative that kids this age in low-income communities have programs like Citizen Schools -- it's surprising how early kids decide whether or not they will go to college or even complete high school. I wish I would have had a program like Citizen Schools when I was their age, just to get a glimpse of the real working world and seeing the payoff of a good education. I do hope that exposing these kids to young, successful professionals and bringing them to AOL's downtown office has encouraged them to stay focused on school and their future careers. I wish them all the best of luck and hope to see a few of them as future AOL employees!

Citizen Schools Illinois: The Struggles and Satisfactions in the Back of the Yards

Jake Oher is a Citizen Schools Illinois Teacing Associate at Cesar Chavez Academy in Chicago. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Blog. I came into the school year not knowing what to expect. As Citizen Schools Illinois was just about to enter into a partnership with Cesar Chavez Academy, I was a first time teacher who was anticipating the worst. During the first few weeks I experienced a couple bumps in the road, but a few things were made clear to me from day one.

First, Cesar Chavez Academy is a remarkable school that is led by an amazing group of devoted staff and teachers. I instantly knew that I was in the right place once I felt the warmth and love that everybody shares.

The second thing I noticed was that despite it being a launch year, the organization hired a strong group of individuals. Our friendships were almost instantaneous due to our shared passion for helping to close the achievement gap for students in Chicago. While my coworkers, atmosphere, and school are all great, the real reason I am working at Citizen Schools Illinois is for the chance to make a difference with students.

The students at Chavez are an amazing group of individuals who put in the work to advance themselves. Like all growing children, they still have some lessons they need to learn. However, for the most part, these kids care and respect themselves, their peers and the adults they interact with in their worlds. A few weeks into the school year, as the program began to pick up; it was already time to roll out our apprenticeship program.

The chance to be involved in an apprenticeship is what makes Citizen Schools such a unique and exciting program. Students are given the opportunity to work with and learn from experienced professionals across a wide variety of fields. As a Teaching Associate, I was paired up with one of our corporate partners, AOL, to teach a program called Brand You. The apprenticeship teaches students the basics of advertising while simultaneously teaching them to promote themselves with the same tools.

We wanted to challenge the students to think about themselves as lifelong brands who need to advertise their skills and abilities to help them get into a good high school and eventually a good college. We learned very quickly that the concept of advertising was new to these students. To start, we really had to drive home the basics. The three key concepts that we focused on were brand identity, brand promise and target audience. The basic definitions of these were helpful for the students, but it wasn't until after watching various TV and online advertisements that the students began to understand why commercials look the way they do -- i.e. the brand identity and promise -- and who advertisers are trying to speak to -- i.e. the target audience.

There were times when students would come into school, run up to me and say, "Have you seen the State Farm Commercial?" The target audience of that commercial is men ages 18-38 and their brand promise is that no matter what happens a State Farm agent will be there to support you. These types of interactions with the students are what teaching and mentoring are all about for me.

It was amazing to see my students engaged, taking information they had learned in their apprenticeship programs and applying it to real life examples. It became clear to me that because of this apprenticeship, some students are now looking at the world in a whole new way and words can't describe how great that makes me feel. I look forward to growing with Citizen Schools Illinois and helping develop the partnership that we have with AOL, because I have already seen the value it adds to our student's lives.