campus director

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

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

What brought you to Citizen Schools?

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

What has working here meant to you?

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

What was your biggest achievement since you began working here?

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

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

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


Citizen Schools Featured on Public Media's American Graduate Day!

This fall Citizen Schools was a featured on Public Media’s American Graduate Day for the second year in a row. American Graduate Day is a live TV event that celebrates organizations that provide support, advice, and intervention services to students, families, and schools to promote higher graduation rates in communities across the country. See Citizen Schools' segment below.

American Graduate Day is part of the public media initiative, American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen, created to help more kids stay on the path to graduation. Hosted by bestselling author and education advocate Wes Moore, the third annual broadcast was centered on recognizing one million American Graduate Champions who volunteer their time, talent, or other resources in their own communities. Citizen Schools' volunteer Citizen Teachers and AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows are among this celebrated group!

During Citizen Schools’ segment Jacor, a 7th grade student at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, Piyush Modak, three-time Citizen Teacher from Endomedix, and Chanelle Baylor, Deputy Campus Director of Citizen Schools at the Eagle Academy were interviewed by NBC News Correspondent Rehema Ellis, about their experience in Citizen Schools. Piyush and Chanelle described the deep connection between the school’s staff and Citizen Schools and the benefits volunteers and students gain from the program. Jacor impressed with his in-depth knowledge of solar car engineering and design, which he learned in his solar car apprenticeship.

Jacor also had a special experience outside the studio that illustrates the important connections Citizen Schools fosters for students. Jon Rubin, WNET’s Director of Education Services, shared this story:

I was with host, Wes Moore, all day and in the late afternoon we walked over to the social media area located on the Lincoln Center sidewalks on Broadway Avenue. Once we were there we saw Jacor from Citizen Schools and I thought it would be nice to introduce him to Wes. As they chatted I stepped back and then I saw two West Point Cadets who happened to be walking by at the time.


Since Wes was in the military, I went up and asked if they knew who he was and wanted to meet him. They immediately said yes and began to quickly walk over.


As they approached Wes – in unison the two U.S. Military Academy Cadets said…


”Hey Jacor!!!”


It turns out the previous weekend they had met Jacor at West Point during a Citizen Schools college visit. Talk about a pathway of powerful experiences for kids!


Looks like Jacor trumps Wes on Broadway Street.


Amazing kid…amazing program.

Citizen Schools is grateful to Jacor, Piyush, and Chanelle for sharing their experiences on the panel, to Eagle Academy for their continued partnership, and to the WNET American Graduate Day team. We are proud to be among a group of dedicated and impactful organizations that are helping to increase graduation rates for children like Jacor across the country.

Lessons from Sandy

Superstorm Sandy robbed so many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans of their sense of normalcy. Even though it took so much, the storm gave us an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons about kids...

1. Kids are resilient.

A child's ability to bounce back is incredible. When our students were finally able to get back to school I was amazed to hear about their reactions.

Krista Purnell, who oversees Citizen Schools' Newark programs, said, "With the storms leaving students in Newark with out power, heat, and water, in some cases, it was encouraging to hear about how much they wanted to get back to the business of learning. It is good to know that even as our communities are weathering the aftermath of the storms, the students are still invested in school and our program. This truly speaks to the resilience of our students, families, and communities at such a challenging time."

Aaron Bothner, Campus Director at Newark Early College High School, was overwhelmed by the students' response.

He said, "Our students came back to school a day earlier than we were able to start program again because of the Nor'Easter. I went to school and spent lunch with them that day. Immediately when I walked to the cafeteria a full table of students pulled me aside begging me to run program. It was great to see their excitement for Citizen Schools and for life to return to normal so they could get back to learning."

2. Kids are compassionate.

Even though so many are still suffering the damage from the storm themselves, our students have graciously stepped up to help others in the community.

The kids at Newark Early College High School wrote letters to victims staying at a local shelter that is housing families displaced by Sandy. In the letters students show a tremendous sense of optimism in the face of disaster. It's inspiring. Here's what one letter said:

"We all need someone to lean on in these bad times. Don't think you're the only one going through things because you're not. All I can say is I'll pray for you from the bottom of my heart. I'm sorry for what has happened to you."

3. Kids are up against a lot.

A natural disaster like Sandy is one of many possible hardships that kids face outside of school. They might come from a single parent home. They might be an English-language learner. Their parents might work difficult hours. Sometimes children are up against really tough odds. We can help them through it by making sure that school is a place of opportunity-- where every student, regardless of situation, is able to learn, grow and succeed.

Lucy Castillo, Executive Director of Citizen Schools New Jersey said, "Citizen Schools taps into the bountiful skills and talents of the community every day to execute our program to students across Newark.  So, I have always known everyday citizens to be incredibly generous with their time and talent.  They are the differentiators that help us realize our mission of "Educating students, strengthening communities" daily.  However, I was bowled over by the level of generosity, resilience and compassion exhibited over the last few weeks for Hurricane Sandy relief.  Newark was hit hard, but its people, its communities are tougher than Sandy!  Newark is known as Brick City and it is because together we can and must build our future, brick by brick."

You can be a building brick in New Jersey and New York, long after we recover from Sandy. By continuing to serve each other and the community you can help build the future. The spring will be here before we know it. Sign up to teach an apprenticeship and show these resilient, compassionate kids that they can beat the odds.




A Life-Changing Impact

Jin Ellington is the Campus Director at  Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham, NC. Under Jin's leadership, Lowe's Grove won Citizen Schools' 'Most Improved Campus' Award in 2010. She joined the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship after graduating Duke University in 2008. 

Robert is an unforgettable student.

He’s one of those people that the first time you meet him, you automatically know that you will like him. This is largely due in part to his personality – outgoing, genuine, and absolutely hilarious! (If you could compare Robert to any celebrity, it would be Chris Farley).

On top of that, he is also an amazing public speaker who is the most articulate and poised 8th grader you will ever meet. And finally, add to the mix the fact that he’s an A/B student who gets his homework done, participates in lessons, leads his fellow classmates, and supports other students, you have the perfect student all teachers dream of having.

So needless to say, I was in absolute shock the day his mother explained to me that it wasn’t always so. Robert was once a fairly shy young man who wasn’t very confident in his leadership abilities. Not only that, but he started middle school with C’s and D’s. She shared with me that in 6th grade, he would come home afterschool and attempt to complete his homework, though most of the time rather unsuccessfully. Then when she arrived home after work, they would continue to work together – sometimes until midnight when they would finally call it quits, completed or not, because it was just too late. Throughout that year, tears fell, arguments ensued, energies expended, and still the results did not improve.

According to Robert’s mom, Citizen Schools was the changing factor. It provided him the academic support he needed to get his homework done on time and with quality. The program also provided him the opportunity to explore different careers through the apprenticeships and to develop his confidence with oral presentation opportunities.

Citizen Schools can be and is a transformative experience for students. All students have the potential; some just need a little extra push to set them on the path to achieving their dreams.

Do you want to help put students like Robert on the path to success? Consider applying for the Teaching Fellowship, a life-changing experience for you and students.

5 Tips for New Teachers Balancing Family and Work

Connie Terry is a second year Teaching Fellow, wife and mother of two children.  When she’s not the Citizen Schools North Carolina State Data Captain, you can find her spending time with family as well as being active in her church and the community.  She has been with Citizen Schools since 2008. 

“Maintain a good balance.  A personal life adds dimensions to your professional life and vice versa.  It helps nurture creativity through a deeper understanding of yourself.” ~ Kathy Ireland

A new teacher has a great opportunity to have an energy level of excitement and motivation to help children advance in academics.  Using the skills you have will help enhance your extended job description, but realize that the work can seem heavy at times.  Find time to balance work and personal family life.


To do this:

  1. Set up a work plan on a weekly/monthly schedule- This helps eliminate having too many projects clutter together at the same time, and helps to set deadlines.  Communicate with the Campus Director to go over campus and leadership priorities.  Use the outlook calendar to set important dates and as a reminder.  Don’t be too quick to say yes to every project; say, “I’ll get back with you.”  This allows you to check your calendar and priorities you already have in place.
  2. Share the work load and share best practices-   This will eliminate feeling too stressed.
  3. Take constructive feedback as a helpful tool to better your position as a teacher and never take it personal as criticism.  It is important to have a balanced lifestyle between work and your personal life.
  4. After work, try not to take any work home with you.  If you must, limit that to a short time and always record time worked.

  5. Use valuable time to relax and rejuvenate by getting proper rest, eating healthy, andhaving some fun time with family and friends.  Your family is a great support, so keep the communications going, along with shared time.  Have a personal calendar to keep up with a balance lifestyle.

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” –Flora Whittemore