student impact

Boomerang: From Citizen Schools Student to AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow

Sophia Pompilus is a first year AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow in Boston, Massachusetts.   Like most younger siblings, I copied everything my older sister did. So when my parents enrolled her in Citizen Schools, as a copycat, I was ready to join along with her. My sister always came home excited, chatting away about all the fun she had with her Team Leader (now known as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow or School Support staff who lead instruction during what has become Citizen Schools’ expanded learning day). However, as an eight-year-old, I was too young to join Citizen Schools at the time.

Then the summer before the third grade arrived and I was finally old enough. I joined Citizen Schools in 2000 as a member of a summer day camp program. From there, I went on to be a part of the fall, spring, and summer sessions for the next four years. As a youth, I continued to enroll in the program because of all of the opportunities Citizen Schools exposed me to. I was living in such a vibrant city but was unaware of my surroundings. My Team Leaders opened up my eyes to see what was out there. My parents also really appreciated the high level of family and community engagement. They loved how my Team Leaders kept them informed of what Citizen Schools was doing and made a joint effort to shape my future. Citizen Schools greatly impacted me as a youth growing up in the Boston Public Schools, and the relationships I had with Citizen Schools staff then still continue today.

During the fall of my senior year at Georgetown University, I made the decision to apply for the AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellowship through Citizen Schools. I remember reflecting on all the people who had played a part in my education and I could not help but jump first to Citizen Schools. Of course, I had awesome teachers, but in schools with low funding, limited resources, and large classrooms, my teachers could not provide the one-on-one time and mentorship I had with my teachers in Citizen Schools. I knew I was lucky to have been in a program where people were committed to looking out for me, even beyond my participation in the program.

Fast forward 14 years and I now serve as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, MA. I see a lot of similarities between my students at Orchard Gardens and the younger Sophia Pompilus. I too had parents who immigrated to the United States recently. I too grew up in a large family, with parents who worked long hours. I too had nominal exposure to the city and world around me. But just like the students I teach, I too had a lot of potential to succeed academically. My Team Leaders helped me see the potential in myself, and now I can do the same for the students I serve.

As an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow I fulfill two main roles at my school. For four days a week, I partner with an amazing 6th grade science teacher to assist her classes during the school day. In this capacity, I work with a diverse group of students; some are English Language Learners, some are top scorers, some are struggling. Being able to work with a veteran teacher in the morning helps me establish credibility as a supporting adult for my students. Throughout the week, I work with a smaller group of students, mainly the English Language Learners, in order to reinforce the material their class is learning. I teach these students the same concepts the rest of the class is learning, using modified assignments in order to best accommodate them. Since the beginning of the year, I have seen students who were once wary of asking for help, reach out to me for assistance in any situation.

In the afternoon during Citizen Schools, I also work as my campus' Student Engagement Lead (SEL). I support other AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows with behavior management by running our school’s Step Up Room, where students go when they need to be refocused or redirected. Our students are in school for 10 hours a day and there are many underlying things going on in their lives. Oftentimes, this results in a lack of focus as the day goes on. As a SEL, I am a counselor for the students, helping them think through the challenges they face and guiding them in finding solutions. My room is an open and safe space where students can advocate for themselves regarding issues happening in and out of the school.

The students I serve are rapidly developing, revealing personality traits I didn’t even know existed two months ago. I get to hear about their interests, their fears, their goals, their families, their pets, you name it. Hearing about these their lives reminds me of why I was so eager to join Citizen Schools as an eight-year-old, and today, these are the same things that motivate me each day I wake up for work.

Join Sophia as an AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellow! Apply here!

 

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.”

The Perfect New Year's Resolution for You: Volunteering

We have taken the liberty of setting some realistic and rewarding New Year's Resolutions for you-- eat more vegetables, drink more water, and volunteer to teach an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools.

You won't regret it. In fact, when people sign up to be “Citizen Teachers” and lead middle school students through these hands-on learning projects, they often come out of the experience not only feeling a sense of fulfillment, but making amazing connections with students. A New Year's Resolution that makes you feel good and also makes a huge difference in your community? Yes please.

But don't take it from us. Here is what a few of our Citizen Teachers had to say about their transformative experience in the classroom...

5815049613_95d9afc87b_n"One relationship I forged with a student in particular stands out because of his transformation as a person through participating in soccer. It’s one of the most remarkable things I've seen in the school this year. The student went from being non-cooperative with staff members, refusing to participate in the fall apprenticeship, to being the team captain in the spring and helping other teammates do the right thing on and off the field."

   --- Alana Siegner, Massachusetts

"After four weeks of instruction and many topics covered, I brought up a previous lesson to a student assuming that it went in one ear and out the other, but after beginning to reiterate the point the student stopped me and said, "yeah, yeah, I know. You thought I wasn't listening, but I was." He then went on to finish the point I had started to make."

  --- Anthony Bernas, Illinois

"The week after we taught the kids about seasonality and the importance of eating local produce, one of my students told me that her mother was pregnant and she wanted to tell her mother which produce would be the healthiest, most affordable, and tastiest at this time of the year. This made me realize that my students were actually absorbing the information I was giving them and that I was making a difference that could spread into the community as a whole."

  --- Alexandra Yesian, California

10409132805_e56a0cb133_n"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, North Carolina

"One of our students seemed quite challenging at first. Knowing that he considered himself an artist, we assigned him the role of creating a banner to use at the WOW! event. He worked diligently in class one day on his assignment and he returned the next week with not one, but two, fantastic drawings! His clear pride in his major contribution was truly gratifying."

  --- Delia Stroud, Texas

"During one of my classes, I discovered a bright and smart young man called Larry. After my first written test, I discovered his handwriting was not very legible and was disturbed by this fact. As a suggestion from my team leader, I bought him a penmanship book. After some effort to get Larry to write in the book, in 5-6 weeks, Larry started writing a story in his book. When I saw this, I was deeply moved by the impact my small action made on Larry. As I write this story, Larry is on his third chapter of his story, written by hand!"

  --- Piyush Modak, New Jersey

"One student in my class seemed incredibly shy and was unwilling to share or almost even speak. I had a 5837020620_1e7ca0e606_nchance to work with her a little bit throughout that class and as she was on her way out the door for dismissal I said to her, "I'm gonna get you to speak in front of the class before the end of the term." She kind of smiled and shook her head. The following week I started off again posing some questions to the class and the first question I asked this girl's hand shot up to answer. That was satisfying."

  --- Matt LeFebvre, New York

Your resolution awaits! Sign up today and change a life in 2014.

 

It's Not All Rainbows and Sunshine, But it's Worth It

Jessica Eddy is a first year Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools New York. She delivered this speech at a Citizen Schools New York event. When I was first asked to be tonight's Teaching Fellow speaker, I grappled with one question: How do I be completely honest about my fellowship experience, but leave my listeners with a renewed sense of hope in the work that we do? Most of you can probably relate to this dilemma, as I’m pretty sure you’d agree that our jobs are far from easy, the hours are long, and the roles we play in closing the achievement gap are anything but glamorous. However, after a bit of reflection, I decided that the best way to do this would be to tell you a little bit about where I was at the beginning of the fellowship and where I am today.

Jessica Eddy

My decision to become a Teaching Fellow in New York involved much more than a desire to give back to my community. It also reflected an eagerness to become active in what many have come to refer to as the most pressing civil rights issue of our time. I not only wanted to help students who looked like me get the education I was so fortunate to receive, but I also wanted to be a part of making sure they had access to professional opportunities that would ground their learning and bring more meaning to their school day. I saw an outlet for me to accomplish these things within the Citizen Schools model, and so I decided to sign up.

But, during the very first day of program, on that fateful Thursday, September 6, all of my thoughts about civil rights in education, and justice, and access to professional opportunity, and school day significance were replaced by two very simple words that I’m confident we've all gotten used to hearing: behavior management.

Oh, yes. I will never forget the whirlwind expressions on my co-workers faces during our first post-program meeting when our Campus Director casually asked how everything went. As for me, I was sweating, my body felt like it had been run over by an 18 wheeler, and I was completely stunned by the attitudes these 11 and 12-year-olds carried, most of them half my size.

As the weeks progressed, I would quickly learn that it didn’t stop just at attitudes. I would later explain to my grandmother, “they throw fits, they throw chairs, and they throw each other.” Behavior management? My boss told me I was doing an excellent job but it honestly felt like I was not managing a thing. I felt it, and so did the kids.

Needless to say, the pressure was on, and it began to build. Students’ attitudes and behaviors became worse, our relationship with the school day teachers started to fall apart at the seams, the amount of deadlines outside of the classroom increased, a work life balance did not exist, our campus director resigned, and, to my utter dismay, I began to develop wrinkle lines on my forehead. I was disillusioned and in survival mode, just trying to make it from one day to the next, just trying to prep my lessons and materials, and to stick to my campus schedule the best I could.

And in all honesty, I began to view student achievement as an added bonus to my work, not as my daily goal. “I will help those students who show me they want to be helped. I will teach those who want to learn, and I will help bring opportunity to those open to accepting it.” These were my thoughts, and I didn't care if they meant I was a bad teacher. They helped me navigate what was beginning to feel like a hopeless situation.

It turns out that my discontent was becoming known to everyone, even my supervisors. When I first met my interim supervisor Chad Vignola, he smiled and said “Jessica Eddy, so you’re the one I was told to stop at the end of each day and ask to please stay on board.” I was amused by this remark, and it became an inside joke between Chad and me.

But to date, nothing hit me harder than when one of my students, the extremely mischievous yet completely adorable Joan Cruz, peered up at me with his squinting little eyes and asked, “Ms. Eddy, are you going to leave us? Are you going to quit?” I was floored and had no idea how to respond. “I won’t leave you, Joan,” was all I could muster up.

It was in that moment, for the very first time, that I recognized the value of my work. If nothing else, I came to know that I represent a steady force in students’ lives, someone they look forward to seeing everyday just as much as they look forward to driving crazy, and someone they know will stick it out with them and for them when times are hard.

That one little question showed me just how closely my students were watching me, how accustomed they were getting to having me around (no matter how much they yelled that holding kids hostage until 6 o clock was illegal), and how much they wanted me to help them succeed. I renewed my investment that evening, and planned to make relationship building with my students a more regular part of my plan for their academic and personal success.

I won’t lie to you and say it’s been all rainbows and roses from then on. The work is still incredibly difficult, and finding ways to engage students in all aspects of program presents itself as a daily challenge. But I've seen my students make amazing personal and academic strides just by knowing someone is in their corner, rooting for them, and has no intention of walking away.

As for Joan, his attitude has improved, he can identify math patterns more quickly than he could during first semester, and he is more focused on developing his career as a professional wrestler than I’ve ever seen him. Last week, when I made the announcement that it was time to pack up and put up the chairs, he yelled out, “No! I don’t want to leave Citizen Schools right now!” “Joan, I’m going to have to record you saying that,” I said, beaming. But what I probably meant to say was, “I don’t want to leave just yet, either.”

This work is hard. But the impact is real. Join Jessica Eddy and incredible class of Teaching Fellows, and change lives. Apply to the National Teaching Fellowship today. 

A Community of Supporters Saves Program in Santa Fe

Sahra Saedi is a First Year Teaching Fellow at De Vargas Middle School in Santa Fe, NM. 

On the night of Tuesday, April 17th the Santa Fe school board was convened to make a decision that would affect the future of hundreds of middle school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Santa Fe Citizen Schools staff and I packed ourselves into the humid public forum room. Elbow to elbow, we patiently waited for our opportunity to advocate for the Citizen Schools expanded learning program at De Vargas Middle School. Finally, the school board representatives crackled over their microphones alerting our pack of staff and well-wishers that the opportunity to speak on behalf of our vital program had come.

A line formed behind the public forum podium starting with our school’s principal and ending with three of our most supportive parents. The line of champions twisted around the room.

Principal Diane Garcia Piro started off by painting a picture of our school at a tumultuous crossroads until Citizen Schools began to flourish. Garcia talked about how students now look forward to coming to school because they have been given the tools to succeed.

Students  Ruby Lopez, Carlo Quinones, and Suzette Tiscarreno sang the praises of the Citizen Schools program and how it had changed their life. Carlo, fresh off a trip to Washington, D.C. where he, his mother and former Citizen Schools New Mexico Executive Director, Sue Goodwin, endorsed Citizen Schools at our nation’s capital, stepped fearlessly to the microphone with unmatched determination. Carlo described how Citizen Schools had opened his eyes to a world of possibility he would have never otherwise known.

Kathryn Bueller, a De Vargas science teacher, who in the same meeting had been awarded National Teaching Board Certification, proclaimed that “this program (Citizen Schools ELT) should be in every middle school in Santa Fe and across the country!”

Jesus Esparza, a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow, described his own educational experience growing up in Santa Fe; and his added perspective as a new father has only strengthened his commitment to Citizen Schools and resolve to pursue a career in education.

Returning volunteer Citizen Teachers, Jason Jaacks, Julia Barns, and Alex Gancarz took to the podium espousing everything from hard facts of Citizen Schools’ positive effect on De Vargas’ students to heartwarming moments of triumph in the classroom, declaring the necessity of this program to which they are all so committed.

The public forum portion of the evening concluded with a tearful testimonial from Suzette’s mother, Mrs. Tescarones. Mrs. Tescarones wept as she described Suzette’s education prior to Citizen Schools, previous teachers and administrators had claimed Suzette simply wasn’t intelligent and that her shy behavior was a result of that handicap. When Suzette enrolled in Citizen Schools at De Vargas Middle School as a seventh grader her grades and social parlous began to blossom and grow. Now Suzette is in 8th Grade Academy with a 4.0 and has become an exemplary public speaker from semesters of practice as a translator at the De Vargas WOW showcase. Mrs. Tescarones pleaded with the board to keep Citizen Schools because it saved her daughter’s life and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The procession of Citizen Schools ambassadors returned to their seats with heads held high, as they were enveloped with applause and congratulations. The evening was concluded by an rousing presentation from the now transitioned Sue Goodwin and De Vargas’ current CD Kendra Engels. Sue and Kendra employed charts, statistics and a sincere documentary made by CT Jason Jaacks to highlight the triumphs Citizen Schools has seen in Santa Fe and nationwide.

When the microphone was finally silent and the school board was given the opportunity to question and comment on the parade of proponents they had been witness to, they could only thank Citizen Schools for its commitment to excellence. Brief, pointed questions were poised to Sue regarding specific data the board would be interested in, but the over-all climate in the room was one of victory. An army of parents, community leaders, volunteers, and Citizen Schools staff had heralded the vital nature of the work we do and the room reverberated with understanding and awe. That evening I believe we all could have flown home on the wings of a community unified in the fight for education reform and a deep commitment to the future of students at De Vargas Middle School.

Check out the advocacy video below created by Volunteer Citizen Teacher, Jason Jaacks!

http://youtu.be/hUT2Jt9Pfk8

Toledo Rockets: Help Students Reach New Heights

Tony Ryals is a First Year Teaching Fellow at the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, MA. He is an alumni of the University of Toledo, Class of '10.  I remember walking across the stage at Savage Arena and anxiously thinking, what will I do now? I made the commitment to do something that is bigger and better than myself. I decided to join the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship and to work towards the bettering of our future generations!

My experience with Citizen Schools has been a truly great one.

The program propels students to do more both inside and outside of the classroom. The job propels the teachers to make the most of each day.

I have learned patience and understanding for students who may not have been exposed to the positive side of education. I work at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School, which is a turnaround school in its second year. I work with 8th graders in 8th Grade Academy (8GA) and I am given the unique opportunity to help these students apply for high schools in the Boston area. High school is a huge milestone, especially for my team, considering that more than half of my students have been at Orchard Gardens since kindergarten!

I've seen students accepted in to many great high schools. The look of accomplishment that transforms their faces and body language, is priceless.

It takes time to build trust and a conducive learning environment with your students and you must build positive relationships all the while maintaining your teacher presence. I will say that this all took time for me to figure out, but Citizen Schools helped me every step of the way.

I did not receive my degree in Education, like many other Teaching Fellows so don’t let that discourage you in any way. You are trained throughout the summer and school year to ensure that you are being an effective teacher and mentor. You build great relationships with your cohort and are able to exchange feedback and ideas with your cohort members around the network.

The Fellowship teaches time management, organization and allows you to have morning partnerships with your school guidance counselor, teachers, work for the regional or state team or even work as a partner with the community or with companies such as Google, Bank of America and local law firms. This program will expose you to many great opportunities for personal and professional growth. I am glad I made this choice after college and you will be too.

Make the commitment, make a difference!

Apply for the Teaching Fellowship before the final deadline - May 18th.

From Bad Boys to B-Boys: The Students Become the Teachers

Lorelle Schaub is the Operations Coordinator of Citizen Schools New Mexico. “I like teaching,” says Elvis Jemez an 8th grader at De Vargas Middle School who is teaching a Break Dancing apprenticeship with his good friend, Jesse Portillo. Elvis and Jesse were both students in Citizen Schools as 7th graders last year. From the outside, Jesse and Elvis were “bad boys.” They were often found skipping class, arguing with other students or teachers, showing up late, and rarely completing their work.

Despite their rough outside, they were, at heart, good kids. Elvis would show videos of himself teaching his little brother how to break dance, and Jesse had a smile that you couldn’t help but love. As the semester went on they got better, they showed up to class, did homework, and attempted to study for tests. By no means were they perfect, but they were headed in the right direction.

This semester they continued to head in the right direction as they decided to come back to Citizen Schools, not as students but as volunteer Citizen Teachers, teaching their own Break Dancing Apprenticeship.

These two young teachers command the attention of the room as they give directions. The students stand in a circle and review some foot work they learned the previous week. Jesse starts at one end of the circle, while Elvis starts on the opposite side; they approach each student and watch them demonstrate the skill they just learned. Leadership skills shine through as their thoughtful coaching: “good, that’s perfect,” or “okay, keep practicing I want you to do it 5 more times,” is heard throughout class.

Elvis and Jesse are committed to sharing what they love to their peers and doing it in a way that makes sense, “I like everything about teaching, I get to give skills to kids, who get to give it to other kids, who give it to other kids. I’m affecting a lot of people.” says Elvis about the experience. “It feels good, I have fun and I’m not on the streets.” added Jesse.

The apprenticeship is not only affecting the boys who are teaching, but their apprentices, as well. A fellow 8th grader, Jerry Chavez says, “I chose this apprenticeship because Elvis taught my brother and his friends how to dance and I want to learn too. When you’re dancing you are in another world. Doing what you love. There are no drugs, no gangs, and no violence.”

Students in the class are focusing not just on their love of dance; they are also focusing on 21st Century skills. Teamwork is seen all around the room as students are helping each other. One student is helping her friend in the corner, while a group of boys are working on making their moves align together.

Apprentices Cristol Torres and Luli Rodriguez share how they feel this apprenticeship has improved their oral communication and leadership skills while also being fun, “I am learning to express myself and not be shy. It’s really cool that our friends are being leaders and teaching this apprenticeship. It’s one of my favorites of all time.”

Continuing to Impact Students - Despite School Closure

Sylvia Monreal is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the MLK Jr. Community Campus in Newark, NJ Last month, the superintendent of Newark Public Schools announced her plans to close seven schools in the district. One of those schools happened to be our site, Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Campus. It seems like just yesterday that I wrote on this blog the challenges we would face in the Kingdom (as we’ve come to call the school) as the first Expanded Learning Time site in all of Citizen Schools New Jersey. It would be tempting to write up Superintendent Anderson’s announcement as an end of our mission but that would be far from the truth.

Marian Wright Edelman, the president and founder of Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

There is no doubt that Superintendent Anderson’s announcement will bring great change to the lives of our students, but, hopefully, so will the daily work that we continue to do as a part of Citizen Schools.

Last week, our campus held its fourth Apprenticeship Fair - an event where volunteers enter the classroom and pitch students on the ten-week courses they're going to teach - and it was a stunning success. A new batch of new Citizen Teachers joined some inspiring veteran volunteers to dazzle our students with the promise of upcoming Apprenticeships. There was no sign of resignation to be found in the building, only excitement about future learning. I remember poking my head into a room to see a group of sixth grade boys that you normally couldn’t pay to sit quietly silently investigating their “fossil” samples for clues, guided by the Earth Science volunteer teachers. In a different room, a group of students with special needs crowded around to study a lemon circuit in the BEAM (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) Robotics presentation.

Just last Monday, during our Explore! Time, the Team Leaders and the students set aside their worries to practice a different sort of learning. Together, they worked on constructing racecars from recyclable materials, sculpted office supplies out of clay, and dabbled in pop art. Some 8th grade students even took a break from their game and helped a younger boy with his homework so he could join in with the fun.

I believe that these are the daily moments that Edelman called for in order to change a nation, even in the face of sometimes sudden and drastic political changes. Anderson’s announcement looms overhead, but our campus remains committed to our everyday work and our students until the very end.

Where have you seen small differences that will add up, overtime, to make big differences?

Citizen Teachers: Nothing Less Than Life-Changing

Jennifer Hart is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Isaac Newton Middle School in East Harlem, NY

Before our mid-semester training for our volunteer Citizen Teachers this year, I wanted to take a step back and take some time to do what teachers rarely have the time to do in the midst of the challenges of the job – reflect. As Citizen Teachers only have the opportunity to see their students for the 1.5 hours each week that they spend with them on campus teaching apprenticeship courses, they may not always get to see or hear the full impact of their work. I want to make sure that they knew that their work is, as is the work of so many educators, nothing less than life-changing.

Recently we had the honor of hosting our wonderful families for Family Night at Isaac Newton Middle School in East Harlem, NY. We shared with parents the mission of our program – the importance of building academic skills and helping our students make those critical college and career connections to put them all on the path to success. Our students spoke about different elements of Citizen Schools, and parents naturally had questions about their child’s progress, the schedule, etc, but what stood out to me were the questions that came from parents like “What is this apprenticeship program? My child won’t stop talking about his apprenticeships!” I had two students who had rehearsed a brief speech to answer the question, “What is an apprenticeship?”, but I later asked the class, impromptu, in front of their parents, if anyone would like to share something about their apprenticeship. Nearly 14 hands shot straight in the air. The students I called on each spoke articulately with a light in their eyes that you do not always see in an average classroom. Judging by the proud smiles of so many parents, I could tell they were impressed. One of my coworkers shared a wonderful story with me – one of her student's parents had actually asked if she could attend a WOW! (the final presentation at the end of apprenticeships) of an apprenticeship, even though her child was not in that course. The passion our Citizen Teachers are bringing to the classroom is inspiring a love of learning and excitement not only in our students, but also in parents and in the larger community.   

Further emphasizing the impact of Citizen Teachers, each week, we gather our students in a ritual called “Circle,” where our students come together to celebrate one another’s achievements and the learning that has occurred throughout the week. We do what is called a “teach back” where students come to the center of the circle and share something they have learned with their class. This week several students came forward, and each student wanted to share something that they had learned in their apprenticeships – again with a joy and an excitement that is too often absent from our country’s struggling classrooms. One of my students came forward and shared that she had been disappointed when she was first placed in her apprenticeship, as it had not been her first choice. But now, she said, with an eloquence, honesty, and insightfulness that took us all by surprise, that she felt like she had grown so much in her apprenticeship. She used to always get into trouble, but now she said, “I love it…and I love my Citizen Teacher!”

I could, as always, write and write about the magnitude of the impact of Citizen Teachers. They all are most certainly part of something bigger than they could possibly imagine. And to all the people who make the volunteer opportunity possible for our Citizen Teachers – the Teaching Fellows who dedicate hours of their time to making an expert’s knowledge come alive for our students, the Civic Engagement departments who recruit new talent and forge new partnerships with exciting people and businesses, the families and teachers who support the program (and teach apprenticeships themselves!), and so many more people – you are all part of this impact.

Thank you for all you are doing – Citizen Teachers and the people who make the opportunities possible. Your work is nothing less than life-changing.

Who was a life-changing educator in your life?