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.”

STEM Advocacy Coalition

15820696688_46b3241edd_mDid you know that New Jersey has 1.4 STEM jobs for every one unemployed person?* The STEM Advocacy Coalition (SAC), which addresses New Jersey’s growing skills gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries, was created in partnership with Dale Anglin, Senior Program Officer, Victoria Foundation; Ross Danis, President, Newark Trust for Education; Catherine “Kit” Nugent, Director of External Engagement, Citizen Schools New York-New Jersey; and Sarah Keh, Program Officer, Prudential Foundation. The Launch Committee is comprised of representatives from the Mayor’s office, Newark Public Schools, Newark Workforce Alliance, Urban League, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Schools Who Can, Students 2 Science, Newark Museum, Liberty Science Center, NPower, GlassRoots, PSE&G, and Panasonic among others.

SAC’s mission is to develop Newark's future STEM workforce by closing education, access and opportunity gaps by utilizing cross-sector collaborations between STEM industries, institutions of higher education, school districts, and workforce development agencies to align STEM education with New Jersey’s projected economic growth and global leadership. The overarching goals of SAC in formation

  • Align STEM education with training programs and with necessary job skills.
  • Explore and scaffold existing mentorship programs to opportunities in apprenticeships, internships, job-shadowing, and more.
  • Create a pipeline for talent recruitment and professional development.
  • Advocate for mutual policy positions which champion education, equity, and workforce readiness.
  • Develop “real time” communications and marketing materials, which feature collaborative STEM Newark “good news”, highlighting programs and best practices for reaching across sectors, agencies, and partnerships.

17070976939_fceb38a0ab_mTo date, SAC has had three launch committee meetings in order to collect information, share ideas and identify resources. This organization hopes to galvanize educational institutions, community-based organizations, businesses, and parents to inspire and train Newark's young workforce to become the nation's next innovators in science, engineering, and technology.

Listed below are the panelists that met on June 16th to address the need for alignment of STEM education to workforce readiness job skills in STEM.

  • Kendall Ademu-John HR Specialist, Diversity Outreach & Talent Acquisition, PSE&G
  • Stephen Cafiero Group Manager EEO/AA Diversity & Recruiting, Panasonic
  • Sally Nadler Manager, Workforce Development, PSE&G
  • Evo Popoff Chief Innovation Officer and an Assistant Commissioner, NJDOE
  • Jennifer L. Stegers Accounting Manager, NJ Chamber of Commerce Foundation

For more information contact: Barbara Glassman, Managing Director of External Engagement at Citizen Schools New York-New Jersey at

The SAC is a work project of Kechia Gay, STEM VISTA. Citizen Schools appreciates Kechia’s leadership and support of this effort.

*Source: Change The Equation’s Vital Signs

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!

A Teacher's Perspective on the Expanded Learning Day

Female student smiling in front of lockersAmy Bednar is a teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here is her take on how Expanded Learning Time and Citizen Schools are impacting her school community.  How long have you been involved in the education field?

This is only my second year as a teacher at MLK. However, I have been involved in the field from a young age - always reading with elementary children, working at summer camps, working as a peer tutor in college, and volunteering with after-school programs.

What brought you to the education field?

I have always wanted to be a teacher. In every autobiography I wrote for school growing up, I wrote that I would be teaching (and illustrated myself beautifully of course!). My little brothers had to sit through countless "lessons" with me, and I loved going to work with my dad to use the copy machine. My mom is also a teacher, so I guess that rubbed off pretty well! I was always the girl who loved going to school. I am naturally curious, so everything interested me. I also had awesome teachers who went above and beyond to ensure we had what we needed to be successful. I went into teaching to instill this love of learning onto the next generation and to be as influential and inspirational to my students as my teachers were (and still are) to me. Plus, I get to continue doing what I love to do!

What are your views on expanded learning time?

As a teacher, I absolutely love it. I appreciate how Citizen Schools supports us in reinforcing important topics after school. We only have 90 minutes per day to teach, which sounds like a lot, but it most definitely is not! The students are able to get the extra attention that they need after school in a smaller class setting and expand their knowledge with extension activities. Citizen Schools also reinforces important middle school habits such as the importance of completing homework, how to develop study skills, how to set and achieve goals, and how to use an agenda. I love how the program emphasizes the same values that we hold in the first shift, so our students are really getting what they need to be successful.

How do you see the Citizen Schools program impacting your students?

The biggest impact that I see Citizen Schools having on my students is giving them the confidence they need to be successful and happy in class. However, they are not only improving their academic skills and developing study habits. They are also given opportunities to engage in activities that they would not have time to do during the regular school day, such as apprenticeships. The WOW! event is my absolute favorite night of each semester. During these events, I see my students visibly light up while presenting everything that they have learned and experienced. My students speak with such passion because they are interested in what they chose to pursue. Their preparation is evident and I can see the pride on their faces. This confidence follows them into the classroom and helps them see that they can accomplish what they put their minds to do.

"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!

Expanded Learning Time Panel Discusses How Community Partners Can Make an Impact for Students "Extended learning may be the only reason some young people come to school." - Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education.

On May 19, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a panel, All Hands on Deck: How Expanded Learning Time Schools and Community Partnerships Work Together to Improve Outcomes for Students, to discuss how expanded learning time (ELT) and community partnerships can create a positive impact for students and schools.

The event featured remarks from Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President of Policy at CAP, and Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder and President of the National Center of Time and Learning, and included Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, Megan Bird, Managing Director of Program for Citizen Schools Massachusetts, Chris Caruso, ExpandED Schools Senior Vice President, and Kerri Ayn Seow,  Third Grade Teacher, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School.

The panelists discussed how community organizations, such as Citizen Schools, have partnered closely with schools and their administration to make an impact for students, teachers, and the community at large with an expanded day. The additional hours allow for more time for academics, more enriching activities, and more time for teacher collaboration and planning.

"ELT gives me the chance to teach what I wasn't able to during class and the extra activities enrich my lessons," Kerri Ayn Seow.

Read more about the event here.



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.”

Citizen Schools to Participate in American Graduate Day 2013!

Citizen Schools to Participate in “American Graduate Day 2013,” Live National Multiplatform Event to Keep Students on the Path to Graduation, Premieres September 28 on Public Television

Broadcast to Showcase Citizen Schools’ Efforts to Address the Needs of At-Risk Kids

This video will appear during Citizen Schools' segment on American Graduate Day.

American Graduate Day 2013, will premiere live this fall, Saturday, September 28 from 12 noon- 7 pm EST on public media (check local public television station listings),  marking a long term commitment to helping communities tackle the nation’s dropout crisis and preparing students for success with a high school diploma. Through the power and reach of public media, communities across the county will be invited to take an active role and become an “American Graduate Champion for local youth by volunteering their time, talent, or other resources.

American Graduate Day 2013 will be broadcast and streamed live from the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center in New York City. American Graduate Day is part of the public media initiative, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

“American Graduate through America’s public media stations, on air, online and in hundreds of communities is working in partnership with teachers, students, educators, business and community leaders to encourage, in measureable ways, our kids to stay on the path to a high school diploma,” said Pat Harrison, CPB president and CEO. “Together with our 1000 local and national partners, we are having an impact and moving toward the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020. American Graduate Day is just one example of how local public television and radio stations provide content that matters and engagement that counts.”

"American Graduate Day is shining a light on some of the most effective efforts to improve education," said Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools. "It's clear that education can't be a spectator sport. Every one of us can play a role in putting students on a path to graduation and success." 

American Graduate Day is a multi-platform event featuring local and national programming, community partners, and celebrities focused on improving the high school graduation rates in America. The key component of the event is the participation of the community-based organizations. Citizen Schools, along with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, City Year, Horizons National, and United Way are among the partner organizations that havealready agreed to participate in American Graduate Day 2013, which will feature nearly 30 national partner organizations, 14 local organizations, and celebrity guests involved in education and youth intervention programs.

American Graduate Day 2013 will spotlight Citizen Schools and the work it is doing in the community to help students stay in school until graduation. The special will feature a seven-hour “call to action” marathon focused around critical themes, including Expanded Learning Time (ELT) and After School Programs, Early Education, Mentoring, Career Readiness and College Completion, STEM Programs, Family Support, and Dropout Re-engagement and Prevention. Hosted by on-air personalities from PBS, WNET, and other media organizations, the broadcast and online event will be divided into 14 half-hour blocks featuring a mix of live breaks and pre-taped partner segments showing how community organizations provide support, advice, and intervention services to at-risk students, families, and schools. Within each of these half-hour blocks, local public media stations will have the opportunity to customize the national feed with a locally-produced live or pre-taped seven-minute segment.

On, the event will include live viewer generated video content submitted in response to questions such as “How has your life changed, or been changed by the power of volunteering?”

Throughout the day, viewers and online users will be invited to become American Graduate Champions by connecting with their local public television station and with Citizen Schools. Viewers will be encouraged to participate in the event by asking questions and sharing ideas before and during the broadcast on Twitter using the hashtag #AmGrad and on Facebook. Those interested in becoming an American Graduate Champion can also call the Toll free number on the day of broadcast or log on to to find out more about the national and regional organizations and how to help in their hometowns.

Visit the American Graduate Day Web site for more details on participating PBS and NPR stations as well as other television and radio programs:


About Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities. Citizen Schools mobilizes a team of AmeriCorps educators and volunteers to teach real-world learning projects and provide academic support, in order to help all students discover and achieve their dreams. For more information, please visit

About WNET

In 2013, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Need to Know, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.


American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate. In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations in 33 states have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 1000 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

About CPB

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.





Teachers, You're My Heroes

If you know a teacher-- a first grade teacher, a college professor, a volunteer, a Teaching Fellow, say, "Thank you." As our country grieves the loss in Newtown, Connecticut we are reminded of how brave, caring, strong and incredible our teachers are. Teachers everywhere, thank you.

Over the last few days, I've heard stories of the extraordinary bravery and strength of the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Friday afternoon after crying from the news just a few hours earlier, I found myself smiling, beaming even, watching a group of Citizen Schools students present their semester's hard work to a captivated audience in the offices of Facebook in New York City. At first I thought, is this wrong? Should we be celebrating right now?

Then I looked at the teachers in the audience. There were volunteer Citizen Teachers from Facebook, who spent one afternoon a week with the kids. There were full-time teachers from the school who came to show their support. There were Teaching Fellows who guided the kids and volunteers through their afternoon apprenticeship classes. Every one of them was beaming like I was-- full of pride, joy and accomplishment. And then I thought, of course we should be celebrating. Children should always be celebrated. So should teachers.

The last few days were full of great joy and great sadness at Citizen Schools. Our hearts go out to those we've lost in Newtown, Connecticut. During this time of immense grief and confusion, we are also proud and inspired by our nation's teachers who bring our students and families incredible joy and hope all year around.

As President Obama said in his address to Newtown last night, "As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other, and you've cared for one another, and you've loved one another."

Thank you, teachers. Thank you for your bravery, your leadership, your unwavering love for your students. Thank you for protecting our kids, for believing in them, for supporting them. You are heroes every day.

Ten Things I Learned as a Teaching Fellow

Jessi Worde is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. She is a UT Austin Alum, Class of '06.  1.)  Just because something works once, or 10 times, does not mean it will continue to work.

2.)  Students love it when you embarrass yourself—and it’s worth it.

3.)  Being a middle schooler is very hard.  The more people are kind to you, and care for you, the greater your chances of surviving adolescence with grace and success.

4.)  Keep it, change it, flip it.  That’s how you divide fractions.  I relearned all the basic math skills I never understood, or had forgotten.

5.)  Giving students power will make your job easier and your students more invested.

6.)  COB stands for “close of business.”

7.)  Education is changing in profound, exciting, and scary ways.  We have a chance to bring out the former 2 adjectives and diminish the latter.

8.) You are weird.  You are old.  You are embarrassing.  (In the eyes of those born after 2000).  And it’s fun.

9.)  Beware student snacks.  One day you’re deriding how yuck Takis are and the next day you’re pulling a bag from the grocery store shelf, thinking, “Just this once…”

10.) Teambuilders and games can actually be fun.  And I can have team pride (full disclosure: I never went to a single UT sporting event) when it’s something in which I’m directly involved.

Apply for the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship by the final deadline May 18th. 

Harnessing Kony Buzz to Teach Critical Thinking

Jess Lander is a Teaching Associate at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, MA. Follow her regularly updated blog here “What’s that on your hands?”

My question was directed at one of my students who I noticed had a large inked “K” on the backside of each hand. As a teacher, I’m used to seeing sixth grade skin graffiti – phone numbers, assignment reminders, doodles drawn during class. My question was meant only as a quick check-in before class.

“It stands for ‘Kill Kony,’” she replied.

“Kill who?!”

“Kill Kony. Kony, he is a rapist in Africa who steals children.”

Recently the non-profit Invisible Children released a thirty-minute video indictment of the Ugandan warlord and rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. The filmmakers’ hope is that social media, including Facebook and Twitter, can successfully galvanize the public into demanding and ensuring Kony’s arrest by the end of 2012.

Within one week of its posting on YouTube, the video had gone viral with over 75 million views. Looking across the sea of sixth graders in the cafeteria I realized my students were part of that wave.

As my students explained, a Facebook call to write double Ks had gone out the night before, and by my students’ reckoning, almost three-quarters of the sixth grade now had ballpoint tattoos.

Perhaps the filmmaker was right. Social media had helped spark the anger of eleven and twelve year-olds about a cause halfway around the globe, in a country most of them had never heard of. Yet, as I questioned my students, I grew unsettled. “What country is Kony from?,” I asked. “Africa.”

There is both great power and great danger in social media. I was thrilled that my students had suddenly united around a global cause far removed from their lives in Boston. But I was also disturbed by how their demands for the death penalty were supported by few facts and only one source.

We needed a lesson on critical thinking. The order of mathematical operations could wait a day.

“Write down everything you know about Joseph Kony,” I instructed the class. Creep, weirdo, bad, kidnapper, criminal, evil, kills people, devil, shoots girls, abuses kids, rapist. “Ms. Lander, are we allowed to write the word ‘rapist’?”

I began to probe how much they knew. Only one student knew Kony lead the rebel force, the LRA. Only two students knew that he came from Uganda. Another student believed Kony was hiding out in New Hampshire. It quickly became apparent that the majority of my class had taken all of their information from the single YouTube video put forth by Invisible Children. Some had not even watched that in its entirety.

I decided to see if I could rally their support for another cause.

“Imagine county R,” I encouraged my class. “There is a political party fighting against the elite for the rights of the poor working class. They say that the elite have kept the poor from going to college, from getting high paying jobs, from being respected. They say that the elite have worked with other countries to ensure that they will stay in power. “It’s time to remove the elite from power, raise your hand if you will support this party.” The entire class thrust hands into their air. “Tell me why you are supporting them.” My students responded with passionate defenses for why it was important to support these workers. Finally I cut them off with a question, “do any of you want more facts before you make a decision about supporting this group?” Two tentative hands went into the air.

Only then did I reveal that “Country R” was a real place. That it was a country called Rwanda (I had them locate the country, noting its adjacency to Uganda, on maps I passed out.) “The political party I just described to you,” I went on, “is actually a group called the Hutu Power Party that seventeen years ago convinced about half of the country’s people to rise up and kill the other half of the country’s population with knives.” I went on to describe how the Hutu Power Party helped kill 800,000 people – more than the population of Boston, in just a hundred days.

My students were appalled, and I think, began to see why it was necessary to do their research before supporting a cause. The evidence against Kony is indeed overwhelming, but one video is not enough to condemn anyone.

What stood out most from our discussion though was not my students’ ignorance, but their engagement. Usually by the end of the day, in the minutes before the buses arrive, my students have energy only for games. After eight hours of class, who can blame them? Yet at the end of this Monday, after lessons in math and lessons in main ideas, I was barraged with requests: “Please Ms. Lander, can we keep talking about Kony?”

And so we did. We continued to discuss Joseph Kony, we continued to discuss the Hutu Power party. We broadened our scope and began discussing other world atrocities, other causes my students were passionate about. It was the most engaged I have ever seen my students.

Social media has ensured that my students are inundated by world news, but it has not taught them how to evaluate what they watch, or read, or listen to.

In six years my eleven-and-twelve year olds will be old enough to vote. In the intervening years before 2018, the onus is on us teachers to ensure our students have the tools to be critical thinkers and discerning stewards of the world.

Share - In what ways have you harnessed kids' captivation with trending events on social media to teach a lesson or discuss a concept?

Inspire to be Inspired

Wynette Richardson  was an active advocate for Citizen Schools during her three years as an English/Language Arts Teacher at Henderson Middle School in Henderson, NC.  Wynette is a currently an English Instructor at Halifax Community College in Weldon, NC, and is also a Motivational Speaker and Workshop Facilitator for Verbal Elations.  Follow her on twitter, @verbalelations for motivational updates.

As an educator and motivational speaker, the greatest reward is seeing students excel to their maximum potential. Often times, we do not understand or know what our students have experienced, have not experienced, or want to experience. Therefore, as aspiring educators, we must bring them life! How do we do that? Simple. Here are a few tips on how to part life into our future leaders.

First, we must bring our life experiences to them by engaging, motivating and believing in the youth. When need to engage the students with experiences we have encountered, good and bad, to let them know that no matter what their circumstances are, they can learn from what they have done.  An example that illustrates this is when I was teaching 7th grade Language Arts in a rural community of North Carolina. I was introducing a poetry unit and I wanted to engage the students to be open to the unit. The first day of the unit, I informed them I was bringing in a guest to assist me. When a Teaching Fellow from Citizens Schools arrived, the students were excited to hear what he had to say. He was so inspiring, they referred to his engaging demonstration of poetry long after our unit ended; it engaged the students so much, they started to write their own poems!

Motivation is the key to a successful classroom. It will enhance the instruction, as well as, allow the students to identify with ways in which they can grow into their own. When students start to tap into who they are and see things that they never knew existed, they will continue until they find themselves. We all need a little motivation at times; our motivation should be excitement that runs over into our students. Inform the students that if they are not satisfied receiving a particular grade, they are not a failure; they just need to try a different studying strategy.

Do you believe in me? A question I have heard on numerous occasions from students. Students often wonder who we really are and if we are “equipped” to educate. YES we are! Believing in students is the most vital part of being an educator because if we do not believe in their potential, we will never see them reach it. As educators and aspiring educators, we must believe in the students no matter their background or circumstances. Once they see and know that we believe in them, they will reach their highest goals for first themselves then us. Always believe in what you see in your students even when their vision of themselves is blinding the way; lead them.

The words in this publication are transparent experiences- ones from my 7th graders to my college students. When seeking an opportunity that is rewarding and impacting, consider fellowships or jobs that include children because they are the most influential people I have encountered; they will in turn engage, motivate and believe in us to become better educators.

How have young people inspired you recently?

How An Accident Brought Out the Best in Students

Tom Anderson is a First Year Teaching Fellow and Former Teaching Associate at United for Success Academy in Oakland, CA. He has AB Negative Blood.

While helping out in a reading intervention classroom, I bumped my head rather severely on a television set twice in a span of forty minutes. I wasn’t rushed off to the hospital mainly because I had thirty-two nurses in training who assisted me. It wasn’t just the caring nature of the dedicated and passionate 6th grade students, but two of my coworkers, Darielle Davis and Mica Warton who remained cool, calm and collected during this outrageous accident.

I grabbed three napkins and tried my best to hide the blood from the students. This incident taught me that it’s not always about teaching fractions and why a comma doesn’t belong in a certain place, but that when someone falls down and gets hurt, we stand together to help them out. Our expectations at United For Success Academy are R.I.S.E. (which stands for Respect, Integrity, Scholarship and Enthusiasm). Each student showed respect by checking to see if I was okay. They showed integrity by acting like leaders and staying clam in the situation. The students showed scholarship by remaining on task with writing their 'choose your adventure' stories. And, the students demonstrated enthusiasm by remaining positive about the situation and asking if there was anything they could do to help.

Ms. Davis notified our Campus Director who took control of my classroom while I went to the health center. I was overwhelmed by thirty-two faces who were genuinely concerned for my well-being. There constant questions of, “Are you okay Mr. Anderson?,’’ made me feel cared for and showed me that there are positive lights to the end of the tunnel even if some days it doesn’t seem so.  After the Health Center cleared me to return, I rushed over to my team because I wanted to help my students and staff who quickly responded to my distress. Throughout the day, my staff made sure I was okay and in a challenging job like the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship, it’s nice that you can count on the people you work with to help make the days a little more bearable even if you happen to bonk your head on a television set because you’re too tall and lanky.

Was there a time when an unfortunate incident led to you realizing the people around you care for and support you? Share your experience here. 

Don't Follow Your Dreams, Chase Them!

Ashley Kirklen is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Eastway Middle School, Charlotte, NC

It’s that crazy time of year again for second year Teaching Fellows.  Resumes are being sent out, letters of recommendation are being sought after, and applicants are receiving acceptance letters to the universities or programs of their choice.  This time is both scary and exciting for second year Teaching Fellows.  This is the next phase in our lives (post fellowship) to follow whatever dreams we’ve harbored and are now ready to pursue!

Part of our job as educators is to encourage our students to take hold of their dreams and accomplish them using every fiber of their being.  The other part of our job is to be an example; that means living what we teach.  I remember the flack that the always humble Sir Charles Barkley caught for publicly stating that “he was no role model.”  As an educator, choosing whether or not you will be someone’s role model is not a luxury that is afforded, it comes with the territory.  In case you didn’t know, you are a role model!  Whether you work with students for 8 minutes a day or 8 hours a day, they are watching you, your life.  They are looking for someone to imitate.  Now is our time to swallow those words and internalize the beliefs that Citizen Schools strives to instill in middle school students across the country.   As I embark on the next phase of my life, as scary as it may be, I remind myself that I have a responsibility to live out what I teach to my students.  I must also act on my dreams.

Working with students has its ups and downs, but it is an overall joy to know that you have impacted a life forever.  As the 8th grade team leader, I have been preparing my students for high school, college and finding careers.  One of the most enjoyable things about my job is to be around young people that are still very much full of hope, curiosity and tenacity.   These are traits that some adults tend to lose due to the strains of life.  I love to hear the goals of this generation who have yet to be jilted by rejection, fear or doubt.  During homework time this past week (which is supposed to be quiet) I overheard one student whisper to her friend out of the blue, “hey why don’t you go to Duke with me?” and with just as much effortless assurance her friend replied, “ok.”  That was the end of the conversation.  They didn’t talk about how they would get money to go to Duke or if they would get accepted.  Watch out Blue Devils class of 2020!  At that moment I learned the lesson that even though I am the educator, they have a lot to teach me.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Mark Twain

Past Teaching Fellows, after graduating the fellowship, have gone on to chase dreams to become lawyers, movie directors, Citizen Schools campus directors, educators and the list could go on and on.  What dreams will the Teaching Fellows class of 2012 take on, dream chasers?

The Good, The Bad and The Motivation: Tales of a Teaching Fellow

Destiny Waggoner is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Sharpstown Middle School in Houston, Texas

As a Teaching Fellow, you'll have good days and bad days. You'll have days when you love coming into work and days when you really don't want to, but you do instead. These are stories from the days I loved, the days that made me not want to come to work and the reasons why I still did.

The days you want to come…

There is an apprenticeship called “What about me?”  It is an all girls’ apprenticeship, which allows a safe space for girls to open up about their experiences and learn about female development.  As I’m sending off my girls to “What about me?,” I have a young gregarious male student stand-up and say, “This isn’t fair, why isn’t there a class for all boys, we have questions too you know.  I have hair growing everywhere, why is it growing you know where?  These are questions we need answered Miss.”

I lead a Law and Order apprenticeship and students are preparing to present their case in front of a real judge in a real courtroom.  I remind them that they need to dress professionally and I attempt to explain to them what this looks like.  I ask them, “What will you wear to the courtroom?”  The response by two boys is, “A tuxedo!”

It was one of my student’s birthdays, so I decided to bake a cake.  After we had enjoyed some cake and music, I wrapped up the leftovers and put them in the corner of the room.  When my apprenticeship class entered the room, I noticed a student in the corner next to the cake.  I asked him what he was doing, and he turned around and said, “Nothing, I’m just looking, I’m not doing anything!”  I had trouble believing him since his entire mouth was covered with white frosting and a guilty smile.

The days you don’t…

  • The monotony of saying, “sit down, be quiet, do your homework, put your feet on the floor, put your shirt back on, stop making paper airplanes, your desk is not a drum and your pencils are not drumsticks.”
  • Students telling you that “you don’t know anything” and “if you were smart then you wouldn’t be a teacher.”
  • “Citizen Schools sucks, I hate it and I hate you!”
  • “If one more student interrupts me while I’m trying to explain how to add fractions, I am going to scream.”
  • Spitballs flying and boys farting while you’re talking and the occasional chair flying across the room
  • Girls crying because a boy didn’t say hello to them

Why you still do…

  • Building trust and students’ confidence in you

  • At the end of a year, one of your most “troubled” students writes you a letter that says, “Miss, you changed my life
  • A student who was involved in gang activity last year, now comes to program everyday and has risen his grades from F’s to C’s
  • A student who had difficulty speaking in class, can now deliver a speech in front of an audience at their apprenticeship WOW!
  • A parent giving you a hug and saying, “thank you for helping my child.
What drives you to show up everyday to your job?

Making the Video: How Students Grew While Making a Documentary

Jessica Lander is a Teaching Associate at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, MA

What happens when you pass out hot fuchsia flip-cameras to eleven sixth graders with the plan to make a movie?

If you are in Room 213 you might see shots of bright yellow Jordans, impromptu rapping, or angled dance moves filmed covertly while a teacher is talking.  There will be close ups on a nose, or a blinking eye, and classroom whiteboards spun into vortices.

Having grown up assembling Marx Brother-esque shorts and PlayMobil stop-action epics, I jumped at the opportunity to co-teach an apprenticeship on documentary filmmaking.  Little did I know what I was getting into.

Our class of eleven was a middle-school microcosm.  There were the best friends and the loners.  There were the troublemakers and studious types. There were students so quiet it took minutes of cajoling to get them to share a thought and others who required constant reminders not to call out.  We had Spanish SEI (Sheltered English Immersion) students, Chinese SEI students who spoke limited or halting English, and one autistic boy who dreamed of becoming a filmmaker.

By week five I was dubious that any movie would result.  Class seemed to be more about juggling emotions and attitudes than an intense study of cinematography.  We finally settled on a fitting topic: what it was like to be a sixth grader.

And, slowly, a movie emerged.

Students climbed onto chairs or lay, backs flat to the creaky wood floor, to capture the most interesting angled shots.  They fanned out silently to record daily life: homework help in the cafeteria, the step-dance team in the hallway and a range of apprenticeship lessons in the classrooms.


At the culmination of ten weeks, we presented our movie to students, parents and teachers.  All the elements were there: a storyline, interviews, b-roll, voiceovers, odd angles, even bloopers so as to include the yellow Jordans and the covert dance moves.  But more than that, the movie held together as passionate and playful portrait of 6th grade life.

What the audience did not see, however, was the ten-week transformation of the film crew who sat, bashfully, near the front of the stage during the premiere.

No, they weren’t suddenly all best friends. But over ten weeks I had witnessed subtle shifts in their attitudes and their assumptions of each other.  I saw mainstream students reach out to Chinese SEI students and take the time to listen and respond to their halting English.  I saw the shyer students improvise eloquent voice-overs when the talkers of the class grew hesitant.  And I watched as the autistic boy in our class, who struggled constantly to stay on task, walked purposefully and silently through the halls and classrooms of the school, camera in hand.

It is this still-unmade documentary I wish the audience could see.

Here is the documentary that the students did create:

Life as a Teaching Fellow: The Comic

Jessi Worde  is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM

Since 2008, I've drawn comic journals for a month every summer and every February.  The excerpts included herein are from February 2011, when I was working at Wilson Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I had my own ragtag team of students called Team Austin-Boston in the Fall, rechristened Team Grizzlies in the spring when it became mixed 6th and 7th grade.  While editing scans for this blog, I tried to pull out themes in these comic excerpts.  Here are some themes:

  • Many sigh-worthy moments occurred, but so did many laugh-out-loud moments.
  • Lunch was a cute, chill time to bond with students.
  • I was discovering my secret love for teaching math.
  • Dressing business casual was an ongoing struggle for me.

One thing that maybe isn't crystal clear through these comic excerpts is: I loved these students so much it was overwhelming.  My weeks were a whirlwind of students, and on the weekends they found their way into my dreams.  Their lives were not easy, and despite the frustration I felt when inundated with bathroom requests, or my occasional inability to complete a lesson due to behavior management problems, I feel honored to have been a part of their lives for a year.  Today, my former coworker and I take one of these students out for sushi whenever he can come to town.  I'm pen pals with another.  One student called me for a refresher on the difference between “1D, 2D, and 3D” objects.  When some coworkers and I went back to eat lunch with our former students, we were dazzled to see several who had grown half a foot over the summer, some boys' whose voices had dropped to a disconcertingly mannish timbre, and many students who had sought leadership opportunities on their own in other after school programs.  I will always remember my first team, and while I may grow into a distant memory for them over the ensuing years, I hope they remember that someone in middle school thought they were brilliant.

Below are selected comics chronicling my time with them.


The Kids Teach the Teachers

Libby Monahan is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, MA

The thing that attracted me to Citizen Schools the most was that not only are they working on closing the achievement gap, but they also recognize that the achievement gap is much more complex than just academics. They work towards closing an opportunity and access gap as well.

I work as a Citizen Teacher Lead for the Orchard Gardens School. So I have the opportunity to work with all of our students and teachers, and work with our apprenticeship programs, to provide that access and opportunity to our students.

My team of students last year challenged me to be a teacher, and they taught me how to be a teacher. One of my closest students to me, her name is Julienette. And I would credit her with being the student who taught me how to be not only a teacher, but just a providing and caring adult for a student.

Julienette was one of those girls who ran with the popular girls, and you know, she thought she was too cool for school, was consistently getting D’s and F’s in all of her classes, and couldn’t have cared less. No matter how much I pushed her, she was not budging.

So, one day, I was down in the main office doing door duty, and she was with her tutor, and she walked away from her tutor, came into the office, sat down in the chair next to me, didn’t say anything, and just started crying. And I had no idea why. I was right out of college, and never had a student sit there and cry to me before, so I was very out of my element.

And she just told me she had been being bullied, and that’s why she wasn’t caring about school. It was her best friend that had been bullying her, and peer pressuring her into doing negative things...

That presented me with an opportunity, and a window, to really provide impact in one student’s life. And since then, I paid for her to go to our Thompson Island Summer Project program. I’ve worked with her throughout the summer; I’ve worked with her throughout the school year, and really became more than a teacher. I became a mentor to her.

And I think I’ve seen change in her from over the summer, and I see change in her this school year, and it’s just a good story to tell when you think about the work that we do, and that it’s not only about getting their grades up. It’s about helping them become whole people, and that’s why I do the work that I do.

A Challenge to Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump

Ashley Trotman works in the IT Department at Citizen Schools, and was a student in the first apprenticeship pilot taught in 1995

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash.' Unless it's illegal."

- Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich has a strong opinion about inner-city kids. Now he and Donald Trump say they have an idea: to teach an apprenticeship to 11 New York City kids.

Citizen Schools has been organizing volunteer-taught apprenticeships in inner-city schools for 16 years. It’s a great idea. We’d love to have the two of them come in and bring learning to life.

But I must say, they won’t get far with Newt's mindset.

I grew up an inner city kid. Heck, I still am one at heart. I was raised in Dorchester.

But before I was born, my mother had already graduated from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.She did not get a full ride. It took her a decade to pay off each and every student loan, but she did it. You don’t get something for nothing – I learned that from her. Before we could watch TV on the weekends, my two brothers and I had to do homework that my mother left out on the table. And they had to help me with my homework as well, before we dreamed of watching Muppet Babies.

I already knew right from wrong. But in Citizen Schools, I also learned that if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be a serious person. When the adults of Citizen Schools took the time to listen to me and valued my opinions, it changed my life.

Fifteen years later, I am a technology professional—working at the national headquarters of Citizen Schools. And I teach my own apprenticeships, with students at two inner city schools in Malden and Roxbury. They taught me who Justin Bieber is, and I was able to show them what a “Zach Morris” phone is. We were all equally amazed at this new info.

I was told I had “problem students.” But I never viewed them as problem students, so we did not have a fight once. When I thanked my first class on the last day for their excellent behavior during the semester, one student raised her hand and said they respected us, because we respected them.

I challenge any adult to face some of the challenges that these 11-year-olds are facing on a daily basis and have the courage to wake up before the sun and work until after it goes down.

Or, if that’s too much, I challenge them to become a Citizen Teacher at one of our New York schools and see just exactly what our kids are made of. What will you teach?

I’m sure they’ll show Newt and Donald a thing or two—that is, if they take the time to listen.

“Knowing where something comes from changes how you feel about it.”

—Prof. Sut Jhally, UMass Amherst

Teachers Should Transform Schools

Elijah Heckstall is a 6th Grade Science Teacher at the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury, MA and a Former Teaching Fellow. 

On the very first day of the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship, the founder, Eric Schwarz, asked every single one of the new recruits, “Who was influential to you?” He had us share one individual that affected us when we were in middle school. And everyone said, “Oh, my coach.” “My teacher.” “My parent.” “My mentor.” His goal was to make us think about that caring adult that we could potentially be.

I started thinking about what middle school was like for me, when it felt good. I think that a lot of people in Citizen Schools, and in education in general, ask themselves, “What can I do to make these kids feel how I felt in middle school when it felt good?”

And honestly, I think there's a big problem with that.

Schools are very different now. Our kids don't need good teachers—they need great teachers.  They don't need good schools—they need amazing schools.  And a part of education reform is changing the perception not only of what they think school is, but what we think school is.

Don’t think about what middle school was like for you. Be transformational. Be a new school. A new school is what our kids need. And Citizen Schools is a large part of that.

In my classroom every day, I use things like investment and culture that I learned at Citizen Schools. But it isn't just about what I do in my classroom. Citizen Schools wouldn't exist if everything could happen in the classroom. One of the biggest things that I've taken away from my time at Citizen Schools is thinking about how I can utilize every single partner who comes into my school.

As a Teaching Fellow, there are teachers who think you're incompetent and think you can't do anything and think you just sit there with the kids, and it's not true. But now that I’m coming from the other side, I see City Year Corps Members, and I say, “Oh, you're coming? I need five of you.” I'll take 20 people in my classroom if you like, and I'll utilize them up here.  We'll figure out how to make it work.

And it goes the other way. It really bothered me during the fellowship when I would hear other Fellows complaining about the schools they worked in. “I can't do anything—my school did bla-bla-bla.” “It is my school's fault that bla-bla-bla.”

You are the school.  You are a part of the school.  You need to drastically transform the school.

At Citizen Schools and as a teacher, I think that I've seen that. And I've seen people who have envisioned that. And those are the people who are going to be the adults kids need in their lives.

What are you doing to be transformational for students?