For this week’s School Spotlight, we at State of the Re:Union are saluting an organizational initiative being implemented into public education. The Citizen Schools is a network that began providing programs dedicated to assisting public middle school students in the Massachusetts area, but has since expanded its initiative’s reach.
Erik Schwarz created this organization after realizing that American students spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside school walls and yet only two percent of public funding supports out-of-school programs. Citizen Schools was founded to transform after-school programs from an afterthought into a powerful element of authentic, large-scale education reform. The organization’s program for low-income middle school students includes hands-on learning, discovery, teamwork and fun — in school buildings, led by professional educators and staffed by volunteer Citizen Teachers. Citizen Schools is a recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, recognizing “the most innovative and sustainable approaches to resolving the world’s most urgent social issues.”
When searching for more on this program, visiting the programs site provides and excellent description of what the call to action is: Citizen Schools was founded “to transform after-school programs from an afterthought into a powerful element of authentic, large-scale education reform. The organization’s program for low-income middle school students includes hands-on learning, discovery, teamwork and fun — in school buildings, led by professional educators and staffed by volunteer Citizen Teachers.”
This apprenticeship program gives children a chance to partake in hands-on projects that show students the relevance of school in everyday lives. They learn the math in used in cooking, the discipline it takes to rehearse a dance routine, and the science involved in recycling.
Through the support of program sponsors, Citizen Teachers instruct 10-week apprenticeships. During this time, students work side-by-side with these experts and explore new professions, gain new and innovative skills, and create something for their community. When this 10-week period is up, the students participate in a “WOW!” event (an event aptly named after the verbal reactions from all who witness the incredible job performed by students). During the “WOW!” event, students are given the opportunity to turn the tables and put their apprenticeship into practice through teaching adults on the subjects they have learned.
This fledgling program has already gained notoriety in communities it serves, evidenced by a laundry list of accomplishments. The following bullet points addresses some of the achievements found on the Website. This information reflects successful effectuation of the program by 2010′s end:
- Citizen Schools’ network has grown from a one pilot site serving 63 students to a seven-state network with 37 sites serving 4,500 students.
- In 2009, external evaluation results conducted by Policy Studies Associates demonstrate that Citizen Schools is effective in engaging at-risk middle-school students and building a bridge to high school. For the cohort of Citizen Schools students whose graduation status is available, 75% graduated from high school in 4 years, compared to 58% for the district overall.
- In 2009, Citizen Schools played a large role in encouraging Congress to pass the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. In addition, Citizen Schools worked closely with the office of the late Senator Kennedy on legislation introduced this past summer to expand the learning day and involve community partners in that effort.
The Citizen School network is creating a vested interest in the communities who are fortunate enough to have this program. Through getting professionals involved with students, a symbiotic relationship is formed. When community leaders and members volunteer to teach their skills, they receive a bird’s eye view of exactly what our youth are experiencing in education and supplementing areas that are vitally important to the success of these students. The children are able to conceptualize and truly understand (something that is not really done until most people are in their late teens) why continuing education is important.
There are so many efforts and initiatives across the country that are striving to achieve these results. While this prototype might not be ideal for all students, it certainly proves that there are solutions out there. We just need to keep trying until we find what works. Everyday, people are becoming more involved in finding what works for their community. Would this work for yours? If so, is there anything that might need to be amended in the program’s setup? Do you know what, if any, initiatives are being implemented in your area schools to assist students and teachers? There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but it gives me a sense of hope to know that this important issue is making its way to the forefront of some great minds in America. Does this include you?