Volunteers from all walks of life help enrich kids at Citizen Schools

From learning journalism to designing video games, students engage in a wide range of apprenticeships through Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit that pairs middle-school students with volunteers to expand learning experiences in low-income communities.

"For too many underserved students, who have less access to after-school enrichment programs than their more affluent peers, learning stops when the school bell rings," said Steven Rothstein, chief executive officer of Citizen Schools.

The national nonprofit, founded in Boston in 1995 and now with a California office in Redwood City, helps schools make the most of these afternoon hours with hands-on, real-world learning experiences that put young adolescents on the path to success, Rothstein said.

"All students need relevant learning experiences and mentors to develop academic and social-emotional skills, yet background and income often limit access, especially to high-quality programs," Rothstein said. "Citizen Schools adds three extra hours to the traditional school day, deeply integrating with school leadership and teachers."

Rothstein added that at age 12, a child from an affluent family has already received 6,000 more hours of extra-circular enrichment activities at home than a child from an impoverished one.

"That gap has more than doubled since 1970," Rothstein said.

Citizen Schools mobilizes a team of AmeriCorps educators and volunteer "citizen teachers" to provide real-world learning and academic support.

"Our deep partnerships with schools put young adults on track for the future, improving English and math proficiency, interest in fields like STEM , and the odds of graduating high school and succeeding in college and in the 21st century workforce," Rothstein said.

Citizen Schools works with the community to provide students with apprenticeships. Each semester, students choose from options presented by volunteers. Popular programs include rugby, mock trials and even engineering solar cars and marketing a product or invention. Students can also work on computer programming or creating video games using a curriculum called Bootstrap, which uses computer coding to help students learn algebra functions in real-life applications.

"By providing academic support and enrichment experiences to students we have reduced dropout rates, increased rates of high school and college graduation, and exposed students to professionals from a wide range of fields, giving them a variety of jobs to consider and hope and possibility for the future," Rothstein said.

In its first apprenticeships, Citizen Schools offered classes in journalism and first aid to students at Paul A. Dever Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass.

"The idea was to connect professionals from the community with public school students to teach a skill that relates to their current course work," Rothstein said.

"In the journalism apprenticeship, students created and printed their own newspaper and watched it fly off of a real printing press at the end of the semester," Rothstein said. "They were hooked."

Volunteers are the backbone of the program.

"It begins when you enter the classroom and commit to sharing your knowledge with students," Rothstein noted. "Committing to students not only impacts them for years to come but is also personally fulfilling to volunteers in addition to building valuable workplace skills."

Providing students with opportunities to make art, work with technology and tackle challenging projects in their middle-school years gives them the skills needed to succeed in high school, college and the 21st century workforce, Rothstein added.

"The combination of more time, more people and more relevant course work adds up to high impact," Rothstein said. "Volunteers use their passion to make a difference and connect with their communities. And students access the networks, build the skills and have the experiences they need to discover and achieve their dreams."

For more information visit www.citizenschools.org or call (650) 517-5191.

-Alicia Doyle, Tribune Content Solutions

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