What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?
Schools can be insular institutions, unreceptive to volunteers and resistant to new approaches. The culture of schools and the demands of a narrow curriculum can pose barriers to Citizen Schools programs and the apprenticeship model. Unfortunately, teachers’ formative experiences rarely include co-teaching with a volunteer expert or integrating volunteer-led activities into their strategies to motivate students and build their skills.
Citizen Schools seeks to overcome this barrier by operating programs that extend the school day, creating more time and more flexibility to involve citizen educators. Citizen Schools also deploys a full-time staff member – the Teaching Fellow – to co-teach each apprenticeship session, ensuring that volunteers are supported and that students are engaged. To align volunteer-led activities with curricular standards, Citizen Schools develops detailed apprenticeship curricula and lesson plans. It also works closely with volunteers who want to design their own apprenticeships. Further, to help volunteers who have little experience working with young people, Citizen Schools has created CT Nation an online portal that fosters a community of practice among volunteers.
Tell us about your partnerships
Citizen Schools has developed multifaceted partnerships with STEM companies that create mutual value. Many companies have reported that the benefits of volunteering with Citizen Schools extend far beyond the positive impact on students. For example:
• 79% of Citizen Schools’ volunteers report improved team-building skills as a result of teaching an apprenticeship.
• 80% report improved communication skills and 75% report improved public speaking and presentation skills.
• 63% report that apprenticeships provide good networking opportunities for volunteers.
Within their companies STEM volunteers can find teammates and can leverage one apprenticeship into many. Corporate workplaces and laboratories can also offer authentic venues in which to showcase students’ accomplishments and strengthen connections between learning and career possibilities.
Citizen Schools also partners with its host schools and with parents. Citizen Schools’ staff members regularly assist teachers with classroom activities and highlight students’ projects and progress in their apprenticeships. Staff members also call the parents of every students at least every two weeks in order to discuss the students’ progress and to listen to parents’ concerns and aspirations. Citizen Schools builds a spirit of teamwork and trust among the caring adults in each student’s life.
Explain your selections
Citizen Schools receives financial support, locally and nationally, from a diverse base of foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Citizen Schools also taps local and state grant programs and receives support from its partner districts and schools. Citizen Schools has a track record of raising sufficient funds to implement its program fully and to operate it effectively.
Within the STEM fields, Citizen Schools has received significant funding support from Google, HP, Cisco, AOL, Microsoft, Cognizant, Biogen Idec, EMC, Cubist Pharmaceuticals. Many of these STEM companies also provide and support volunteers who lead apprenticeships in the STEM fields.
In 2010, Citizen Schools received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand STEM apprenticeships and recruit STEM professionals as volunteers, with an emphasis on the information technology fields. Citizen Schools also receives funding from the AmeriCorps national service program, which supports the stipends of Citizen Schools’ Teaching Fellows, who co-teach apprenticeship courses with our STEM volunteers.
Citizen Schools informs its supporters regularly about its progress in lifting student achievement and instigating innovation and systemic change in the education system. Citizen Schools has a high rate of retention among the companies and foundations that have provided funding.
How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?
Citizen Schools will develop quality monitoring and rigorous evaluation systems to foster continuous improvement in its volunteer management systems and its apprenticeships. Across our network of extended learning programs, Abt Associates, a nationally esteemed evaluator, will conduct a rigorous assessment of gains in student achievement and students’ understanding of career opportunities and education requirements in the STEM fields. The evaluation will compare schools that partner intensively with Citizen Schools to a matched cohort of similar schools. Citizen Schools will also solicit and act on feedback from its STEM volunteers and its partner companies in order to improve recruitment and training methods as well as the support provided to volunteers during each apprenticeship session.
Citizen Schools will deepen its partnerships with its host schools, integrating STEM learning activities throughout the school day and enhancing school-based learning through corporate and community connections. Our staff members will document best practices for engaging students in hands-on projects and linking those projects to curricular standards. Citizen Schools will partner with Cognizant to develop a software platform that will enable teachers, volunteers and Citizen Schools staff members to share data about students’ learning and their progress. Citizen Schools also plans to partner with WGBH, a leading public broadcasting station, to create and disseminate training videos of effective instructional practices used in apprenticeships.