Citizen Schools: Helping Students Connect Talents to Professions


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The Citizen Schools North Carolina apprenticeship program works with middle school students to keep them engaged and on track for a career that interests them.

Photo courtesy of Citizen Schools North Carolina

When Jeison was in sixth grade at Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham, he began attending the school’s Citizen Schools program. An average student, Jeison experienced frequent behavior problems. School had become frustrating for him.

Then he participated an engineering apprenticeship with Jerry Diehl, a volunteer Citizen Schools teacher from EMC Corporation. For three years, Jeison worked with Diehl, learning everything he could about schematics, breadboards, oscilloscopes — anything technological. Diehl noticed Jeison’s talent and brought in projects especially for him.

After middle school, Jeison was accepted into an engineering magnet high school. Diehl remains a resource for him as he seeks engineering internship opportunities.

Discovering Connections

Jeison’s work with Diehl is exactly the kind of connection Citizen Schools hopes to build. Founded in 1995, Citizen Schools offers free after-school programs to students in participating middle schools, and targets schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

Citizen Schools programs center on apprenticeships: 10-week programs in which students meet twice a week with trained, volunteer teachers from local businesses to participate in programs designed to connect their talents and academic work with professions that interest them. Participating students take four of these apprenticeships over the course of a school year. At some schools, Citizen Schools programs also offer academic support during the school day and after school.

The program is designed to show kids how the academic work they do in school connects to the world outside of school via professional activities, community problem solving and technology. Rachel Neill, principal at Quail Hollow Middle School in Charlotte, says she enjoys witnessing students make these connections.

“They love being able to take apart computers and put them back together again,” she says. “They say, ‘So this is why math and science are important!’”

The apprenticeships also offer kids at low-income schools exposure to professions about which they may know little – jobs in such diverse fields as law, computer coding and water treatment. Tonya Williams, principal of Sherwood Githens Middle School in Durham, says the Citizen Schools program empowers students to connect their strengths with unrealized career goals.

“One of the things that I’ve seen, particularly with average students who don’t know what careers are out there, is that they don’t really know their strengths,” she says. “They say, ‘Hey – that’s something I could possibly do that I didn’t even know was a career.’”

All in the Timing

Why offer this kind of professional opportunity to kids in sixth grade? Vanessa Benton, executive director of Citizen Schools North Carolina, says middle school is a critical time when students decide whether to fully commit to or disengage from school.

“These years are essential for them. They have to decide whether to stay engaged or not,” Benton says. “Some students just need a hook, or they don’t stay engaged.”

For students who disengaged during middle school, high school often becomes a game of catch-up – if the student re-engages at all.

Williams says because middle school represents such a crucial point for students who may be on the bubble of committing to or disengaging from school, Citizen Schools catches and hooks them at just the right time.

“I think that every students needs to feel connected in middle school to be successful,” she says. “And it might be different things that hook them.”

WOW-ing Friends and Family

Students gain confidence by participating in the Citizen Schools program, particularly through what is called WOW! presentations, which the students do at the end of each apprenticeship. Participating students are required to produce a product demonstrating what they have learned, which they then display and explain to their friends and family members.

The “product” can take many forms. For example, students who do the mock trial apprenticeship with Citizen Schools argue a case in a real courtroom before a sitting judge, while students in computer programming apprenticeships create computer games.

“Having to finish a course from beginning to end — come up with a product, and explain it to people multiple times — is excellent training,” Williams says. “They have to explain it to anyone who walks by. You should see how proud they are.”

Closing the Opportunity Gap

Citizen Schools is an example of an Expanded Learning Time program (ELT). Research conducted by the Citizen Schools program and other sources indicates that well-used ELT programs help close the opportunity gap between high-income students and their lower-income peers.

Funding ELT programs, however, is always difficult. Recently, the North Carolina legislature cut the After School Quality Improvement grant, which schools relied upon to help fund Citizen Schools and other after-school programs. As a result, schools have been struggling to maintain these programs.

Last December, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 in offering significant federal funding to state and local education programs. Each state chooses how it will allocate ESSA money; North Carolina is still working on its allocation plans.

Schools may allocate some ESSA resources to support ELT programs. Many educators hope increased funding from ESSA will make programs like Citizen Schools available to more middle-schoolers in North Carolina.

Learn more about the Citizen Schools program at citizenschools.org.

 

Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two boys. She lives in Cary.

 

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November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Cost: Free and open to the public.

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Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $1/person

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Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

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Park West Village
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Morrisville, NC  27560
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Contact Name: Conner Dixon
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Raleigh, NC
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Cost: Free

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Saint Raphael Preschool
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Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Cost: Free

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Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

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Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

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Cost: Free

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Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $6/child

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
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1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
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Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Call for fees

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215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

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333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
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Cost: Free with admission

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Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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More information

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Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Cost: $15 and up

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Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
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Website »

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Cost: $35-$55

Where:
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123 Vivian St.
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View map »


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Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
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Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
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More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
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See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Show Less...
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