Citizen Schools’s Citizen Schools (Apprenticeship; Coding Academy; Catalyst) is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: Middle school students from underserved communities; more than 90 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
Number of Participants: 350
Location: After school: Renaissance School of the Arts (Manhattan, East Harlem), Isaac Newton Middle School for Math & Science (Manhattan, East Harlem), Urban Assembly Unison School (Brooklyn, Clinton Hill), P.S. 157 Benjamin Franklin Health & Science Academy (Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant)
Frequency/Duration: One 90-minute session per week for 10 weeks
Eligibility Criteria: Students attending partner schools
Curriculum: Volunteer teachers from the community lead 10-week courses using curricula and lesson plans provided by Citizen Schools. About half of the courses are in STEM subjects, including electrical engineering, solar cars, robotics, coding with CSS and HTML, and design thinking. Lessons involve hands-on activities and emphasize social and emotional skills, growth mindset and collaboration. Volunteer teachers pitch their Apprenticeships to students at the start of fall and spring semesters, and students can choose to take up to 4 classes in 3 different topics over the course of the school year. An Americorps members with an interest in teaching helps volunteer teachers lead each lesson. Skills taught include social and emotional skills, growth mindset, teamwork, and collaboration. STEM subjects might also emphasize additional core skills such as coding, design thinking, and engineering.
Outcomes: Citizen Schools does pre- and post-program surveys of students’ social emotional skills. They are beginning to track how the program connects to high school and beyond, including students’ interest in STEM careers, where students go on to high school, and how likely they are to go on to major in STEM in college.
8th graders can apply for Coding Academy, a year-long program in which students are paired with an engineer from a corporate partner (Amazon, Capital One, and Google). Students meet with their volunteer coach at the coach’s corporate office every other week. The program includes mentorship and one-on-one instruction in coding with Python, for example, or video game design, based on the student’s skill set.
Partnerships: Amazon, Capital One, Google
Sources of funding: Mixed (DYCD/city council, also foundations and corporate partners)
What makes the program stand out? Computer science is not offered at any of the organization’s 4 partner schools in New York City, and with few nonprofit STEM programs focusing their efforts in Bed-Stuy and East Harlem, the Apprenticeship may be the only opportunity for some students attending those schools to be exposed to CS or STEM. Discovering an interest in STEM in middle school can “kind of switch their brain into like, ‘here’s something I’m passionate about and I really want to go towards,” said Nadia K. Selby, Executive Director for Citizen Schools New York. “If we can spark the interest of science and technology early on, they’ll be more likely to pick a high school that will further that development.”
Volunteers typically work in the field that they teach—Google engineers and Girls Who Code employees have taught Apprenticeships—showing participants that they can, for example, “sit behind a computer and design a video game,” as their career, said Selby. Most important are the connections participants begin to make between what they’re learning in school and what they can someday do for a living. “That’s what’s helpful,” Selby said.
What do participants need to succeed? The organization puts an emphasis on building participants’ social emotional skills, using pre- and post-program surveys of students and employees created by the Student Success Network to uncover gap areas every year. Growth mindset (how to persist) and self-awareness (particularly in connecting with classmates) have emerged as social-emotional challenges among students, and focus areas for the organization, according to Selby, before students get to high school and college.
What does the organization need? 3 out of 4 after-school apprenticeship programs are DYCD-funded, while the fourth receives City Council funds, but Citizen Schools needs more funding or DYCD contracts in order to expand. “The schools themselves do not have additional funds to set aside to run an after-school program for us, so if you do find schools that really love our program and love what we offer, we also have to have the contract,” said Selby. “A hiccup that we’re facing, it’s just how do we go into the school that doesn’t have enough in their budget to pay for us to support the work? There’s but so many DYCD contracts available for us to apply for.”
Greater awareness among larger STEM organizations as well as tech companies could also give Citizen Schools a boost. “I’d like to see more folks in schools so that they can see what students are doing and learning,” Selby said. “I think that’s the gap, not necessarily seeing how it’s impacting children.” The organization has previously partnered with Google and Girls Who Code for Apprenticeships. Potential partners benefit from the fact that Citizen Schools already “have the ‘in’ working with students,” while students learn of additional opportunities around STEM, like Saturday programs or summer camps.