By Fiona Haley
Budget: $5 million
After school, kids have options: They can go home and play video games until they can no longer blink, or they can cruise the streets aimlessly. Or, in nine cities, they can go to Citizen Schools, an after-school program designed to teach children skills that aren't part of their regular curriculum. In two-hour classes taught by teacher apprentices with specific expertise, 9- to 14-year-olds study everything from law and architecture to cooking and art.
Citizen Schools began in 1994 when Eric Schwarz, a former journalist and a veteran of City Year, taught a 12-week journalism class at a Boston middle school. He quickly realized two things: Teaching was harder than he thought, but at the same time, his students were thirsty for real-world knowledge. He used his experience to teach them about journalism, and the kids worked together to make a newspaper. They sold $400 worth of ads, designed and wrote their own stories, and made enough money for a pizza party.
From there, Citizen Schools began a pilot program in which Schwarz and another teacher taught 60 kids at one school. One school grew to three, and now Citizen Schools has expanded to 20 schools across the country, with more than 2,000 students served. They have produced 50 Web sites, written nine children's books, and designed public spaces and architectural designs.
Citizen Schools works in public schools, starting at 2 in the afternoon and ending at 6 p.m. Teaching apprentices lead a weekly class for a semester, and on the other afternoons, kids spend time with the staff, who lead their own apprenticeship programs, as well as take the kids on field trips and "making the city a classroom without walls," says Schwarz, who is founder and president of the Citizen Schools.
Participating schools work as a full partner with Citizen Schools to get children involved with the program. Schwarz says that the program benefits the teachers and the students, as they all "carpe the afternoon." The program forces children to make full use of their out-of-school time and to realize that the things they learn in their regular school day will affect their adult lives. "Math is not just something you need to learn in school," Schwarz says. "You need it to make a profit, to make architectural drawings work. The result is that the students' writing, presentation, and math skills become relevant and familiar."
And kids are not the only ones enjoying the program. While Citizen Schools already has a cadre of former students who work as staff, volunteers love their classes as well. Between 94% and 97% of the teaching apprentices want to return, and Schwarz even has to recommend that they not teach every semester.
"The teaching apprentices work with kids to make an amazing change," he says. "For the adult, it's a chance to connect with the energy the kids have, and for the kids, it makes learning real."
Eric Schwarz, Founder and president
Prior to founding Citizen Schools Inc., Eric Schwarz spent five years at City Year where he served as vice president for organizational development and executive director of City Year Boston. Schwarz also spent a year as a Public Service Fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and as a consultant to AmeriCorps. Schwarz has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including First Night, which he cochairs. Schwarz won the 2002 A&E Networks Biography Community Hero Award and was named one of Boston's Ten Outstanding Young Leaders by the Jaycees in 2000. He was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working as a journalist for The Patriot Ledger. Schwarz earned his BA from the University of Vermont and a master's from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.
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