Citizen Schools exposes students to STEM careers

Students from Bronx Writing Academy give a presentation to industry professionals at the end of their Citizen Schools apprenticeship.
Photo coutesy of Citizen Schools

Students at the Bronx Writing Academy are getting early exposure to STEM careers through an innovative after-school program.

The middle school students recently started a series of apprenticeships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through the nonprofit education organization Citizen Schools.

The students are learning about robotics, coding, forensic science, personal finance, and other applicable skills from industry professionals through a semester-long after-school course. They have the opportunity to take two, once a week apprenticeships in the topics of their choice.

The apprenticeship program is about getting low-income students to meet professionals in fields they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, said executive director of Citizen Schools New York-New Jersey Kathrine Mott, giving them the knowledge to know if they’d like to pursue that career.

“It’s hard to envision yourself as an engineer if you’ve never met one,” said Maria Vosberg, a deputy director of development at Citizen Schools.

The program at the Bronx Writing Academy has been successful at getting kids more engaged both after school and during their earlier lessons, said principal Kamar Samuels.

“I think in large part, a lot of our kids lack inspiration,” said Samuels. “You can’t deal with the achievement gap without dealing with the inspiration gap.”

Students need to have an end goal in order to want to push through school, said Samuels, and the majority of his kids don’t have that.

“No kid loves to sit down and take a standardized test,” he said.

The apprenticeships help his students make the connection between school and future careers, said Samuels, and provides them with role models to emulate.

Citizen Schools has duel goals of equipping students with the knowledge they need to succeed in college and careers, as well as equipping them with the belief that those careers are achievable. Exposing students to STEM careers early on gives them avenues to a growing number of well-paid jobs in those fields, said Mott.

“It’s an opportunity for our students to great middle class jobs,” she said.

And creating opportunity is what Citizen Schools is all about. The apprenticeships they run at their partner schools are just part of their Extended Learning Time model, where students get an extra three hours of learning time each day.

By the time they get to middle school, middle and upper-class students have received thousands more hours of learning time than their lower-class counterparts through after-school and summer activities, said Mott.

“Student success is related to the opportunities they have after school,” she said. “We’re evening the playing field for students.”

In addition to the apprenticeships, Citizen Schools provides after-school programming that is an extension of classroom lessons.

The majority of Citizen School’s teaching staff are AmeriCorps fellows, who were recently recognized during national AmeriCorps week.

“We are especially proud of the work our teaching fellows do in our school and communities,” said Mott

Citizen Schools was founded in Boston 20 years ago, and expanded to New York in 2008. Over the years, they’ve seen success in the number of students who go on to college, said Mott, and they’re committed to continuing to facilitate student achievement.

“We’re very much focused on closing the opportunity gap,” said Mott.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at 718-260-4591. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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