Citizen Schools: Recruiting STEM experts to Advance Achievement, Lift Aspirations, and Re-Imagine Schools

Citizen Schools: Recruiting STEM experts to Advance Achievement, Lift Aspirations, and Re-Imagine Schools

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Citizen Schools connects scientists to high-need schools where they can share their passion and knowledge through hands-on projects, inspiring middle school students to pursue STEM careers. Through Citizen Schools apprenticeships, scientists meet with students weekly to teach new skills and create a product or performance to share with their community. Apprenticeships in topics like video-game design and solar car engineering spark students’ creativity and have been shown through rigorous evaluations to boost proficiency and on-time graduation rates. Citizen Schools’ STEM initiative is part of a national movement to reimagine and expand the learning day, bringing citizens off the sidelines to restore public education to its historic role as an engine of opportunity for all children.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Citizen Schools programs serve low-income students in high-need communities. More than 90% of our students are members of racial minority groups and 40% come from homes where English is not the primary language. Across schools that have recently joined Citizen Schools’ network, proficiency rates in English and math average 30%, and at some schools rates are far lower. For example, at one school, only 8% of students scored proficient in math, 1%scored proficient in science, and no student scored in the advanced category. Many of our students come from families that struggle with issues of unemployment, safety, inadequate housing, and limited access to health care. Most of our students’ parents are “working poor,” who are eager to help their children access educational and career opportunity, but whose resources to do so are severely limited. The middle school years are a pivot point on the educational trajectories of at-risk students. Performance as early as 6th grade is a strong predictor of long-term success. In the STEM fields, relevance and role models are integral to lifting students’ aspirations and performance. Analysis of one survey reported that, “nearly two-thirds of teens indicated that they may be discouraged from pursuing a career in [the STEM fields] because they do not know anyone who works in these fields or understand what people in these fields do.”For low-income and minority students, early exposure to science can help motivate them to pursue the fields where job opportunities are expanding fastest.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Citizen Schools’ initiative links the vast potential of volunteers from STEM professions with the emerging field of Expanded Learning Time (ELT). Citizen Schools is demonstrating that hands-on learning activities, combined with purposeful skill building and relationship building, can move the needle on academic achievement, high school graduation, and college attainment. Citizen Schools and its partner schools boldly restructure the daily schedule for all students, increasing learning time by ~35% and. In addition, Citizen Schools’ initiative is innovative because it: • Leverages the power of citizen leadership to make fundamental change in the structure and culture of high-need schools. Volunteer-led projects make schools more connected to the people and resources of their community and to the fields where career opportunity is expanding most rapidly. • Has partnered with STEM companies, large and small, to create robust pipelines of thousands of STEM volunteers and creating a vibrant community of practice among them. . • Has an independently-validated track record of significant impact on students’ learning and their interest in STEM careers. A sophisticated long-term evaluation reported that Citizen Schools’ students significantly out-performed a matched comparison group on leading indicators of school success and advancement.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Citizen Schools will engage thousands of volunteers from the STEM sectors to bring learning to life for students and instigate systemic change in American education. STEM volunteers from small businesses, large corporations, and universities will lead hands-on apprenticeship courses at Citizen Schools’ network of after-school and extended learning programs. They will introduce students to new fields, teach new skills, and lift students’ aspirations. Each apprenticeship will meet weekly for 90 minutes over 11 weeks. Students will create tangible products and present them in community-wide celebrations of learning before parents, teachers, community residents, and panels of experts. For example, 250 volunteers from Google have taught apprenticeships on topics such as robotics, web design, and game programming. Next year, volunteers from Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico will lead apprenticeships on physics and space exploration via live on-line links with students on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The volunteers’ service, in combination with daily academic coaching provided by Citizen Schools, will propel significant gains in student achievement and school-wide performance. At some schools that have persistently failed to help students learn, STEM volunteers will instigate a comprehensive turnaround. Citizen Schools’ Volunteers will create a new and powerful position in American education – the Citizen Teacher. They will become part of a “second shift” of caring and capable adults who will reinvigorate learning with relevance.
About You
Citizen Schools
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Citizen Schools

Organization Phone


Organization Address

308 Congress Street

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Eric Schwarz and Ned Rimer founded Citizen Schools as an effort to reinvigorate learning and re-connect schools with their communities. They recognized that in the neighbourhood surrounding an urban school, most residents never enter the school building. Residents’ skills and experiences remain untapped while inside the school, teachers feel burdened by the breadth and depth of students’ needs. Eric and Ned also noted that students yearned for real-world projects led by authentic experts.
They piloted the idea for Citizen Schools in 1995 at a school in Boston. A former journalist, Eric’s students published a school newspaper. Trained as an EMT, Ned’s students became first responders for first aid needs across the school. In these “apprenticeships,” Eric and Ned created the model that has endured and expanded: citizens from diverse backgrounds and professions lead a course in which students create a product of authentic value.
In recent years, Eric – who continues to lead Citizen Schools as its CEO – has focused the expansion of the apprenticeship model on the STEM fields. STEM professional have a distinctive capacity to bring learning to life. In his chapter, “Calling All Citizens,” in the best-selling book Waiting for Superman, Eric highlights the opportunity for STEM volunteers to energize learning and introduce students to new disciplines and career possibilities.
Under Eric’s leadership, Citizen Schools is now leading coalitions of companies to deploy thousands of volunteers and advocating for policies that will foster citizen leadership in education.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Citizen Schools has recruited more than 8,000 volunteers to lead hands-on learning projects. It also has a track record of advancing student achievement and lifting school-wide performance. A series of rigorous evaluations reported that Citizen Schools’ students significantly out-performed their peers on leading indicators of educational attainment and advancement, including attendance, grades, and on-time graduation from high school. Schools that adopted an intensive Expanded Learning Time (ELT) model with Citizen Schools have dramatically improved proficiency rates in English and math. At one school, proficiency rates have tripled, and the school was transformed from one of the worst to one of the best in its district. It has eliminated the achievement gap in math and it has a long waiting list of students seeking to enroll.

In addition to advancing achievement, Citizen Schools can help to link current learning with future college aspirations and career opportunity. Students visit authentic workplaces – laboratories, research centers, and manufacturing facilities – as well as a series of college campuses. By linking students’ learning with authentic professionals and career pathways, Citizen Schools can motivate a new generation of rising stars to pursue STEM careers. At the same time, the volunteer service of legions of STEM volunteers will help to connect STEM professionals and STEM companies to their communities, investing their unique capacity to brighten the future of students and society.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

To increase the flow of volunteers, Citizen Schools will grow its pipeline partnerships with science and technology companies, universities, laboratories, and industry associations. It will also develop a resource library of detailed curricula for apprenticeship courses that are aligned with national standards as well as an online platform to enable collaboration among volunteers across disciplines and regions. Just as they have at Google, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, and Fidelity, Citizen Schools volunteers will recruit their colleagues and peers to become Citizen Teachers. We anticipate that social media and online tools will create stronger linkages among volunteers, higher rates of retention, higher quality apprenticeships, and heightened advocacy for citizen leadership in education reform.

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.

Partnerships and Accountability
Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

Citizen Schools STEM initiative will be implemented in full and deep partnership with its host schools and districts, as well as with STEM companies, universities, and community organizations. Since its founding in 1995, Citizen Schools has worked to forge powerful collaborations with its host schools and to link those schools to community resources. Most notably, the adults who live and work in the community are a vast and largely untapped source of experience and expertise. Citizen Schools strives to activate that resource, by inviting volunteers to share their unique skills and knowledge. Similarly, Citizen Schools reaches out to companies that seek to use their distinctive capacity in order to advance education and strengthen community. Apprenticeship courses enable STEM companies to introduce students to the vibrancy of STEM inquiry, to motivate students through relevant applications of their skills, and to the variety of career opportunities in emerging fields. In short, STEM apprenticeships bring learning to life.
In each of its state offices, Citizen Schools’ Director of Civic Engagement holds primary responsibility for developing and growing partnerships with companies and volunteers. The Director of Civic Engagement provides training, assists volunteers in developing apprenticeship curricula, and works with companies to welcome students, highlight career pathways, and host community celebrations of STEM learning.

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

At each of its program sites, Citizen Schools will set clear and high expectations for student achievement in STEM learning and will evaluate students’ progress rigorously. Citizen Schools has invested in comprehensive internal evaluation and accountability systems at both the school and organizational levels. Annually, Citizen Schools reports on student and school impact measures and uses this data to inform program improvements and set performance metrics for the coming year.

Citizen Schools will also commission a rigorous independent evaluation of the impact of its Expanded Learning Time programming on student achievement and school-wide performance. The evaluation, complemented by internal data collection, will include measures of academic improvement, knowledge and interest in STEM careers, skills that are correlated with preparation and success in the STEM workforce, and volunteer satisfaction and commitment.

In addition to these measures, in-school observations and surveys are expected to show substantially more time devoted to science learning and more of that time devoted to project-based learning that involves STEM professionals. Changes in teachers’ practices will be observed in traditional science classrooms and in other courses.


Investment, Human Resources/Talent, Research/Information, Innovation/Ideas.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

Citizen Schools welcomes the collaboration of STEM professionals, STEM companies, and other related stakeholders to recruit volunteers who can lead apprenticeship courses with our students. For many volunteers, teaching middle schoolers about their field recalls the experiences that motivated them to pursue a STEM career. The credibility that STEM professionals bring to our programs inspires students and introduces them to new ideas and opportunities. Citizen Schools operates programs in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Texas. We also welcome referrals of outstanding college graduates and aspiring educators who have expertise in STEM disciplines and who can serve as Teaching Fellows and Campus Directors at our extended learning programs.


Human Resources/Talent, Innovation/Ideas.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

Citizen Schools has developed effective practices for partnering with middle schools and extended learning programs to integrate STEM professionals and STEM projects. The core ideas and insights of our apprenticeship design are applicable to a wide variety of settings, and we would be glad to share our learning.
Citizen Schools’ Teaching Fellows represent a robust pipeline of talented educators, social entrepreneurs, and community builders. Teaching Fellows serve for two years at Citizen Schools as front-line instructors, mentors, and co-teachers with volunteers. They are extraordinarily dynamic educators, team members, project managers, and leaders. We are eager to inform them about career opportunities where they can expand their skills sets after their Fellowship.