“The question is not, ‘is it possible to educate all children well?’ but rather, ‘do we want to do it badly enough?’” ~ Deborah Meier
It’s hard to believe that I’m about to finish up my fourth year working with Citizen Schools. The mission of Citizen Schools has captured my heart. I know that the work that I do is deeply valuable and the people I work with – the students, families, teachers, volunteers, and my colleagues – inspire me to give all that I have to this cause. I know that it’s possible for all children to receive an equal, high quality education and every day I have the opportunity to work with people who want that badly enough to give all that they have too.
Meet Nacona. Twelve years old, kind of a goof ball, totally disorganized, sweet disposition, loyal friend, horrible grades, loves to cook, homeless. In some ways, Nacona is not unlike many young people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know at Citizen Schools. His life is a mess and no matter how hard he tries he can’t seem to be successful at school. (How can you keep your homework together when you’re crashing at a different family member’s house every night?) Nacona’s story may be a little more extreme than some but the bottom line is that middle school is hard for everyone (come on now, did you love middle school?), and when you combine that with the challenges that so many kids and families from low income, underserved communities face on a daily basis, middle school becomes nearly impossible.
Yet middle school is a tipping point for so many kids – research shows that 3 out of every 4 students who fail math in sixth grade will not graduate high school. When Nacona came to Citizen Schools he was failing every single one of his classes.
Four years later, Nacona is a freshman at a local high school and he’s giving a tour to current Citizen Schools students. Nacona explains proudly how he chose to attend Crockett after learning about all the different schools in his community during his time in Citizen Schools 8th Grade Academy. He describes to his younger peers that when he was in Citizen Schools, the apprenticeships (hands-on classes taught by community volunteers) he took helped him discover that he not only has a passion for cooking but also for graphic design, a passion that he’s pursuing in high school. One of the younger students asks, “What’s the hardest thing about high school?” “Keeping all of your classes and work organized,” says Nacona. “I thought middle school was hard but in high school no one even reminds you about due dates. If Mr. Cristian (his Citizen Schools Team Leader for two years) hadn’t made me learn how to use my daily planner, I’d be screwed this year.” Watching Nacona advise the group I marvel at how far he’s come – sure, he has decent grades and strategies for getting his work done, but more importantly he has confidence and a love of learning. Because of the attention he got in Citizen Schools and the experiences he had while in our program (I was there the first time he ate sushi, the first time he went camping, the first time he spoke in front of a room of 125 people, and the first time he got a “B” in science) , this young man is now deeply committed to his own future, he wants his education badly enough to go out and get it and he believes that there are people in his community that are there for him every step of the way. “My best advice for you?” Nacona says to the group as they get ready to go, “Stay in Citizen Schools. Those Team Leaders know what they’re talking about!”
Every spring, all of us at Citizen Schools reach out to friends and family members on behalf of the young people we serve. I hope you’ll considering donating to our mission to educate youth and strengthen communities! Times are tough for everyone but even the smallest donation - $10 or $20 means so much as a gesture of your support. Thank you so much and best wishes!