As many of you know, I’ve spent the last 7 months working for Citizen Schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For those of you who don’t know, Citizen Schools is an educational non-profit that partners with high-need public schools to provide an extended learning day and connect volunteers with schools to expose students to learning opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Coming out of college last year, I knew I wanted to go into education reform – but I wasn’t sure how I would go about it. I know the inequality in our education system is wrong, and also I know fixing it is imperative for our country. Better teachers and resources aren’t always enough; I believe we need to radically transform how we think about education to meet the needs of the 21st century. It just doesn’t make sense (especially to students) if they spend their day doing things like memorizing things like historical facts, when they could just as easily look them up in seconds on the internet. Schools should be teaching students how to think and exposing them to new and exciting ideas.
That’s what first drew me to Citizen Schools – innovation. The Citizen Schools model lets kids develop a passion for learning by exposing them to things that they are excited about. Watching our students’ faces light up as they learn computer programming during my Project G.U.T.S. (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) apprenticeship has been one of my personal highlights. Project GUTS is an organization from the Santa Fe Institute, that exposes middle schoolers to the basics of computer programming. The other day, as they programmed virtual turtles to run into each other and get bigger or smaller, I saw the excited minds that every teacher hopes for. Carlos figured out, on his own, how to make little turtle speech bubbles say “Wow, I am getting reily smal!!!!” (spelling not changed) as they ran into one another. Luis excitedly told me and my Citizen Teacher about the plans he has for the video game he wants to build by the end of the semester (and is going to!) And I saw the whole class talking sharing ideas about how to modify their computer models and so excited to learn the next step of programming code. There’s no other way to say it – it was awesome!
I’ll be honest, when I first came to De Vargas Middle School, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. About 90% of DVMS’s population has free or reduced lunch, 90% of the students are Hispanic (with many first generation Americans). Last year our reading proficiency was around 50% and our math proficiency rate hovered around 15%. Needless to say, it was pretty different from the suburban Connecticut town I grew up in, and even from the urban Philadelphia schools I had volunteered at in college. But I also feel like I’ve radically changed over the last 6 months; I’ve learned so much about this awesome community, I’ve learned how much these kids want to learn, and the incredible potential they have. When I see a potential passion being sparked in learning like in GUTS or the future video game designer learning his first bit of code, that’s when I know that we are making a difference, and that I’m all the way out here in New Mexico for a reason.
The other day as I walked my student Thelma to meet her mom at the grocery store across the street, we were talking about her math class. She told me, “It just doesn’t make sense in my math class, I don’t get it; in my Citizen Schools classes, math just makes sense!” I think we are doing some really great things by exposing these kids to learning in new ways.
This fundraiser will help out Citizen Schools New Mexico and enable us to provide more awesome learning opportunities for our students and expand our mission. We’re also having a bit of a competition with our coworkers. As many of you know, I’m pretty competitive. We are competing for whoever can raise the most money, and also for whoever can get the most people to donate to our cause. So every little bit will help. Thanks for taking time read my page, and I hope that you will help us impact the lives of students in New Mexico.