Citizen Schools v. The Achievement Gap (2012)

Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools California

Citizen Schools v. The Achievement Gap (2012)

So what, exactly, motivates a busy law firm partner to push pause on the billable hour clock and become a "Citizen Teacher" - coaching mock trial apprenticeship for middle school kids once a week for 10 weeks? Not once or twice, but over and over again, semester after semester, five years in a row?

The answer is Eddie, a shy English language learner who rarely spoke up in class.

Over the course of the semester, practicing direct and cross examinations, Eddie began to find his voice. He gained confidence in his power to speak in front of a crowd, to think on his feet.

After a couple of months, the 15 students in Eddie’s Citizen Schools mock trial team were ready for their WOW! – their day in court. Every mock trial apprenticeship – be it mock trial, robotics or poetry slam – ends in a WOW!

We call it a WOW! because when middle school kids teach back to their families and others the amazing things they learned at Citizen Schools, we think the adults in the room will say “wow!”

Anyway, Eddie and his classmates were ready for their WOW! At Citizen Schools, the mock trial WOW! is held in a real court, the San Mateo County Court, in front of a real judge, wearing, as far as we know, real robes.

In the jury box would be a dozen adult strangers. And in the stand would be a hostile witness.

The Citizen Teacher teaching Eddie's apprenticeship recruited the witness from among his law partners. When the witness was memorizing his lines, the Citizen Teacher cornered him and said, “Listen, take it easy on the kid, OK? He’s just a middle school boy. He’s shy. No wise cracks.”

But when the time came for Eddie’s cross examination, he started haltingly. At one point he got tripped up and asked a compound question. The witness peered at Eddie, cocked his head, and hissed, “Which one of those four questions do you want me to answer?

Eddie blinked.

He stared down at his paper.

Everyone fell silent. Then Eddie looked up at the witnessed, drew in a deep breath, and pointing his hand like Perry Mason he bellowed: “I want you to answer ALL FOUR OF THEM!” 

That moment is what Citizen Schools is all about. We make learning exciting and give low-income middle school kids a glimpse of the power they could have if they stay in school. Partnering with middle schools to expand the learning day, we mobilize "citizen" educators to work with students to improve achievement. Our full-time teaching staff develops in students the academic and leadership skills needed to succeed in middle school, graduate from high school, and access college and career opportunity. Our volunteers teach hands-on, project-based apprenticeship courses, transforming the traditional public school afternoon into a time of discovery and achievement.

The result? A serious assault on the achievement gap. Independent evaluations show our students are dramatically more likely to graduate from high school than carefully matched comparison groups. Other two thirds of our students see their grades improve (or they maintain an A/B average). Proficieny rates in English, math and science have doubled or more.

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