Lara Solinsky's Page

Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools California

Lara Solinsky's Page

Dear Family and Friends,

Have you been wondering about this mysterious crazy job that I have with hectic hours? Since I have moved out to California and started working as a Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools, I have gotten many questions about what I do each day. While it is really difficult for the work that I do to be condensed into a page, I want to take the time to tell you about what I do, with hopes that you will follow-up on anything that sounds interesting to you!

Let's first start big picture. Citizen Schools is an incredible organization that is fighting to change the way we do education in the United States. Citizen Schools believes that education change be changed through education students and strengthening communities. Only through strong partnerships with families and schools can children succeed. Citizen Schools is at it's core an after-school program that help support students in every part of their lives. However, I'm always hesitant to say we are an "after-school program" because Citizen Schools is so much more than that. While officially we are with the students Monday-Friday from 3-6, we are really part of their lives much more than that. Teaching Fellows are at school for the entire school day seeing students and teachers throughout the day and Team Leaders are talking to families often. Citizen Schools runs in 7 states throughout the country. While the program varies from state to state and school to school, the core mission of it is the same.

Now let's focus in on my school. So if I were to introduce myself to you in front of all my kids I would say "My name is Lara and I'm from the KMS" and they would all shout "BEST OF THE BEST!" At Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, CA, my Citizen Schools team is trying to instill in our students the belief that they can be whoever they want to be and succeed at it through hard work and determination. The 140 students in grades 6-8 that we serve each day come from vary diverse backgrounds. They are mainly from low-income families and do not have much support or experience with higher-education. They live a few miles away from Stanford University, but need help honing their skills and focus in order to dream of applying. While the work that I do changes day to day, let me tell you about the main parts of our program so that you can get a better idea of what we do.

Everyday we help students with their homework during PROVE which stands for Prevent Missing assignments, Review for tests and quizzes, Organize your backpack, View progress report and Eliminate missing assignments. . During this time, students work on their homework but also learn to prioritize (which homework should I do now while I can get help on it vs save for later?) and organize (because let's face it, middle school students are notorious for messy backbacks). Along the academic realm, we also have Math League twice a week, where we reinforce students' basic math skills to help them succed in their math classes. Last year at Kennedy, only 30% of the entire school was deemed proficient on the math California Standards Test. We try to have students interact with math in ways that is more hands-on and relevant to their daily lives. We are doing a unit on equations, which has a huge running mystery of an ice cream man throughout it (true story: my middle school students absolutely love going to the ice cream truck every day after school). We also offer College to Career Connections where students learn about jobs that might interest them, how to get into college and different options available for them. We are about to start a community service curriculum which I am psyched for!

The most unique part of our program is our apprenticeships. This is what makes Citizen Schools a really revolutionary program.Twice a week professionals from the community come in for 1 hour for 10 weeks and teach the kids about their specialty, which builds up to a WOW! where the students show off what they learned. This past semester I worked with a preschool teacher where we taught the middle school students about how to be a preschool teacher in Back 2 Preschool. For their WOW! the kids went to a Head Start for an afternoon and led a preschool class.  This week I am starting my new apprenticeships for the semester. On Tuesdays I'm doing this one with a woman who created a company called "My Ventures" which is all about kids setting up companies to help improve their communities. So they are going to be creating a company (Re-Bag) that creates an alternative to plastic bags, essentially making their own bags out of old t-shirts. Throughout the 10 weeks they'll learn about different parts of a company and actually make their own product (t-shirt bags). Then at the end they will sell their t-shirt bags at a farmer's market! On Thursdays I'll be going on a bus with the kids to Palo Alto (where Stanford is) to a law-firm where they'll run mock trial. I think it'll be great for the kids to get off campus once a week and go to an actual law firm. For their WOW! the students will do a full out trial at the Redwood City courthouse. Students get to choose their own apprenticeships, and really explore an area that they had not had any experience with before. It is amazing to see what the students can accomplish in 10 weeks and how proud they are of themselves (although they will never admit it!). It has been amazing to see students engage with the material and connect with future careers. Simply having another caring adult in their lives makes a huge difference!

Middle school is a tough age, but by providing them with extra support and exciting opportunities, we can make a difference. Through my coursework with Lesley University and my hands-on experience with the students at my school I've been exposed to the current state of education in our country and ways that we can change it. From all my reserach and experience I've found that the Citizen Schools model really does work. Inspired yet? Wondering what you can do to help? Well here are your options!

Become at Citizen Teacher! Did hearing about the apprenticeships sound exciting to you? Do you have a passion that you would like to teach students about? Come do an apprenticeship! You will be amazed at what the students are able to accomplish in 10 weeks and how much of a difference you can make.

Become a Teaching Fellow! We are currently accepting applications to become a Teaching Fellow next year. It is a two year AmeriCorp position and you will be amazed at the things you learn. If you have more questions about what being a Teaching Fellow is actually like, let me know! Want more information? Check out:

Can't donate your time? You can still help us provide amazing programming to middle school youth by making a donation. Every single dollar counts to impact a child's life. Just look at how far your money could go:

$5.00 buys pencils, paper and more - everything they need for high-quality homework.
$10.00 is a team reward to celebrate success, support, and teamwork.
$20.00 funds a Choice Time activity where kids can just have a chance to be kids. (see the YouTube video for an example of what my kids during a Choice Time)
$80.00 sponsors an apprenticeship, bringing new ideas and caring adults into the classroom.

If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please let me know! Thank you so much for your support!


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