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‘Citizen Schools’ Provide Hands-On Learning For Middle School Students

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) — They call them “Citizen Teachers,” volunteers working together, to help middle schoolers, using hands-on learning. It’s part of an extended day program, and even though it means longer school hours, the kids seem happy to be there.

In one classroom at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown kids are playing a game to learn about personal finance and the highs and lows of the stock market. Down the hall, students are writing and reciting their own poems. At the same time, other sixth graders are building robotic cars. “I like having my hands on stuff. I like doing things with my hands,” says Leanne Sorensen, a budding car builder. It’s all part of a regular afternoon at the Edwards where the “Citizen Schools” program is expanding the learning day, delivering 3 hours of apprenticeships and enhanced learning, 4 days per week.

“They’re hands on learning, real world experiences and students are able to connect what they’re learning in the school day to real world careers,” says Jon Downing, who runs the program at the Edwards.

It’s the “Citizen Teachers” who play a major role in making the program work. All volunteers, they give their time to give the kids something extra. “I know what it is to be some of these kids that came from not the best areas and not the best upbringings,” says Chaylin Diaz, a volunteer teacher working with the students on expressing themselves through spoken word poetry. “I think the biggest thing is that I can improve on my writing skills, because I want to be a writer,” says Kathleen Alvarez, one of the students. Teacher Emily Douglas works in the financial world and is giving the kids insights into budgeting and saving. “I’ve always been a fan of getting involved in my community,” says Douglas. “We learn about stocks and how to save our money to get a good house and stuff when we grow up,” says student Nick Bolger. With robotic cars, Charlie Weiblen is teaching mechanics, electricity and magnetism. “To get them more interested in science, whether it’s gears, mechanical engineering or software programming,” says Weiblen.

Of course, the extra learning makes the school day longer. “It’s fun to learn because it’s not like a regular class where you just sit there and you have to write all the time,” says student Nick Bolger. Kathleen Alvarez agrees. “Time goes by fast, so it’s worth it,” she says. More than 400 Citizen Teachers work with 1400 kids in 6 Massachusetts’ schools. They say students in the program have higher graduation rates than their peers and higher MCAS scores as well.

Do you know people working together to make a difference in their communities?

Tell WBZ-TV producer Ken Tucci about them: krtucci@wbztv.com

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