Disadvantaged children in struggling schools are often not given a chance to succeed, and public school systems are sometimes unable to find the resources to encourage or inspire some of their students. May graduate Emma Simmons ’11 is working as a teaching fellow for Citizen Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering students from struggling schools across the country. Her position will allow her to work directly with children, interact with parents and help expand the organization.
Citizen Schools was founded by Hamilton alumnus John Werner '98, Eric Schwarz and Ned Rimer in 1995 in Boston. Since then, the organization has expanded beyond Massachusetts with programs across the country in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico, and California. The goal of Citizen Schools is to bring professionals such as lawyers, engineers, chefs and architects into struggling classrooms to teach a weekly class. These professionals, called Citizen Teachers, and the classes they teach, or apprenticeships, are meant to reinvigorate students and help inspire them to succeed in high school and college. The apprenticeships are Citizen Schools’ cornerstone program, though the organization now also offers additional programs such as college-readiness and 21st century skill sessions and off-campus explorations.
Simmons is a teaching fellow at the Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto, Calif. This two-year position consists of two responsibilities: a team leader for a group of middle-school students and the Cesar Chavez’s family and student engagement lead, boosting communication between parents and the Citizens School. As a team leader, Simmons will work with a group of 15 middle school students during academic blocks and homework sessions. She’ll supervise homework time for this group and teach supplementary lessons in English/language arts. Simmons will also design the curriculum for Citizen Teachers and co-facilitate lessons for apprenticeships.
The second part of Simmons’ fellowship involves a campus leadership role of family and student engagement lead, for which Simmons “will make sure communication lines between parents and CS staff are always open, coach the other staff in making bi-monthly phone calls to the parents of their team members, and plan family events such as pot-luck dinners.” She'll also be responsible for planning field trips for the students.
The Cesar Chavez Academy is a “launch site” for Citizen Schools, meaning that this is the first year that the organization is extending to the school. Simmons looks forward to representing Citizen Schools and helping to further its goals during her two-year fellowship.
In the summer of 2010, Simmons interned at Citizen Schools Boston headquarters as a staff alumni engagement intern. Her responsibilities included interviews with staff alumni for its newsletter. After hearing the diverse and impressive range of success stories from Citizen Schools alumni, Simmons became interested in taking on this fellowship to expand her experience in both nonprofit and education work.
Simmons landed her 2010 internship through the Career Center after Katie Berlent ’08, who holds a position in Citizen Schools’ Civic Engagement Department, recommended the position to Hamilton students. During her internship, Simmons also discovered a connection to John Werner ’98, who joined Citizen Schools' leadership team when it was first getting off the ground. Werner designed the 8th Grade Academy (8GA) program in Massachusetts, where students learn how to apply to high school and get on a pre-college track. During her senior year Simmons helped COOP director Amy James organize a trip to Hamilton for 8GA alumni.
Citizen Schools aim to empower students and help them discover their own drive and ability to succeed. Simmons looks forward to contributing to this cause, fighting social injustice and helping students develop their own voice. In her words, “I am looking forward to giving a few students the chance to shine in a place where they previously might have struggled. That’s all I want.”