AOL has partnered with Citizen Schools in communities around New York City and Boston, and this is the program's first year in Chicago, so several of us in the AOL Chicago office jumped at the chance to join in on the fun! Growing up, I always said I wanted to be teacher, but my hopes and dreams have changed a lot along the way. However, I love working with kids and a little part of me still has the desire to teach. Being a part of Citizen Schools has allowed me to reignite that passion, and it has come with some major payoffs.
AOL has two groups teaching at two different Chicago area public schools, and I've had the privilege of teaching and mentoring the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade kids in the "apprenticeship" program at Cesar Chavez in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Both groups are teaching "Brand You," an apprenticeship where students learn about the basics of branding and how to build your personal brand. Whereas a lot of kids in the U.S. prepare to apply for college in high school, these kids actually have to apply to high schools, so learning how to build your own brand is of importance at an earlier age. Also, English is a second language to a lot of the kids, so teaching them new vocabulary words has also been a focus. It has been so cool to see the students grasp the concepts and use the vocabulary words that we've taught them. They are essentially learning the branding basics that I learned in my first two years of college -- and some of these kids are 12!
There is really no better way to describe the experience than saying it's super cool -- plain and simple. I spend two hours with these students every week, but it's amazing what they remember and how serious they take it. These kids are at school early in the morning until the early evening, but they got to choose to be in the Brand You apprenticeship, and you can tell how much they enjoy it. I expected that they might build their personal brands as if they were applying for high school, college, or a typical teenage job, but these kids have some high aspirations and expectations for themselves -- which is awesome. They are so creative, and I hope they all pursue their hopes on the career front. There are kids that want to be baseball players, soccer players, video game developers, product developers at Lego, teachers, social workers, and police officers, and I hope they are all successful in becoming those things, because I honestly think they would all be great at their respective professions.
It's imperative that kids this age in low-income communities have programs like Citizen Schools -- it's surprising how early kids decide whether or not they will go to college or even complete high school. I wish I would have had a program like Citizen Schools when I was their age, just to get a glimpse of the real working world and seeing the payoff of a good education. I do hope that exposing these kids to young, successful professionals and bringing them to AOL's downtown office has encouraged them to stay focused on school and their future careers. I wish them all the best of luck and hope to see a few of them as future AOL employees!
Citizen Schools partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country. By drawing thousands more citizens into schools each year, we're promoting student achievement, transforming schools, and re-imagining education in America. Read more about Citizen Schools and their missions at www.citizenschools.org.