12/03/2012 10:00 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Seeing Students Transform: One Afternoon at a Time


"WALSH ES. WE THE BEST!" Is what you hear at Walsh Elementary School where inspired students are having a great time during Citizen Schools. In my first year as a teaching fellow, I have experienced so many great things with our students and in their apprenticeships. The apprenticeship that I co-teach is Brand You with citizen teacher volunteers from AOL. The objective of this apprenticeship is for students to learn the importance of branding and how to make a brand for themselves so they can be successful in life. Since I didn't go to college for marketing, I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this goal on my own. However, with the assistance of the citizen teachers, we collaborated and narrowed branding down to three key concepts.

The three key concepts taught in Brand You are: Brand Identity, Brand Promise, and Target Audience. After the students studied various TV and online advertisements on how companies brand themselves they were able to apply the key concepts to market themselves. My experience with teaching this apprenticeship has been somewhat of a breeze because the citizen teachers have provided me with lessons every week. Not only are the lessons written well enough for anyone to teach, but they are always engaging, allowing the students to easily understand and fall in love with the apprenticeship. I have seen several students completely open up from being quiet and shy to becoming a leader and team player.

Take Monique for example. Monique is a sixth-grade student who is very quiet during the day in her classes. She hesitates to participate in class or give presentations to her peers. Throughout the last couple months, I have seen Monique make a complete transformation. Every Wednesday during the Brand You apprenticeship, she participates and is always willing to get up in front of the class and practice presenting her brand. Additionally, she now brings energy and excitement every class! She is always smiling and asking for Doug -- one of her favorite citizen teachers. Doug is one of her favorite citizen teachers because he is always willing to take the extra time to make sure that Monique understands the lesson and builds up her confidence as well. I have seen her investment in her education flourish because of AOL and the Brand You apprenticeship.

I have also seen the apprenticeship encourage another wonderful student to think about marketing as a possible career in the future. Joao, a seventh-grader, is a natural salesman. He could pitch anything and find a way to make the consumer invest in the product. Since day one of the apprenticeship, Joao has amazed everyone with how quickly he was able to pick up the concepts of marketing and then apply them to brand himself. Joao has been one of the student leaders throughout the apprenticeship and will be one of the students to lead this year's WOW! -- the students' final presentation of what they learned in the apprenticeship.

While students have been putting together their personal brand this semester, it has been a pleasure to see how students are enjoying what they are learning. The personal brand consists of students creating a brand identity that represents them. Students also have to select their target audience where they want to pitch their brand too. Every week students come to the Brand You apprenticeship with so much energy and excitement. They come ready to learn about marketing and different ways to market themselves.

I have seen Michael have an incredible transformation during his Brand You apprenticeship -- from being the shy student in my class to transforming into a leader. During Citizen Schools program hours, which consist of homework support with a lesson I teach to help students with their academics, Michael would never socialized with his peers and rarely participated in program until the Brand You apprenticeship. During the Brand You apprenticeship, Michael would participate in the lesson by being engaged with the lesson and volunteering to present his brand in front of his peers.

Before I knew it in my Citizen Schools program hours, he was volunteering to help students during homework support and asking me if he could help me co-teach some of the activities in my lesson so he could work on his presentation skills. I would let him help with co-teaching some of the activities and it has built up his confidence and now Michael has transformed into a leader in the classroom.

This is why I love to serve and work with students as a teaching fellow and mentor. I have seen some of the quietest students come out of their shells and present their brands in front of their peers. They smile with confidence, when I tell them that they are learning what college students are learning in marketing class. Their faces light up saying, "this is easy and fun" and "if college is like this, I want to graduate from high school and then go to college and graduate."

Citizen Schools partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country.