An Extended School Day Gives Low-Income Students a Leg Up

Citizen Schools
Sixth-grade students show off the robots they programmed with the help of a volunteer engineer in Citizen Schools’ extended-day program.

Eric Schwarz had an idea: to harness the experience and knowledge of trained professionals and bring it to the classroom. After graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he launched his own program: Citizen Schools. His program runs after school and brings in “citizen teachers” as volunteers to work side-by-side with students. He started with one pilot site for 63 Boston students, and his program has now grown to 4,500 students in 37 states.

Schwarz’s program partners with middle schools to create an expanded school day: an extra three hours a day, four days a week. During this time, students can work, side-by-side, with an engineer, a website designer, an accountant, or any number of other professionals. The inspiration for Schwarz’s project came while he was volunteering in a poor neighborhood in Boston, training students in journalism. The public school system, he realized, was mired in a nineteenth-century paradigm, unable to change its scheduling, format, or learning models. The project began with $120,000 in funding and the budget has since grown to $25 million.

Schwarz sees his role as much bigger than just providing a stellar after-school program. He wants to influence the way education is delivered, and reinvent the paradigm. In the next five years, he hopes to establish 25 more programs in partnership with low-income schools, and help close the achievement gap with suburban schools. Already, he is partnering with major American businesses, such as Cisco, Google, and Fidelity, and he’s trying to recruit even more citizen teachers.