Helpful hints from Citizen Schools on a variety of topics, including starting a program, securing funding, and best practices for mentoring relationships.
February 23, 2012
Citizen Schools has successfully built a scalable model that connects middle-school students to community professionals through real-work experiences and apprenticeships. Through its mentor preparatory course, Citizen Schools teaches adult volunteers how to become strong mentors to students to help reduce the dropout risk.
Getting Started Tips
Want to start a full-time-learning model in your community? Whether you’re a teacher, administrator, or community member, these tips will help you get going.
Do your research:
- View this site and others for ideas about what type of program you want to create, for which age groups, and during which hours.
- Review academic standards. Always make sure standards fold into the project.
- Talk with leaders from similar programs for background information.
- Document your needs and findings.
Recruit good people:
- Principals should play an active role.
- Recruit people with strong leadership skills and connections to the community.
- Ask colleagues, parents, and friends to help. Assign specific roles and tasks.
Develop a business plan:
- Highlight how the project benefits students.
- Refer to historically successful learning programs: Include essentials, such as the project goal, outline, funding ideas, resources, and directive.
Sell the project:
- Get the PTA and parent groups involved. Parents can participate directly (by becoming mentors) or indirectly (by recruiting their employers).
- Ask civic organizations and businesses for support.
Involve the students:
- Ask them to brainstorm their own full-time-learning programs.
- Encourage them to take part in the plan.
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Advice and Links on Finding Funding and Attracting Investors
Funding for full-time-learning programs comes from many sources. Here's a short sampling.
- Federal funding. Find federal resources that provide grants and funding for extended-day learning programs.
- Parents. Ask for parent donations. Parents are usually willing to donate varying amounts to enrich their child's learning.
- Local businesses. Recruit businesses to provide support -- through funding or other resources. Do your research first; many businesses receive requests for support. Understand the company history, and make contact with the right representatives.
- Foundations. Research local and state foundations dedicated to serving youth, the arts, health, and related topics.
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Mentors function as kids’ bridge to reality. But often hindered by lack of training and time, how do mentors make a lasting impression? Seasoned mentors and educators share their tips:
- Be enthusiastic and passionate. Motivated mentors make for motivated kids.
- Be organized, detailed, and flexible. Keep students engaged by adapting to their individual needs.
- Give students your full time and attention. Get to know them to make a real connection.
- Develop a manageable but usable project. Make it easy to create but not easy to waste.
- Encourage students to share with others. This builds a sense of community.
- Finally, just be yourself.
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Relationship-Building Tips: Start with your school, then add the community
Here are some tips for forming and keeping lasting school-community relationships.
- Network to build relationships.
- Spread the word to your internal base. Start with friends and colleagues.
- Talk to parent and parent-leaders in your school. Identify their skills and recruit them as mentors or spokespeople.
- Talk about the project at open houses and orientations. Ask anyone and everyone to support the kids.
- Form and nurture partnerships.
- Identify companies, youth organizations, nonprofits, and colleges that want to create a school-community connection.
- Give presentations, and set up a booth at company outreach events.
- Host thank-you events and provide constant feedback.
- Develop a seamless tie between classroom and the extended day.
- Create organization. Provide ongoing training and support for mentors. Schedule meeting times when mentors and teachers can discuss student progress and create cohesive lesson plans.
- Consider hiring a liaison to act as a mentor trainer and student tutor.
- Update parents on how their kids are doing socially and academically.
- Invite mentors and partners to staff meetings and teacher luncheons. Keep everyone focused on a connection between the classroom and project.
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How do educators and administrators evaluate the success of a full-time-learning program? Here are some tips for assessing program and student achievements.
- Assess students based on rubrics rather than relying solely on grades. Student development is often more important than the final outcome.
- Track student's progress throughout the course of the program through rubrics, or predefined criteria, often based on academic standards and 21st century learning skills.
- Define clear program goals. Ask students to complete a pre-screening questionnaire, including what they expect to achieve from the project. Also, ask questions relating to student's current knowledge level. This helps in creating rubrics and tracking progress.
- Collect data and evaluations throughout the program. Train teachers and mentors about the importance of rubrics and the assessment process. Encourage routine progress reports and student interviews, creating open communication throughout the program.
- Assess the program in part through student progress, using rubrics for guidance. What skills were improved upon? What did the final project look like? How did students exceed the teachers and mentors' expectations?
- Use academic records and comparison studies. For example, did student attendance improve? What about grades and standardized test scores? How do these results compare to students who didn't participate in the program?
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