My time at Citizen Schools (CS) went by extremely fast. There was so much to do that it was difficult to sit down and write something for this blog. The work within Research & Evaluation (R&E) was an interesting and rewarding experience. There was frustration, laughter, amusement, and even more laughter with a dash of caffeine thrown in the mix. All from my end!
For those of you who do not know what CS is about, the mission is to expand the middle school’s learning day by connecting a team of adults to provide relevant learning experiences that gives students the skills, access, and beliefs they need to succeed in school, college, and careers. To understand what that meant, I had the opportunity to visit the Browne and Wright Schools in Chelsea, MA at the beginning of the school year. I witnessed the efficiency in the staff meetings, talking about any issues and possible solutions within 20 minutes and having an inspirational message to focus on for the day. In the classroom, the teachers cared about how to best approach the students to get them to listen. Never a stern word or singling a student out. The students were excited to learn but once in the classroom, some were too shy to participate. Somehow the teachers knew what to do and coaxed those students to do yoga, problem solve in math, etc. It was wonderful to see.
At the end of the semester, I went to the Google WOW! event in Cambridge, MA. After the 10 week apprenticeships, the students presented their work to the teachers, parents, and community members. It showcased all that they learned and accomplished throughout that time. I spoke to the students about their work that included team work in physical fitness and tracking improvement on a graph, in physics with potential and kinetic energy, and in coding a map. I didn’t take any pictures at this event since the staff at CS took great ones. Here are the links to the CS WOW! and more CS WOW! pictures. You should have seen the pride some of the younger middle school students had with their work. The older ones were a little shy but no less excited about their work. It was amazing to see the transformation from the beginning of school to the end of the semester. Everyone in CS should feel proud of the work they do for the students!
The work that I did in R&E was just as important as the campus staff directly helping the students. At the end of October, CS has to report enrollment to their biggest funder, AmeriCorps, so that they understood if the budget and staff were allocated appropriately at all campuses. I assisted the R&E team by managing this process. I worked in a team consisting of senior leaders, Managing Directors of Program (MDPs), and R&E colleagues to obtain the enrollment values and to troubleshoot any discrepancies against the annual budgeted enrollment values. It was successful because there was a training session to talk about the process and impact to CS if this was not reported; there was one point of contact to reach out to the MDPs; and there was one person for them to ask questions outside the team setting. If anything, this allowed me to talk and listen to the people in the team. Something that I enjoy doing!
In addition, CS had to report on academic measures (proficiency and/or growth) to show student improvement in 2014-2015. The academic measures could only be reported for each student whose parents gave consent to report that information. There were issues in being able to report student assessment data because of the low consent rates since not all parents signed the form or gave permission to report student scores. My work was to create a recommendation on how to increase consent rates by evaluating e-signatures, translating the consent form into the appropriate languages, and communicating the importance of obtaining consent forms to all staff. This was an interesting assignment since I was able to talk to campus staff about their ideas on e-signatures and their feedback on the consent form process to help me in my evaluations.
With trying to figure out how to increase consent rates, I supported R&E in entering the student assessment results into SalesForce and tracking any outstanding results. I could understand the frustrations in not being able to report results from each region. Some of the blocks included official release date being after AmeriCorps reporting; varying ways to obtain the assessment results through the principals, districts, or the state department of education; and no uniformed format when the results were received. I did the best I could in the recommendation to understand what regions could be reported in 2016 and how to obtain the results. However, during discussions, CS had to decide on what outcomes would be reported to AmeriCorps in 2017. CS can still report academic measures but now have an opportunity to evaluate if they can report attitudinal or behavioural outcomes instead with the current surveys in place. With the help of the grant writing team and R&E, I was able to propose a different outcome to report for 2017 that can be reported on time and that also shows the impact of the program by reporting information from the surveys obtained directly from the students and parents.
In all, I liked the goals that I was given at CS. It was challenging to shift gears and remember that I was supporting the educational sector. I was able to use the skills learned as a scientist to complete each objective and offer recommendations that would help CS in the future. I had the support that I needed to complete my work before I left and I will treasure the time there. My final thoughts on this assignment is that every staff member at CS should be congratulated for all their hard work and dedication to continue CS’ mission and making it as successful as it is to help the students.