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Mobilizing Citizen Power to Close the Opportunity Gap

August 28, 2014
Ben Duda served as an AmeriCorps member at Citizen Schools in Boston – including managing an apprenticeship taught by CEO and Co-Founder Eric Schwarz.  Eric has written a book about his experience as a CEO and on the future of eduction, the achievement gap, and citizen engagement.

From 2002 to 2004, I was an AmeriCorps member at Citizen Schools, helping to lead an extended day program in Dorchester, MA, that provided middle school students with three extra hours of learning every day. This included the program’s signature element— apprenticeships taught by professionals from the community.  Two afternoons a week the otherwise dingy and grey Grover Cleveland Middle School building was enlivened by dozens of lawyers, poets, architects, film-makers, engineers, and scientists who joined me and a half-dozen fellow AmeriCorps members to run the Citizen Schools program.  I worked with local lawyers to leadBen-Duda students in a mock trial, architects organized a public charette for middle schoolers subway stop redesigns, and local stand-up comedians ended up providing invaluable public-speaking training as the class performed an open-mic event at the end of the sessions.  It was incredible seeing how students consumed new content and ideas, from citizen-experts that were passionate about their professions.  One class I supported was taught by Eric Schwarz himself, the Citizen Schools CEO, who led 6th graders in a research apprenticeship, surveying more than 100 CEOs and asking them where they had learned the skills they needed to get ahead.  The answers surprised: a little at school and A LOT at home and in summer camps and after-school programs.  At the end of the semester, several students presented sophisticated bar charts to a conference-room of policy makers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — making the case for out-of-school learning in words and deeds.

Ten years later, some of those same ideas from students in the apprenticeship led Eric to write a book about his experiences and ideas.  A powerful case for the role of national and community service as a key to educational progress, The Opportunity Equation, by Eric Schwarz officially launches September 2.   We’re super excited about the book and invite you to attend an event on the #BacktoschoolBetter national book tour, buy the book, and/or participate in an AmeriCorps Alums virtual book discussion on October 2nd that I’m hosting with Eric and another alum who served at Citizen Schools and now works in corporate social responsibility.

Early reviews for The Opportunity Equation are positive:

photo by Paul Mobley

Photo by Paul Mobley

“What a fun and instructive story of the birth and growth of an important social enterprise, from one of our nation’s most insightful social entrepreneurs,” says Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp.

“The Opportunity Equation describes the growing achievement gap between upper and lower income children — twice as big as two generations ago,” says Schwarz. “and describes the growing opportunity gap that fuels this inequality and how it can be reduced and sometimes even reversed.”  Schwarz describes how the “twin engines of national service — both full-time AmeriCorps members and community volunteers involved as mentors and ‘citizen teachers’ lift up schools and deliver results — closing gaps in test scores, high school graduation rates, and college success.”

“We spend trillions searching for scarce natural resources like oil,” Schwarz writes.  “We’ll need to spend far less to mobilize citizen power — a plentiful and renewable resource that has the power to advance opportunity for all, strengthen our workforce, and restore the American Dream.”

I hope you’ll consider learning more about this book here and coming to a book event, participating in our webinar on October 2nd, and using The Opportunity Equation to help strengthen the case for national and community service — indeed our nation’s most powerful natural resource.


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