Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Importance of Connections

      I first got introduced to Citizen Schools as a 6th grader at the McCormack Middle School. Just like many students I was forced to enter by my parent who didn't want me to be home doing nothing after school. At first, I did not like it, but that was because I did not give it a chance. Once I started to make friends at the program, I did not mind being there. I continued the afterschool program until my 8th-grade year. By then I no longer had to be forced to attend. I loved everything about the program my friends and the team leaders. My classmates and the team leader had become like a family to me. Citizen Schools had opened my eyes to many opportunities there are for students.

      Before Citizen Schools, I had not known about the other types of high schools that were in Boston besides public, and they had helped me apply to all the schools my mom, and I liked. As part of 8th-grade academy; I got to go on college trips, and I had a personal writing coach. College was something I had never thought much about or thought possible. But, going on the trips and talking to students had allowed me to see how realistic it can be if I continued to work hard in school.

      As I expressed before, I loved Citizen Schools. So, once I finished the program in middle schools, I still was involved during high school. In my 9th grade year, I stayed involved through a leadership group and learned how to become a Deputy Team Leader. For the next three years, I was a DTL, and that had to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was meeting 8th graders and seeing them find their interest and ask questions on the college trips, and it was helping the quieter student come out of their shell by the end of the trips, it was moments like these and others, that made being a DTL and Citizen Schools so great.
At Hamilton College overnight trip with 8GA students and fellow DTLs

     Also, my senior year of high school, I need to have an internship and guess where I did it? Yup, Citizen Schools. I worked as with alumni engagement and oversaw the social media pages and anything else that was needed of me. Doing this internship helped me see the behind the scenes of the organization and how much work it takes to make the organization run. I have so much respect and love for the people at Citizen Schools for all their work at Headquarters and at the middle schools. I always feel honored and proud to have been part of Citizen Schools, and I guess they must feel the same with me. In 2015, it was the 20th Anniversary of the organization, and at the gala that year I was one of the 20 people honored with an extraordinary citizen award, and I also gave the alumni speech. It was an unforgettable evening. 
Giving my speech at the Gala

      Now, I am not writing about my love for Citizen Schools for you to go and join the organization or add a middle school family member to the program. That would be amazing; there is always space for more people in the organization. But, I am writing about it to inform people how important afterschool programs or extracurricular activities are for young people. For me, this organization is just more than an afterschool program but a place where it feels like home. I know when I walk through the doors of the Boston Headquarters I will be welcomed with smiles and hugs.

      I knew if I ever needed something there is always someone willing to help. That is why as part of being awarded the Gilman Scholarship to help me afford to go abroad I had to do a project I asked my friends at Citizen Schools if I can do a project with them. My blog is a part of the project; its things that I experience and learn while being abroad and I hope that those who do end up reading this learn something new or find it as inspiration. I hope it reaches younger alumni or current students in Citizen Schools and they see that someone who was once in their shoes is in college and is studying abroad and it is possible for them too.

     Lastly, I want to show just how amazing the people at Citizen Schools are. Megan Bird is the executive director of the Massachusetts branch of Citizen Schools, and she was in Chile on vacation with her family. And she welcomed me to lunch and a walk around Valparaiso with her family. The staff at Citizen Schools want people to stay connected with them even after they graduate the program and I am so lucky to be part of the Citizen School family !
At Lunch with Megan and her Family

On our walk through Valparaiso, Chile

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