The Opportunity for Impact

Just last week, a good friend of NCTL, Eric Schwarz, the co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, published, The Opportunity Equation, a book about his long experiences providing incredible learning experiences to school children in Boston and around the country. What makes this book so remarkable in my view is that Eric masterfully weaves together his own personal story of growing up together with the much broader story of educational opportunity in America. In particular, he describes his work as an adult trying to bring the learning-rich environment of his youth to young people in American cities who lack the same opportunities that had paved his own road to adulthood. The result of his efforts has been the highly-successful Citizen Schools, which connects schools, students from low-income communities, and professionals from a broad array of fields to hands-on learning in beautiful and lasting partnerships.

One of the most poignant aspects of Eric’s (and Citizen Schools’) story is how it dovetails so perfectly with that of the expanded-time schools movement. On the surface, Citizen Schools started as a “traditional” after-school program in that, structurally, it operated similarly to other after-school programs: after the scheduled school day ended, dependent upon students to volunteer to be there, and with less connection with students’ formal school education than it may have liked. And, yet, its particular educational model was anything but conventional. Bringing in lawyers, architects, scientists and other professionals into schools to become mentors to middle-school students was nothing short of pioneering.

This “outside the box” thinking pushed the envelope even more when, in 2006, Citizen Schools partnered with Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston, one of the first schools in Massachusetts to convert to a longer school day through the state’s Expanded Learning Time Initiative. Through this new model, Citizen Schools transformed itself from an after-school program into an indispensible educational partner, as it became far more integrated into the learning life of the school. Citizen Schools showed in a profound way that expanding school time is definitely not about doing more of the same, but rather about opening up new opportunities for learning that students otherwise would not have had. Simultaneously, Citizen Schools staff at the Edwards worked hard to connect with the teachers there to make the educational experiences for students as seamless as possible. This was not about “tacking on” extra time to the school day. Citizen Schools was part of the integrated whole school re-design.

I must admit to being a little sad to note that, with this book, Eric is actually marking his own personal transition.  He is no longer working full-time at Citizen Schools and is moving on to new challenges. But, as his book powerfully conveys, his passion for expanding opportunity has quite simply translated into better lives for countless young people and, in turn, for improving the future prospects of our whole nation.  For that, Eric, we are grateful and thank you for your commitment, your entrepreneurial spirit, and your wisdom. We look forward to hearing (and then reading!) about your life’s next chapter.