From Jerri Fatticci, executive director of Citizen Schools North Carolina and Susan Patterson, Charlotte Program Director for The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
For years, policy makers have debated who holds the prime responsibility for education: parents or teachers? Clearly, a child benefits from both good parents and good teachers. The reality, however, is that at times even the best parents and teachers aren't enough. Many students are struggling despite our best efforts and the number of students dropping out of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools keeps growing.
We believe citizen volunteers are the critical third leg to the education reform stool – complementing parents and teachers in helping all kids succeed. Research shows that the engagement of trained and supported adults volunteering as tutors, mentors and teachers works.
Organizations like Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that runs apprenticeship programs connecting volunteers to students in hands-on learning projects after school, have had outstanding results in Charlotte and nationwide. Citizen Schools students outperformed a comparison group on 6 out of 7 academic metrics, including attendance, suspension, test scores and promotion rates.
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Increasing opportunities for the citizens of Charlotte to play an active role in education reform is a cost-effective solution to one of our most persistent community challenges. A host of programs, such as Citizen Schools and Teach for America, utilize well-organized and well-trained volunteers to expand the learning day, increase student achievement and reduce dropouts. These programs have already demonstrated the power of service to drive results. Now, the programs that work best need support to grow.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is doing its part by supporting the expansion of organizations like Citizen Schools. A recent grant will help Citizen Schools explore Web 2.0 as a tool for engaging Charlotte-area residents in volunteer opportunities at Citizen Schools North Carolina and other local organizations. Volunteers will help students improve academically and connect kids to careers and networks.
Nationally, Senators Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch have just introduced the Serve America Act, which provides funding and incentives for service programs. The bill includes a new Education Corps to mobilize volunteers to serve full-time in America's neediest schools and challenge millions of others to teach what they know and love in the nation's classrooms, after-school programs and pre-school centers.
And, our own Sen. Richard Burr has co-sponsored another bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate. The Teaching Fellows for Expanded Learning and After-School Act proposes to mobilize recent college graduates to serve at expanded learning time programs and create a new professional pathway for young educators – a “second shift” of qualified instructors and mentors supporting academic achievement.
Providing an excellent education for all children in Charlotte will be difficult. Teachers and parents are at the center of this effort. But for our boldest aspirations to be realized and for all our children to flourish, ordinary citizens will need to get off the sidelines and into the classroom.