Charity Spotlight

Citizen Schools

It’s the time of year when students and their families are settling into their back to school routines. For many of our children, the school year is enriched with plenty of time with adult mentors and enrichment activities. Unfortunately, many lower-income students do not have those same opportunities. TisBest Philanthropy partner charity Citizen Schools works to close that gap by providing relevant instruction with an extended learning day in schools across the country. We talked to Emily McCann, CEO of Citizen Schools about how the organization is making a difference.

A Citizen Schools “Citizen Teacher” works with a student.

Who does your organization help?
We help middle school students in low-income communities realize their potential, allowing them to discover and achieve their dreams.

How do you help them?
We expand a middle school’s learning day by connecting a team of adults to provide relevant learning experiences that give students the skills, access, and beliefs they need to succeed as students and thrive as adults.  We mobilize a team of AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellows and volunteer “Citizen Teachers,” to provide academic support and unique 10-week apprenticeships that focus on relevant, real-world opportunities that build 21st-century skills.

Why was your organization founded?
Students in upper-income families spend 300 more hours each year with adults than do the three million students in lower-income families. Upper-income students also benefit from almost $8,000 worth of enrichment activities yearly—robotics camp, piano lessons, academic tutoring, and more.  By 6th grade, the middle and upper-income students will have likely spent 6,000 more hours learning than the lower-income students. Citizen Schools was started as a response to that gap. We provide schools with resources to extend the school day, with the intent of closing that gap.

What can your organization do with $30?
A $30 donation could provide school supplies starter kits to 15 students, or purchase supplies kits for 3-5 STEM apprenticeships.

What is the best non-stuff gift that you have personally received? (Editor’s note: is also a TisBest Philanthropy selected charity!) is an organization that was founded by Charles Best, a student of my father’s. He actually talked about my dad when he was on Oprah, and cited him as the reason he started The website allows teachers to crowdfund resources for their classrooms, usually for an exciting project that isn’t in their budget. Every year during the holidays, my family members will endow a project on each other’s behalf. It’s really wonderful to make the donation and receive letters from the teachers and the students in their classes, telling you about the projects and what they learned.

If someone received a TisBest Charity Gift Card, why should they consider your charity for their donation?
We don’t like to think of ourselves as a charity, per se. We’re teachers, mentors, role models and cheerleaders. We’re there to support these kids as they work hard to achieve their goals, whether that’s improving their math grade this year or graduating high school or going to college. No dream is too small or too big for our students. By donating to Citizen Schools, you’re expanding our capacity to reach more kids that are in danger of falling through the cracks in their public school systems. One more kid building robots after school with a Citizen Schools mentor means one less kid whose school day ends when the bell rings. Citizen Schools students are nearly 50 percent more likely to enroll in college, compared to their peers. Help us expand our programs to make high school and college a possibility for all of them.

Tell us about a unique way your charity has impacted someone.
As a 6th grader, MacCalvin Romain participated in a citizen schools program and learned to build a computer.  Later, as a senior marketing analyst for DigitasLBi, MacCalvin lead a partnership between his employer and Citizen Schools, teaching computer programming once a week. During his time as a Citizen Teacher, not only was MacCalvin a recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, one of his students earned a spot at the White House Science Fair for a video game she built while participating in his apprenticeship. MacCalvin is just one example of the type of community engagement we’re striving for. Once a mentee, now a mentor, MacCalvin’s dedication to serving his community continues through his career.

What is something people might be surprised to learn about your organization or the people or mission that it serves?
There’s this idea that kids don’t like school, especially math and science. We have found this not to be true, in any way. They just aren’t engaged by the way these subjects are traditionally taught. The beauty of our apprenticeship programs is that we’re not hiding the learning, we’re not pretending that it’s not school. It’s the type of learning that excites and motivates the kids to keep working.
For more information about Citizen Schools and how you can help visit To learn more about TisBest Philanthropy, Charity Gift Cards, and our charity partners please visit