How to Be a Hero? Find out, after School

By Sara Steindorf writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

How to Be a Hero? Find out, after School


Sara Steindorf writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


"Future!" an energetic adult bellows into the bustling school cafeteria. A sea of schoolchildren quiets down a bit to respond: "Leaders!"

The scene is perhaps a common one: A teacher tries to hush students, even instill a positive mantra in the process.

But this man isn't your typical teacher - and actual school let out hours ago.

John Werner is a campus director for Citizen Schools, an after- school program in Boston. His involvement since the program started in 1995 recently earned him the New England Isuzu Afterschool Hero of the Year award, sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C., and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. The innovative nonprofit "apprenticeship" program brings together "citizen teachers" - volunteers ranging from auto mechanics to lawyers - with urban-area students ages 9 to 14.

The program matches at least two adults with several children. They might learn how to write a play, create a PowerPoint computer presentation, or implement community projects.

Citizen Schools, which is growing like the young people it serves, now reaches more than 1,000 students at 11 campuses citywide - rapid progress from its original one-campus reach and a single fax machine.

Werner thinks big. The majority of programs available, he says, target a few kids, help get them into private school, or let them explore one subject in depth. What he wants, however, is for Citizen Schools to become the next nationwide, federal-education initiative, something like Head Start.

Uncharted course

The opportunity to create an entirely original education program - similar to the Internet craze, Mr. Werner reckons - is what jazzes him about his career.

He first gained interest in education in college, when he spent his summers in New Hampshire working with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children. Werner decided he wanted to reach out to kids before they ran into problems.

Fresh out of college, he taught special-education in Boston public schools. Then he tried his hand in politics, working on a gubernatorial campaign.

But he ultimately went back to teaching, at which point he crossed paths with one of the founders of Citizen Schools just as the program was starting up. He found it a perfect mixture of his interests: teaching, politics, education reform, and community building.

He concedes he doesn't make as much money as, say, his former college roommate who works as an investment banker. But his friend has said he wishes he could make as many creative decisions in a year as Werner does in a day. …

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