We have long, as a nation, heard about – and worked to reconcile – the achievement gap in education.  We have typically described this as a racial achievement gap between the accomplishments of white students and their peers of color. This gap persists, but we have made progress in the battle to erase it. Today, this gap stands at half the size it was 50 years ago. However, there is an equally pernicious gap that has emerged over this same time frame: The achievement gap defined along economic lines. Today, this gap between students in the top and lowest quartile of family income is two times as large as it was in 1970. At Citizen Schools, we believe that the key driver behind this achievement divide is another gap – a gap in opportunity.

Here are the facts:

  • By the time they reach middle school, students from upper-income families have an additional 6,000 hours of extracurricular learning and enrichment time than do their low income peers.

  • The investment gap in extracurricular learning by upper and lower income families has tripled over the past 30 years. Upper-income families spend almost $8,000 annually (versus $2,000 by low income families) on activities like robotics camp, piano lessons, academic tutoring, and more.

Citizen Schools is determined to close the opportunity gap and help these three million low income middle school students discover and achieve their dreams. We do this by connecting students to a community of adults who are invested in their future and provide access, in partnership with schools, to 400 hours annually of additional learning time. Together, they fill students’ afternoons with moments of discovery that help them understand the relevance of the work they pursue in middle school to future careers, build academic skill and bolster their confidence, all in service of changing the odds of their long term success.

Citizen Schools partners with public middle schools serving low-income students by extending the learning day by several hours. Our educators become a special part of the schools’ faculty and are made up of passionate AmeriCorps members, aspiring educators, and community volunteers, driven to ?ll afternoons with real-world learning experiences. Our students are organized into teams rather than classes, with team leaders who become their mentors, guides, and instructors. Team leaders create a culture that keeps students energized and ready to learn.

Our model is filled with opportunities to excite students about learning. It includes:

  • Afternoons with homework support and direct instruction that build science, math, and English skills, reinforcing what’s been covered in classes.

  • Apprenticeships that turn students into young scientists, architects, lawyers, business owners, and cooks, allowing them to get a taste of potential career paths through access to successful adults.

  • Team explorations and activities that help students set goals, explore the professional world, and visit colleges, often for the ?rst time.

This is a proven model. We have invested in evaluation to measure our  impact on student performance. Citizen Schools, in partnership with schools, are driving impact for students in middle school and beyond:

  • Improved grades, attendance, and behavior in middle school.

  • An equivalent of three to four months of additional learning beyond what they receive in the traditional learning day (a result on par or higher than the top brand names in education reform).

  • Increased high school graduation rate of 20 percent.

  • Increased college enrollment rates of 150 percent.

We are determined to close this opportunity and  achievement gap for even more children across the country. The systemic educational inequality prevents so many American children from discovering and achieving their dreams, and threatens our nation’s future. Every student has the potential to thrive, every school has the potential to succeed, and every American has the potential to make a difference. But it requires a team effort. Citizen Schools is proud and determined to galvanize citizens and schools to address this issue together … because teamwork will make the dream work for our next generation.

Stay tuned for more of BostInno’s 2014 Women’s Leadership Forum coverage. 

The Ad Club’s 2014 Women’s Leadership Forum will take place on March 19th at the Westin, Boston Waterfront, 11 am-6:30 pm. To learn more, check out the 2014 Women’s Leadership Forum event site, and for the latest updates, follow @theadclub and search #AdClubWomen.