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Peg helping at a class

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Teacher Profile - Peg Zitzner

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“I’m a fan of E CITY because…

        …I think it’s making a difference in the lives of youth in ways that are overlooked or underutilized in their lives otherwise.  We may not see the direct impact for many years, but at least adults have spent significant time with them, and these youth have adopted the belief that they can do things differently.”

Peg with winners and judges

So begin the reflections of Peg Zitzner, E CITY teacher and wife of E CITY founder, John Zitzner.  “Teaching for E CITY has brought together the two parts of my adult life,” she explains when asked to describe her interest and involvement in delivering entrepreneurship education to at-risk inner city youth.  Her background is in education, but she also helped John found The Bradley Company- a business software company that was later sold to Xerox, thereby paving the way for them to begin E CITY.  “I had never taught business,” Peg explains.  “I had a sort of ‘osmosis’ knowledge of it from working at Bradley, and then I attended NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) University to get the specifics I needed to teach the curriculum we use at E CITY.” 

She admits being intimidated as she prepared to teach her first class for E CITY.  “This was a different clientele,” she explains.  “I had mostly taught in affluent neighborhoods to elementary aged children.  These students were much older, among other differences.  But I found that they are actually more appreciative of what you give them.  They understand the significance of your gift of time.  As long as they feel respected, they’re appreciative.”

Peg gains their respect quickly because she respects them.  She is down-to-earth, easy-going, receptive to a good laugh, and truly interested in others.  “I do crazy things,” she admits.  “Like one day, when Darnell started dancing in class, I got up and danced with him…and I have NO sense of rhythm!”  (And she was okay with the fact that the students pointed that out).  “Communication is sometimes blocked because we use the

Browns and Brats event

same English words, but we have different definitions for them,” she says, laughing.  “So  when they go down that path of making analogies with slang and references to rappers, I just say ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’ and then we go from there.” 

Peg’s students have been mostly young men, aged 20-24, who are part of the YO! Cleveland program in the city’s Empowerment Zone.  Thus far, she has taught two 70-hour programs there- one in the spring and one this summer.  The second class was more engaged, maybe because of her increased comfort level and maybe because 80% of the students in the second class were recruited by those in the first.  “In this setting, I define success by the reaction of the students and the organization (YO! Cleveland).  Although we have measurable standards for success at E CITY, those may not be realistic for each setting we are in.  For example, 80% attendance is not realistic at YO!  Ninety percent of these students are high school drop-outs, and are not geared for educational programs.  To think that they will show up four days a week for three and a half hours for five weeks on end is silly.  I look for the happy medium and I ask how we can mold the curriculum to the site.”

Peg’s favorite lesson within the NFTE curriculum may be the income statement.  “It’s concrete.  It gives the students a chance to put their knowledge to work.”  But then she giggles and tells an anecdote about the introductory lesson-  “I had a flip chart and I was asking the students to list the traits of an entrepreneur and an employee.  John (her husband and entrepreneur) walked in, in the midst of this.  And although the students had nothing but positive traits listed under ‘employees’, the first ten things they said about entrepreneurs were negative!  They used words like ‘snake’ and ‘evil’ and ‘conniving’!  Fortunately, throughout the rest of the classes we were able to bring in entrepreneur guest speakers and show that they are decent people.  Oh, and they came to know and respect John, too!”

Overall, Peg believes the classes are well-received by the students because “…they are able to see the real use of what they are learning.”  But Peg is also quick to explain the impact of the human touch that they bring to the students’ lives.  “I have been surprised by the lack of knowledge within these students’ families.  These kids have nowhere to turn if they are having trouble, for instance in their school lives.  We at E CITY at least know the system and how it works.  We know who to contact.  We are often called by students for advice even after the classes have ended.  They might want information on loans or jobs.  We are a place to turn to with ideas, which is something that was not in their lives before.”

Peg Nicole and student at

Thanks to Peg and other devoted teachers and volunteers, E CITY has indeed, become more than an entrepreneurship education program.  It is a growing family of people who care enough to share what they know and have.  “We took a field trip to the Marriott, arranged by Kurt (her son) and the General Manager” Peg explains.  “And it looks like it has led to a job for one of our students.  John helped him with his resume and Kurt talked to him about how to approach the  interview.”  May this be one of the many seeds we plant together, to grow healthy communities.  

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