As President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) I have the privilege of speaking before many audiences, but I’ve never been more excited to come before a group — and to hear the immediate feedback about the impact of the day — than I was during National Black Child Development Week. Themed “A Week of Action,” the centerpiece of the week was NBCDI’s first Parent Power BootCamp. Held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Parent Power BootCamp brought parents, caregivers and advocates together to “Get In-formation” – focusing both on exchanging knowledge and action planning to get in position to do the work of being relentless advocates and accountability agents on behalf of our children.
Busloads of parents and caregivers got “In-formation” about the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its implications for investments in early education, equity for disadvantaged students, high academic standards for college and career readiness, assessments, and accountability. They came from all across the surrounding region, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and the Washington Metropolitan area. Through ED’s live stream, our National Affiliate Network, including the cities of Houston, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, Sacramento, Denver, Nashville, Detroit, Paramus (NJ) and Mid-Hudson (NY) joined as well.
We were joined by an amazing group of colleagues, referred to as “coaches”: David Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans who urged parents to stand for equity; Lynn Jennings, Field Director at the Education Trust who empowered parents to know the assessments used to measure their children’s learning; Liz King, Josh Porter, and Jheanelle Wilkins from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights who presented on equity in school funding; and Janel George of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined by parent advocates Lorraine Wright and Kandise Lucas, who rallied parents to hold schools accountable.
Our goals for the day weren’t just that participants would leave feeling informed, but connected and in community with each other, and equipped and empowered through the knowledge and information they received. We created a NBCDI Parent Power ESSA Toolkit for each of them to take home and share with other parents, caregivers, friends and colleagues to ensure they have the resources to inform their choices on behalf of their children. They are the accountability force to ensure their children receive the education they deserve.
This is NBCDI’s message to them and to all of us. Let’s get information. But, let’s also do something with it. That is why NBCDI will collaborate with our National Affiliate Network to host Parent Power BootCamps in communities across the country. National Black Child Development “Week of Action” was only the beginning. We will get in formation and we will move.
Watch the NBCDI Parent Power BootCamp live stream here and get information.
Tobeka G. Green is President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). For 46 years, NBCDI has been at the forefront of engaging caregivers, policymakers and advocates around issues that impact Black children and families. With the support of its National Affiliate Network in communities across the country, NBCDI is committed to its mission “to improve and advance the quality of life for Black children and families through education and advocacy.”
School’s out, temperatures are rising, and, for many students across the country, the summer slide has begun. Each summer, low-income students lose two to three months of reading skills and two months of math skills. As the center director for an after school and summer academic program for middle school students in Washington, D.C.’s historically underserved neighborhood of Anacostia, I see these statistics firsthand every day.
Many of the students from the community we serve take one of three paths in the summer. In some of our better case scenarios, students are either required to enroll in remedial classes to move onto the next grade or they sign up for recreational programs that do not have an academic component. At worst, students stay at home where they either watch TV, play video games, or spend hours on the computer. For many of the students in these categories, the only interaction they have with math is getting change from a store clerk when purchasing snacks. Their reading interactions are limited to social media posts – nothing that requires critical thinking skills.
The program that I work for, Higher Achievement, offers an alternative for students: a no-cost, six-week Summer Academy that includes experiential learning field trips (including a mock trial, a visit to the National Gallery of Art, a ropes course, and a tour of a local hospital), electives (such as theatre, rap, poetry, and hip-hop dance), college visits, and – importantly – classes with curriculum aligned for the year ahead, not the year behind. During the school year, learning is a high stakes game. Students prep for tests and focus on their grades. But for me and the teachers that I work with at Higher Achievement, summer is about getting ahead of the curve. The key is creating a safe space where students can take risks. Ask a question. Participate in an unfamiliar activity. We remind our students that they aren’t being tested or graded, so now is the time to bring back the joy of learning. Once the school year begins again, Higher Achievement continues to support students with mentoring, homework help, electives, and public speaking platforms.
The benefits of this environment are many. Take for example my student Muneerah, who is a rising sixth grader. Muneerah started the summer as a very reserved, quiet student who was very selective in what she shared. But through our spoken word poetry elective, she has discovered her voice. Now she is writing poems and participating in what we call “Community Meeting,” a daily gathering where students are able to talk about the things they care about. Topics this summer have ranged from bullying, to individual identity, to items in the news, to how to navigate middle school.
Students like Muneerah don’t just want these sort of summer opportunities, they deserve them. By using these quiet months in the summer as an opportunity to grow and challenge our students in a risk-free environment, we can make sure that the school year ahead is productive, interactive, and inspiring.
Tawana Bostic is a Center Director at Higher Achievement’s Ward 8 Achievement Center in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Higher Achievement, she was a science teacher at Bronx Park Middle School in New York City and a Mentoring Program Coordinator at Pipps Neighborhood, an organization that helps low income communities in NYC rise above poverty.
This week, the U.S. Postal Service is unveiling a Forever Stamp in recognition of Jaime Escalante’s life’s work. To celebrate this occasion, we are sharing 7 things this passionate teacher taught us about the importance of will, or in his own words, the importance of ‘Ganas.’
1. That time he taught his students about the importance of being yourself, and owning it:
2. That time he reminded us that we need to stop worrying, and start doing:
3. It wasn’t just about the academics, but about the hard lessons too:
4. Or when he needed no sugar-coating to his real talk:
5. The time he didn’t give up on his students and held them to a higher bar:
6. Every time he asked all the right questions:
7. Or when he nailed it in 6 succinct, but oh-so powerful words:
Jaime Escalante’s passion, determination, high expectations for the students he taught, and unrelenting belief in the limitless potential of all young people, regardless of their background, created one of the greatest success stories in modern education history. Many of Jaime’s former students persevered through difficult circumstances to become highly successful, nationally renowned experts in their fields. He demonstrated that success is attainable—even under the most difficult circumstances—for every student.
His teaching showed us that success in the classroom—even under the most challenging circumstances—is possible for everyone if we remain steadfast in our commitment to our students. With the unveiling of the Forever Stamp in his honor, this legacy will continue to live on.
For the past six weeks I have been serving as the connected learning coach for Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, a fully online, graduate level, connected learning course sponsored by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Division of Community Engagement and taught by Valerie Holton and Tessa McKenzie.
Like connected learning, which has been used in the educational literature to indicate everything from online to social to experiential learning, I suspect connected learning coaching can mean many things to different people. In this case, I am a resource introduced by the instructors into a learning community to provide personalized student support related to the digitally networked participatory practices associated with openly networked connected learning.
Collaborative Curiosity belongs to a portfolio of innovative online courses that emerged from VCU Academic Learning Transformation Lab under the creative guidance of Gardner Campbell and Jon Becker from 2014 to 2016. Currently in its second iteration, Collaborative Curiosity takes place entirely on the open web. All course materials freely accessible on the public course website to allow for community participation and engagement in the course. Weekly synchronous class discussions take place on Twitter, and assignments are completed via blogging on personal student websites (a variation of Domain of One’s Own). The individual student websites are networked through tagging and RSS feeds to the course website so that participants, observers, and instructors can visualize the big picture of how participants are making sense of the materials and activities related to the course.
Based on my prior research, the digital landscape of Collaborative Curiosity – the blogging, the tweeting, and the openly networked course space – provides ample opportunity for students to engage in connected learning. As described by the Digital Media Learning (DML) Research Hub, connected learning is an experiential educational approach that encourages students to recognize, strategically reflect on, and forge new connections between people, contexts, ideas, and personal experiences for the purpose of deeper, more authentic learning. Digital environments are particularly powerful connected learning spaces, because they allow students to access more resources and authentic audiences, express themselves through near-professional grade media, and make more immediate connections via hyperlinks and personal learning networks.
Having spent several years studying openly networked connected courses at VCU, I am convinced these environments are (potentially) powerful spaces with endless possibilities for inclusive, authentic learning. Very preliminary findings suggest that most students find Collaborative Curiosity more engaging and equally as challenging as other instructional approaches while recognizing that it deepens their digital fluency, awareness of open scholarship, and perceptions of the professional and scholarly possibilities for online spaces. However, the digital participatory approaches used in courses like Collaborative Curiosity are so novel that many students (and instructors) need significant pedagogical and technical support to take full advantage of the experience.
In today’s higher education environment, instructors seldom have the time or resources to provide such intensive personalized support in any sort of sustainable way. Hence the idea of a connected learning coach: a person that is neither an instructor nor a student, but rather a class consultant willing to provide formative feedback and technical support around digitally networked participatory practice for both students and instructors when they need it.
The Role of a Connected Learning Coach
Given the highly experimental nature of connected learning coaching, the course instructors and I agreed to allow the defining characteristics of my role to emerge as the course took place. Six weeks into the experience, I see my purpose in this particular learning community as meeting the following needs:
- Promoting the pedagogical value of making connections. Let’s face it – most graduate students already know to make connections between their work and traditional information sources such as scholarly research articles (it’s called “citation”). These connections are important, but connected learners look for other types of connections in their school work as well. They connect to the ideas of their peers, through their own work over time, and across contexts (e.g. work, hobbies, other courses) and modalities (e.g. images, music, kinetic movement). Documenting these connections through hyperlinks or embedded materials makes them explicit and immediately accessible. It allows a student’s thought process to be shared with others and provides a historical record to support ongoing personal reflection. Because these sorts of connections and their documentation are not often discussed in traditional classrooms, they need to be modeled and explicitly and consistently valued. As the connected learning coach, I discuss these ideas in blog posts, tweet great student examples, and analyze student hyperlinking patterns in their blog post comment sections.
- Helping students navigate digitally networked participatory culture. Many students participating in Collaborative Curiosity had never tweeted or blogged prior to the course. Therefore, they were not initially attuned to the cultural nuances of digitally networked communication. Students and I have informal Twitter discussions on the nuances of digital workflows, Twitter, and self-promotion. I performed a social network analysis of course Twitter chats as a means of formative feedback and shared personalized results with students via email. Furthermore, I wrote a blog post on the purpose of course hashtags and continue to monitor the course’s Twitter chats to capture and retweet any student tweets that did not include the course hashtag. Interestingly, students have begun to police their peers’ use of the hashtag, and my role in Twitter chats has declined.
- Providing technical and moral support. Despite written instructions, instructional videos, and a streamlined process (developed in-house at VCU Academic Learning Transformation Laboratory), some students still have difficulty navigating the technical process of establishing and personalizing a blog site, linking their sites to the course website, and creating posts. For generalizable assistance, I write blog posts based on common student needs. When real-time, personalized help is required, I use a combination of screenshots, email, and direct messaging to provide step-by-step support in a media in which the student is already comfortable. I even arranged a face-to-face visit with one student who was having trouble.
The course is still in progress. Therefore, I only have initial thoughts on outcomes and impact to share. I’ve enjoyed watching students expand their digital communication and connecting skills quickly. Anecdotal evidence suggests these particular students have appreciated having someone there to help them with the technical aspects of blogging and tweeting. Furthermore, an initial, informal analysis suggests they are making diverse and powerful connections across the learning community and their own work. Six weeks into the experience I’m focused mainly on staying out of their way as they continue to learn. Some things I have learned and will carry with me into my future experience:
- Assessment matters. The Collaborative Curiosity instructors have always been explicit in their dedication to promoting digital fluency, open digital scholarship, and connected learning through their course. They reference it in the course trailer, course competencies, and the assessment rubric. However, student interest in my blog posts, feedback, and assistance increased after they received grades on their first blog posts, which included marks for their digital presence. I am not sure students would have invested time in enhancing their digital skills or engaging in connected learning without the formalized connection to assessment.
- Moral support is important. Over the years I’ve assisted many students – undergraduate, graduate, professional, and adult – in digital learning experiences similar to Collaborative Curiosity. Instructors are often surprised when students find it difficult to set up their digital workspaces despite ample access to written or screencast instructions. I have found that some students have a level of anxiety related to “technology” that prevent them from following direction – no matter how adequate the instructions are. Nevertheless, many of them are able to do everything required in the presence of real-time support. Students who ask me for technical help often answer their own questions without real input from me and go on to do amazing things on their own as the course progresses; they just need someone to be present at the very beginning of the process to boost their confidence.
- Coaching takes time – but not necessarily instructor time. Targeted blog posts, twitter conversations, personalized social network analysis, and one-on-one instruction take time – definitely more time than most instructors have to offer. However, my experience suggests that instructors don’t necessarily have to do the work alone. Connected learning coaching can be performed effectively by third parties – interested community members, teaching assistants, probably even (and possibly more effectively) trained peer coaches.
Independent Educational Consultant
Connected Learning Coach Blog Posts (to date):
Your last high school prom is over and for most of you, graduation has come and gone. Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner. Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and heading off to college. You’re so ready, right? Well, maybe not. Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.1. Make sure your school has your financial aid ready for you
By now, you should’ve already applied for financial aid. If not, you need to complete the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!
Early summer is a great time to check with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to make sure your financial aid is and all paperwork is complete. This will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises or financial aid delays when you arrive on campus.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough money to cover any gaps between the cost of your school and the financial aid you’ve been offered. Here are 7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid.
If you’re using student loans to help you pay for college, make sure you’re borrowing only what you need and keeping track of what you’re borrowing.2. Find a part-time job
If you’re interested in working part-time while in school, it’s best to start checking out those opportunities early, even before you get to campus or start classes. Working during school can teach you great money management skills and also help limit borrowing if you’re able to put that money toward your tuition.
If you were awarded federal work-study, here are eight things you need to know. For starters, being awarded work-study does not guarantee you a job. Some schools match students to jobs, but most schools require students to find, apply and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what positions are available and how to apply. The most sought after work-study jobs are often filled quickly, so get started now!
Which reminds me…3. Craft a good resume and learn how to network
Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation. Don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now. Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, . Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities. Don’t settle in and nest; put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.
TIP: Make sure you have an appropriate email address. Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com.4. Create a budget and learn how to manage your money
Now that you’re heading off to college, you’ll need to learn how to manage your money.
Will you get a financial aid refund? How much can you expect to make weekly at your part-time job? What expenses are already covered (i.e. meal plan)? What do you still need to pay for (i.e. books)?
It’s important to know how much you have coming in and what you can afford to spend. Sit down and make a budget for the semester or year. It will help you avoid unnecessary splurges. Here are some tips.
TIP: Consider opening a bank account that has locations near your campus. You’ll save yourself money in ATM and other fees.5. Register for classes and prepare for a whole new world of time management
Make sure you are registered for classes and understand your class schedule. One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand. Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you. You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between. Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well. You’re worth the investment–manage it well.6. Embrace coupons and master the art of a good deal
Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO. Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore. Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social is easier than ever. But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for things you end up not using. That can cost rather than save you money.
Always ask about student discounts and if available, consider getting a student discount card.
Another great way to save money is by buying used textbooks or renting them. Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, Chegg, and TextbookRush to name a few. If you sell textbooks back to the college bookstore at the end of the semester, check online sites first for what they’re worth. College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new, so you may be better off selling them online.7. Learn how to keep you and your things safe
Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop. Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate. Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.
Program your school’s campus security number into your phone. You never know when you might need it.
Safety also applies to protecting your Social Security number, usernames and passwords. Your Social Security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes. Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk. Store them in a secure place. Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.8. Get ready to fill out the FAFSA again in October
Yes, you heard that right. Beginning this year, the FAFSA will be available three months earlier, October 1, 2016 instead of January 1, 2017. If you want to maximize the amount of financial aid you receive next year, you’ll want to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1, 2016.
Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!
Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.