In Community: Career Connected Learning Through Partnership

By LaVonia Montouté

 

Career Connected Learning—“a continuum of awareness, exploration, preparation, and work experience developed through strong public and private partnerships”—has been a hallmark of the Boston education landscape for decades, enabling students to participate in varied and immersive learning opportunities that expose them to the world of work. In 2020, Boston leaned deeply on the partnerships to sustain access to and focus on career learning for students, while also redesigning experiences to meet the needs and call of both a health pandemic and racial reckoning. During the 18th Annual EdVestors Showcase, student, education, and workforce leaders discussed how they transitioned to meet the demands of a double pandemic, their lessons learned, the importance of partnership, and their recommendations for the future to ensure that more students access and benefit from career connected learning experiences.

The speakers shared their incredible pivots in one of three areas: strategies that increased students’ career awareness, career exploration, and career immersion.

 

Career Awareness: Supporting MyCAP and Implementing Virtual Career Lessons for the Class of 2024

Marsha Inniss-Mitchell, Director of Postsecondary Partnerships in Boston Public Schools (BPS), opened the conversation by highlighting the ongoing work in BPS to ensure each student has an individualized student success plan, known locally as MyCAP (My Career and Academic Plan). MyCAP is a key strategy in the district’s college, career, and life readiness framework. In 2020, the BPS team designed a MyCAP distance learning program through Google Classroom to foster student engagement around career learning activities. The team targeted 9th grade students who were most likely to have experienced a significant transition due to starting a new school remotely. Particularly, educators and district leaders noted that discussing careers and the future cultivated a sense of hope in a time of uncertainty.

Partnership was at the core of design and implementation. Leveraging collaborations that spanned the Boston Opportunity Agenda and Generation Success, College Advising Corps, UMass Boston Precollegiate Programs, Boston University Center for Future Readiness, EdVestors, and many more, the BPS team designed and implemented virtual career lessons that engaged students in self-exploration exercises and formed early connection to their career aspirations. Partnership with college access organizations were critical to increasing the number of students who participated in this work virtually during the school year. 

When asked why they focused on career lessons this year, Ms. Inniss-Mitchell explained that the district is focused on supporting students’ self-exploration process, providing them with the tools and supports to identify meaningful careers to them, and aiding their navigation towards their goals.

 

Career Exploration: Virtual Bootcamps in Partnership with Employers and Mentors 

The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) provides a range of support for students in career connected learning, including school-based staff known as PIC Career Specialists, to support career readiness tasks, hosting job shadow days, and facilitating connections between students and employers through annual summer youth jobs campaigns (A Summer Like No Other). In addition to continuing each of these work areas virtually, the PIC maximized the unique flexibilities of the remote environment and longstanding partnerships to connect students and employers in growing industry sectors for a four-day bootcamp during April break. 

Through the bootcamp, students developed skills in design thinking, data science, or engineering by engaging in virtual project-based learning led by employers and the Ace Mentor program. Joseph McLaughlin, Research Director at the PIC, noted that amidst the pandemic it was important to bring students together, connect them with adults through career learning, and support their informed decision-making about their future plans including postsecondary opportunities and majors. Mr. McLaughlin also noticed an important translation of remote work skills to the classroom, sharing that for many students who worked remotely in the summer they felt more confident managing the demands of remote learning in school in the fall.

 

Youth Internship in the Arts in Partnership with Citywide Arts and Cultural Institutions 

Zorely De la Rosa, Boston Arts Academy ‘21, shared her experience in completing a virtual internship through Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston (BAI), a seven-week program hosted by EdVestors that connects students with more than 20 arts and culture organizations across the city to engage in arts administration work experiences. Zorely developed a website that enabled students and teachers to connect for online classes at Community Music Center of Boston. She enjoyed the work of using technology to build connections between people and saw applications to her career aspirations of being a research scientist and creating community around public health topics. 

As a student participant, Zorely reflected on the benefits and challenges of remote internships. She shared that the virtual format was not always easy but helped push her to work independently and built her confidence in reaching out when support was needed: “ Now I feel like I can do projects on my own.” Zorely stressed that community for students is important and that connections to her supervisors, other interns in the program, as well as BAI staff were important to navigating the workplace. BAI also leverages partnerships to provide wraparound supports for students in college writing from 826 Boston, college exploration through College Advising Corp Boston University, and executive coaching from Muadi B. Dbinga Unlimited consulting.

 

Implementing a Virtual Internship in Partnership with Students and Families 

Melodie Knowlton, PhD, Director of the Learning Lab at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, has been a longstanding partner of BPS and the PIC, supporting STEAM learning in the classroom and hiring up to 40 students to work in the Vertex labs each summer. An exemplar program that blends workplace skill development and whole student supports, the Vertex team creatively addressed the challenges of transitioning to a fully virtual internship and committed to the motto, to not just “make do, but to make best.” The company witnessed and responded to the impact of the digital divide, both by getting Vertex technology to students and supporting students with connectivity challenges to enable students to be fully on camera and engaged. They also redeveloped their curricula to adjust for at-home experiments and safety needs, bringing in partnerships with local restaurant chains and leveraging baking as a key model of basic biological and chemical principles. An unexpected outcome of this particular innovation is that the at-home kits allowed families to connect more deeply with the work that students were doing in their internship and increased access to STEM equipment and processes. 

The Vertex team also focused on community, creating spaces for students to connect independently to disrupt the effects of physical isolation required during the summer. They made space for conversations that responded directly to the racial inequities that were amplified throughout summer 2020. In a year, where many feared disconnection, disengagement, and disillusionment, Dr. Knowlton shared that the best part of the program was finding out that “at the end of the summer, after having students online 35 hours a week for six weeks, when we said ‘you can log off’, they did not want to log off”. The Vertex team developed a community that fostered professional and personal development and provided a venue to offer care and support for one another throughout the summer

 

Student Empowerment Through Community Collaboration 

The session concluded by putting all of this work in context through the lens of data and how Boston uses partnerships to understand the experiences of students at scale through “anywhere, anytime learning” metrics. Collaboration between BPS and the PIC is just one example of the deep data partnership that enables real-time capture of student learning experiences from career awareness to career immersion, and can inform community action. Roshni Wadhwani,  College, Career and Life Readiness Analyst for Boston Public Schools, described how  BPS leveraged the data insights to bring college and career partners together to directly support students’ future readiness by rallying organizations to support career exploration activities and FAFSA completion. 

Despite the challenges of the past year and a half, the panelists conveyed a commitment to continuing to deepen access to career learning and build upon lessons learned. Many supported continued use of technology to expand regular access to career learning. Recommendations included:

  • Employing a flipped classroom in schools to enable students to do their key career tasks at home using virtual platforms and then partner with educators in the classroom for discussion and guidance;
  • Increasing project-based learning opportunities for students and finding ways to leverage the flexibilities of remote work to allow more students to access these opportunities during the school year and school breaks;
  • Continuing to use technology as a way to connect with more students and allow them a broader learning experience; and 
  • Prioritizing time for students to connect as a community during work experiences as a means of community connection.

 

LaVonia Montouté is the Director of Career Pathways. Learn more about the Education Showcase here.

Advancing Racial Equity: Perspectives on Practice

By Alia Verner

 

One of the primary themes during EdVestors’ 18th annual Education Showcase was advancing racial equity in education. The panelists provided powerful examples of racial equity work in practice alongside recommendations for how to advance racial equity from different perspectives. Panelists emphasized the importance of providing collaborative and differentiated learning opportunities for school staff, families and students; incorporating culturally affirming, holistic curriculum and teaching practices in the classroom; and working collectively to address the root causes of racial inequities in schools.

The speakers, comprised of practitioners and community members, included Dr. Jaykyri Simpson, Director of Young Man with a Plan; Garcie Champagne, Boston Public School parent at Mozart Elementary and Co-Chair of their Race and Ethnicity Committee; Michael Baulier, principal of the Mozart Elementary SchoolLovely Hoffman, Edison K-8 Music Teacher; and Anthony Beatrice, BPS Executive Director for the Arts. 

 

Prioritizing Racial Equity 

Despite the renewed attention to racial equity work, racial inequities and the systems, institutions, practices, policies, and culture that produced them are deeply embedded in America’s history as well as the current education system. Students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students in the city of Boston, have been disproportionately impacted by gaps in opportunities and outcomes. Dr. Jaykyri Simpson, Director of Young Man with a Plan, discussed how this past year has further disadvantaged students of color as they experienced disproportionate harm from COVID-19, family economic insecurity, racial trauma, as well as increased neighborhood and gang violence that have had heartbreaking effects on students’ lives. Thus, advancing racial equity within our school systems requires addressing the root causes of these inequities both within and outside of classroom walls.

For our panelists, and so many other education practitioners, families, and community leaders in Boston, racial equity work is not a new priority but has been the priority, the core of their mission statements, the driver of their actions and decisions. What does it mean to prioritize this work in education? Michael Baulier, Principal at the Mozart Elementary School, provides a description: “Prioritizing racial equity means applying an anti-racist lens to every aspect of the Mozart community, every staff hire, every family interaction, every leadership decision, every instructional choice, every main office referral. Prioritization means this work is consistent. It remains year after year, and our efforts grow and deepen every step of the way.” Our panelists shared how they prioritized and worked towards racial equity in education both within and outside school walls. 

 

Collaborative and Differentiated Racial Equity Learning

Panelists spoke about the importance of providing both collaborative and differentiated learning opportunities for school staff, families, and students. 

Garcie Champagne, a parent at the Mozart and co-founder of the Mozart’s Race and Ethnicity Committee (REC), shared that school staff and families deeply valued engaging in professional development together: “It felt like a true exchange of ideas where families are able to have input and be a part of the thinking and brainstorming and bring themselves into the curriculum and the activities students are a part of.” She emphasized the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table to ensure collective learning and opportunities to hear multiple perspectives. For Principal Baulier, it is crucial to learn from and engage in thought partnership with “educators, families, and community members who have different identities and lived experiences” because his “identity and perspective as a single white male administrator is limited.” 

While opportunities for collaborative professional learning are important, learning and growth opportunities centered on racial equity also need to be differentiated to meet the individual needs of those involved and build upon their already existing funds of knowledge and lived experiences. “Meeting the needs of families of color and needs of white families is often different,” Champagne observed. “It is important to acknowledge that people are coming in from different places, which necessitates different entry points of learning.” One of the ways in which the Mozart community has responded to the various needs of their families is by creating affinity groups for families with shared affinities to share and problem-solve together. 

At the district level, differentiated professional learning is a core strategy for supporting arts educators. Anthony Beatrice, the BPS Executive Director for the Arts, shared an overview of the Arts Department’s racial equity professional learning framework. One of the department’s realizations when beginning this work was that arts teachers were at different stages of their learning journeys and that professional development had to meet the needs of all teachers. The Arts Department used the Continuum of Cultural Competency to identify stages of cultural competency and sequence learning experiences for arts educators.

 

Culturally Affirming and Holistic Approaches to Teaching

The Boston Public Schools Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Policy describes a culturally affirming curriculum as one that connects with students’ cultural schema and affirms and admires their backgrounds, identities and experiences. 

For Lovely Hoffman, a music teacher at the Edison K-8 School, providing culturally affirming education experiences to her students means teaching from a holistic perspective and ensuring “what we are teaching is relevant, socially conscious, and teaching the whole child.” In practice, this requires moving away from western traditions of compartmentalized subject areas to a more interdisciplinary approach that brings in the real world and students’ identities. Hoffman utilizes a broad range of musical styles, poetry, and songs to teach students about different cultures and leads lesson activities that enable students to bridge connections to their own cultures and identities. As an educator, she saw that low self-esteem was a recurring issue among young Black girls, directly impacting their confidence, motivation, and performance in school. In response, Hoffman created her now viral music video “My Black is Beautiful” and accompanying Self-Esteem Curriculum for Young Black Girls to “encourage young girls of color to define and embrace their natural beauty.” Her “Kwanzaa Song” video teaches students about the traditional African-American holiday and her poetry unit examines Tupac Shakur’s music and poetry in relation to larger discussions about racial relations in America. 

Dr. Jaykyri Simpson describes Young Man with a Plan (YMWAP) as a holistic mentoring program for young men of color. Beyond academics, YMWAP mentorship helps students make sense of and prepare for the world they live in as young men of color. Students in YMWAP discuss a variety of topics with their mentors of color and each other, including race and identity, current events, academic challenges, healthy relationships, finance management, stress, and college and career options. 

Principal Baulier believes curriculum must “engage students in learning about representative journeys of achievement, social justice, and antiracist action.” At the Mozart, school staff and families examine and transform current curriculum together. In their Race and Ethnicity Committee, parents brainstormed literature projects with educators that allow students to explore their racial identities. They worked collectively to unpack and understand the Learning for Justice Framework for Anti-bias Education and Social Justice Standards, then applied these standards alongside antiracism research and the Universal Design for Learning framework to co-develop writing units and grade-level curriculum. 

The BPS Arts Department has worked with arts teachers to decolonize and examine existing curriculum for bias using the 7 Forms of Bias Protocol. Auditing curriculum often resulted in the district asking vendors to change existing curriculum, having to buy new curriculum, or creating curriculum on their own. The Arts Department created their own Elementary General Band book that focused on merengue, muchata, and hip-hop after auditing the existing instrumental bandbook and finding it heavily Western European-focused. Like the Mozart, they also engaged in co-creation, enlisting high school students to create artwork for elementary general music teachers to accompany lessons. Beatrice noted that auditing curriculum for bias does not necessarily mean removing content and bias from curriculum, but adding counter-narratives and explicitly teaching students how to be critical consumers of information. 

 

Cross-sector Collaboration for Change 

Operating across sectors is critical to the success of Dr. Jaykyri Simpson’s YMWAP mentorship program. To advance racial equity, Dr. Simpson calls for an honest, holistic, radical, and collaborative approach to system change. This approach acknowledges and addresses the root causes of racial inequities, considers the interconnectedness of factors impacting students both in and outside of the school building, and requires cross-sector collaboration so that everyone can “row together,” put adequate resources in the right places, and make broad-scale change. 

YMWAP breaks down silos by working across different types of schools, in partnership with families, and alongside other organizations like the Private Industry Council and the Boston Police Department. As a result of YMWAP’s collaborative and holistic approach to mentoring, students’ academic and social-emotional skills improve, and the program bridges understanding across sectors, schools, races, cultures, and neighborhoods. 

 

Continued Commitment to Racial Equity in Education

Racial equity in education requires change in our classrooms and school buildings, but also calls for change in all policies, practices, and environments that shape the lives of students and their families. The approach to broader systemic changes rests firmly in working collectively and holistically. Racial equity has to remain a priority and it has to center students first. As Principal Baulier states, “The more we do racial equity work, the more work there is to do…We learned that no matter where you start, you have to start somewhere.”  Until every child, regardless of race or ethnicity, has access to the opportunities, resources, and support they need to thrive in our school system and beyond, we all have work to do. 

 

Alia Verner is the Director of Strategic School Support. Learn more about the Education Showcase here.

Agency and Relevance: Engaging Students through Project-Based Learning

By Emily Barr

As students and teachers across the city adjusted to remote learning last spring and various iterations of remote, hybrid and in-person instruction over the past school year, Project-Based Learning emerged as a powerful strategy to engage students in real-world and personally meaningful work. At EdVestors’ 18th Annual Showcase, educators from Winship Elementary School and the Digital Ready program at Excel High School shared powerful examples of this learning strategy in practice. 

First up, Sarah Cherry Rice, Executive Director of Digital Ready, and Molly Mus, special education science teacher at Excel High School in South Boston, shared how Digital Ready programming approaches Project-Based Learning not only as an effective strategy to engage students in a way that is personally relevant to their lives, but also as a way for students to build problem-solving and technical skills that provide access to Boston’s innovation economy. Digital Ready, a grantee in EdVestors’ Career Pathways work, aims to ensure that students have agency and social capital for pathways to high-wage, in-demand jobs that are in their backyard, as they create a digital portfolio showcasing their experience and developed skills that has currency in Boston’s innovation economy.

In partnership with Digital Ready, one project that Ms. Mus tackled with her students this school year centered around the question: How can we use principles of energy to help us build and refine a device to serve our everyday needs? Students were tasked with developing a solar-powered phone charger. This project incorporated an important state-standard in physics but also gave students a tool they were excited to use following the completion of the project. Students were given toolkits of materials that allowed both in-person and remote students to be fully engaged throughout the project. Ms. Mus shared that during this challenging school year, students were craving learning opportunities that were both hands-on and relevant to their lives. During this project, students were eager to come to school and dive in each day. She shared, “No matter what—even when their circuits weren’t working—students jumped back into it the next day and were excited to keep trying. It’s really rare to see that.”

Next up, in Brighton, a team of educators from the Winship Elementary School, EdVestors’ 2020 School on the Move Prize winner, shared the important role that Project-Based Learning played in teaching and learning during the pandemic. Project-Based Learning has been a core foundational strategy for the Winship as a STEAM school that prioritizes authentic, student-centered learning experiences. During periods of remote and hybrid learning, Project-Based Learning also facilitated strong family engagement opportunities. 

 

ESL teacher Lisa Llorente shared a project aimed at academic discourse and building vocabulary among English learners focused on the launch of the Falcon 9 spaceship to the International Space Station. The project was multifaceted; students watched video clips of earlier launches, read related texts, and culminated in presentations of rocket drawings and models made from materials found around their homes. As parents were experiencing a closer look at instruction than previously possible during in-person instruction, Ms. Llorente noticed authentic learning happening between parents, students, and teachers. Throughout the project, parents emailed relevant resources to Ms. Llorente, and they all met on Google Classroom to watch the launch live.

Family engagement was also a key strength of Shannon DeBari’s All About Me project with her first graders. Students were tasked with creating a digital autobiography. This project addressed many ELA standards, including developing interviewing and writing skills to technical typing skills. Families were involved through a survey and sharing photos that would eventually be incorporated into each student’s autobiography. Regarding the celebratory publishing party, Ms. DeBari shared, “Students really wanted to share about themselves, especially as they weren’t seeing each other as often. [This project] created a sense of community while having kids really engaged in a writing project.” Students were excited to be able to choose which chapters of their lives to share with their peers.

 

Aaron Noll, librarian and ESL teacher, also highlighted the value of student choice in engaging learning opportunities. His students created video book trailers based on their favorite fiction book. This project encouraged them to create a product about something they loved while analyzing story elements and practicing new skills such as storyboarding and using a new technology platform.

As educators across the district rethought and reimagined their strategies for engaging students during the pandemic, Project-Based Learning emerged as an instructional practice with high potential to create meaningful and relevant learning experiences both remotely and in-person through interactive learning environments that fostered a sense of community among students, teachers, and families. 

 

 

Emily Barr is the Director of Data and Evaluation. Learn more about the Education Showcase here.

New Study Underscores Impacts of Arts Education on Students

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                  

New Study Finds Boston Public School Students Improved on Several
Key Measures with the Expansion of Arts Education

Extensive research highlights the impacts of arts education on students, parents and schools pointing to the role of arts in an equitable post-pandemic recovery 

(BOSTON) May 10, 2021 EdVestors, a school improvement nonprofit in Boston, today released the results of a longitudinal citywide study entitled “The Arts Advantage: Impacts of Arts Education on Boston Students” that examines the impacts of arts education access in Boston Public Schools (BPS) on students. Increased student engagement, improved attendance, and increased parent engagement are among the findings of this unique longitudinal study, which includes more than 600,000 K-12 student-level observations across every Boston Public School over 11 school years from school year 2008-09 through 2018-19.

In addition, the research is noteworthy as rather than simply comparing students who have arts education opportunities to those who don’t, the study compared students to themselves at different points in time when enrolled in arts courses versus having no arts courses. The study adds to a growing body of research on the significant benefits of arts education.

“This research strengthens the case for quality arts education for every student, finding significant evidence that greater access to arts leads to improvements on a range of indicators of student success and parent engagement,” said Marinell Rousmaniere, President and CEO of EdVestors. “Large scale, quantitative arts education studies of this magnitude are not common, so this research will be invaluable to policymakers and school districts as they make decisions on allocating resources for the arts – both in the long-term and in the immediate aftermath of the interruption of two school years due to the pandemic.”

As students return to the classroom after 14 months of interrupted learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and district administrators are debating how to make up for lost learning time. While some are focused on the academic learning needs, others are focused on social-emotional needs and trauma-informed practices. Arts education can positively impact students’ overall learning in both domains.

“This research provides evidence for what we already know: arts education engages students, builds community, expresses our shared humanity and experience, and contributes to joyful learning environments,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “Building on the strength of the many BPS educators and partners that provide quality arts learning opportunities, Boston Public Schools will continue to prioritize the arts as we promote our students’ social and emotional health to fully recover from this pandemic and reimagine learning for our young people.”

 

Led by Daniel H. Bowen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the College of Education & Human Development, Texas A&M University and Brian Kisida, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri, the research points to a positive impact on student attitudes, engagement and social emotional well-being.

Key findings include:

  • Consistent positive effects on student attendance as a result of students taking arts courses. These effects are notably stronger for students who have a history of chronic absenteeism and students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
  • Parent and student school engagement were higher when more students in a school were enrolled in arts courses. Teachers were more likely to report that students put more effort into their work and parents were more active at the school.
  • Overall, there were mixed effects on test scores, with mostly null and some positive though modest effects. There were significant positive student test score impacts for grades 6-8 in both English Language Arts and Mathematics, but no evidence of impact in the elementary grades.

“Taken together, these findings are highly relevant in understanding the context for how schools can work most effectively with their student population – especially post-pandemic,” said Dr. Bowen of the College of Education & Human Development at Texas A&M University. “As schools reopen, educators, policymakers and administrators need to take a holistic approach to addressing the pandemic’s impact on students. That includes incorporating arts instruction and other means to assess and address the impacts on students’ school engagement and social-emotional well being.”

This research builds on EdVestors long commitment to advancing arts education including the BPS Arts Expansion initiative, which was launched in 2009 and has given access to arts education to more than 17,000 additional elementary, middle, and high school students opportunities to experience the arts during the school day.

“We started our initiative to expand quality arts education across BPS over 12 years ago, which has given us an opportunity to actually measure the gains over time,” added Rousmaniere. “The results of this remarkable research only strengthen the case that all students should have access to quality arts experiences.”

 

Read the research brief here.

 

About EdVestors

EdVestors’ mission is to advance equitable, meaningful education that prepares every Boston student to activate their power and shape their future. We drive toward our vision by 1) activating people and resources, 2) learning and iterating in context, and 3) influencing system change. We believe that continuously attending to all three drivers ensures our programs and initiatives will create impact. Since starting in 2002, EdVestors has raised and directed over $35 million for urban school improvement efforts through EdVestors’ Racial Equity Seed Fund, BPS Arts Expansion, the School on the Move Prize, Zeroing in on Math, and Career Pathways. Learn more at www.edvestors.org.

#BpsArts4All                @EdVestors                  edvestors.org

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Media contact:

Dominic Slowey

781-710-0014

dslowey@sloweymcmanus.com

This is the Wrong Time to Cut Arts Education

By Dr. Brenda Cassellius and Marinell Rousmaniere

This article is featured on CommonWealth Magazine.

Schools should not be focused just on tested subjects

In times of great financial strain and uncertainty, arts education is often first thing cut from the school curriculum. Indeed, several school districts across the Commonwealth have already laid off teachers and arts educators in the face of expected budget cuts and an unpredictable fall. Some districts may be anticipating a stricter focus on tested subjects when schools reopen to get students up to speed, but this is exactly the wrong time to be cutting arts programs.

With an ongoing global pandemic and heightened attention on racial injustice, students need arts education more than ever. The arts help students creatively engage with their classmates and communities,  help combat isolation, and allow students to process their feelings and express themselves in ways that help them make sense of what’s happening in the world.

Arts education promotes positive development across the academic, social and emotional realms. It is an essential part of a well-rounded education, not just enrichment or elective. Students involved in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education. And yet, despite the impressive benefits of arts education, not every student has access to these quality learning experiences.

When schools closed in March, Boston Public School (BPS) students were able to continue their arts education for the remainder of the school year. Arts educators, led by BPS Executive Director for the Arts Anthony Beatrice, utilized their inherent creativity to demonstrate the arts ability to unite and heal. Students from dozens of BPS schools contributed works of art to share with frontline workers in the Boston hospital community, as well as senior citizens in the City’s Age Strong Commission. BPS school communities moved their art galleries to virtual spaces, or reworked their planned stage productions into rousing online events.

In addition, arts teachers across the district began taking part in online professional learning communities to share best practices and participate in weekly virtual meetings with the district’s arts department. They received professional development in building virtual ensembles, differentiating instruction, and on online tools such as FlipGrid, Google Classroom, and Soundtrap. Over the years, the district has built up this strong support system and community of arts teachers due to BPS Arts Expansion, This public-private partnership involves a large and coordinated network of partners, including schools, arts organizations, local and national foundations, colleges and universities, and the Mayor’s office, among others. The capacity building of BPS to support quality arts education gave them the infrastructure and resources to quickly implement remote learning and could serve as a model for other school districts nationwide.

Arts education can be done — and done well — with some collaboration and innovation among educators. In BPS, the arts department created a new Virtual Learning section on their website where they post many examples of what has been accomplished remotely. For example, students were able to express themselves in lessons ranging from comic book making and music composition to shadow puppetry and pandemic-themed tissue paper art.

During this time, districts and schools should be moving mountains to expand access to quality arts education instead of focusing — myopically — on tested subjects. Before students can get out from behind their screens and go back to an actual classroom, schools will need to ramp up and adapt the way they support their students’ social-emotional needs. Arts education is a powerful and effective tool in helping students process complex emotions in this challenging time. Creative expression in a safe environment, be it on or offline, can have healing effects for all.

COVID-19 forced schools to rapidly change the basic way they educate students and may change the shape of our classrooms for years to come. Moving forward, arts education will continue to be crucial in helping students connect with each other, express themselves, process the world around them, and stay engaged in learning.

Dr. Brenda Cassellius is the Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. Marinell Rousmaniere is President and CEO of Edvestors, a nonprofit school improvement organization in Boston.

 

Bloomberg Philanthropies and EdVestors Arts Internship Program for Boston High School Students Goes Virtual This Summer

Collaboration supports paid internships for 25 Boston public high school students at local arts and cultural organizations

 (BOSTON) July 30, 2020EdVestors, a school improvement nonprofit in Boston, and Bloomberg Philanthropies are conducting their summer arts internship program in a remote format to continue offering opportunities for Boston high school students who want to explore careers in the arts and culture sector, and develop relevant skills, gain professional experience, and prepare for college.

Through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Arts Internship (BAI) program, 25 high school students have paid virtual internships with 12 local arts and cultural organizations this summer. Boston became the latest city to join the BAI program in 2019. The program originated in New York City in 2012, then expanded to Philadelphia in 2015 and Baltimore in 2017. In total, more than 830 students have benefited from the program.

“COVID-19 has interrupted too many educational opportunities this spring and summer for Boston students, and we did not want to add these quality work-based learning experiences to that long list,” said Marinell Rousmaniere, CEO of EdVestors. “Despite being one of the hardest hit sectors, Boston’s arts organizations have stepped up to provide remote internship opportunities that are meaningful and engaging for Boston youth. Now in its second year in Boston, this year’s BAI program is spotlighting the creativity and perseverance of both the City’s arts sector and its young people.

Boston arts organizations providing virtual job opportunities include: Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston Lyric Opera, Community Music Center of Boston, Handel and Haydn Society, Huntington Theatre Company, Hyde Square Task Force, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), MASSCreative, North End Music & Performing Arts Center, Sociedad Latina, Urbanity Dance, and The Urbano Project.

“Arts and cultural organizations have the power to enrich and transform cities, and also unlock the full potential of young people living in them,” said Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The goal of the Bloomberg Arts Initiative is to open doors for students by providing opportunities to get the first-hand experience they need to develop skills, build relationships, and put themselves on a path to success, whether that is in the arts community or elsewhere. Thanks to our partnership with EdVestors, and arts and cultural organizations throughout the city of Boston, these virtual internships will ensure those doors remain open for 25 highly qualified students, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The BAI program exposes high school students to the wide variety of career opportunities that exist in the creative sector and connects arts organizations with passionate young people who may one day pursue a career in the field. Interns will develop essential skills necessary for transitioning to postsecondary and career opportunities through executive coaching, writing support, networking with arts professionals, and specific worksite responsibilities. The summer internships will include an array of timely projects from supporting virtual dance classes to creating visual communications and social media content to developing a virtual/audio public art tour.

EdVestors connected to its network of community art partners and cultural institutions, as well as the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, to identify meaningful worksite experiences for BAI Boston interns and worked closely with selected arts partners on how they could be transitioned to virtual experiences. The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) serves as a key partner, helping to recruit and prepare interns as well as support supervisors.

The BAI program in Boston builds on the success EdVestors has seen through its Boston Public Schools (BPS) Arts Expansion initiative, which has resulted in nearly 17,000 additional students receiving arts instruction during the school day. BPS arts educators working in partnership with community-based teaching artists and organizations have made this work possible. The initiative continues to focus on expanding access to equitable arts education and deepening arts experiences, while building systems to sustain a high level of arts education long into the future.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.

About EdVestors

EdVestors’ mission is to increase the number of schools in Boston delivering dramatically improved educational outcomes for all students. EdVestors is a school improvement organization that combines strategic philanthropy, education expertise, and implementation support to help schools create the conditions for school change. EdVestors seeds promising ideas through the School Solutions Seed Fund, shines a spotlight on school improvement through the School on the Move Prize, and scales efforts to close opportunity and achievement gaps through three strategic initiatives: Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion, Zeroing in on Math and our newest effort to expand Career Pathways. Learn more at www.edvestors.org.

To Create a Better Education System, Teachers Must Become Learners

By Kayla Morse Higgs

This article is featured on Education Post.

As we all anxiously await a return to normal, the worst thing that could happen for schools is just that—return to normal. If we do not emerge from the situation COVID-19 has placed us in with lessons learned in how to think, teach and learn differently, we have failed.

This is a vulnerable time for anyone, especially for those who are struggling to adjust the way they do a job that has always been understood as a face-to-face interaction. One of the realities of being forced into a remote environment is that we all have a learning curve—nearly every educator has had to become a learner again. It is also a powerful opportunity to learn and unlearn who gets to provide knowledge and who gets to gain knowledge.

The structure of our traditional classrooms heavily relies on the teacher as the giver of knowledge and our students as the recipients. A virtual environment quickly taught us the difficulty of replicating that structure. There is not the same level of engagement, and students have an element of choice. Where the teacher becomes the learner is whether or not we are paying attention to the choices our students are making, and why.

For example, we had a middle school math teacher share that one of their students had not been completing any of the skills practice assignments, but maxing out the time on a puzzle-based math program that is aligned with the skills practice. Could it be that the puzzles created a novel learning process that motivated the student? Was the puzzle program more accessible?

One of the realities of being forced into a remote environment is that we all have a learning curve—nearly every educator has had to become a learner again.

Educators must be asking themselves these questions as they see the choices their students are making when it comes to completing assignments in a remote learning environment. Our students’ choices tell us something: Whether or not they watch an instruction video, complete practice problems, or log-in to small group lessons—or, whether they are choosing project-based learning or open-ended tasks. Thinking about ourselves as not just teachers, but also learners, allows us to wonder about what students know and want to know, how they are making sense of things and what motivates and engages them. Who are our students now as readers, mathematicians, scientists, theorists or historians? This is an opportunity to look deeper than just whether or not students are completing assignments, but rather to look and discuss the why behind their choices.

The virtual environment has offered us time and space to have 1:1 meaningful, affirming, and inquisitive conferences with students about what they are thinking. Physical proximity pre-COVID-19 did not guarantee these interactions were happening. Often our pursuit of content mastery took priority and diminished these opportunities to judgment, adjustment and intervention. We now have until the beginning of the next school year to enhance our own inquiry skills as teacher-learners—our listening, observation, and study skills that push us to interrogate, communicate and provide forward-moving feedback as a means to learning. In a virtual setting, where we are spending less face time with students, we are providing them more opportunities to showcase and guide their own learning. This structure gifts us time and space to communicate with students and families in a more intimate and personalized way to drive ownership of learning.

Blended Learning Can Shift Our Practice

Over the past five years, the Zeroing in on Math Initiative, a partnership between nonprofit school improvement organization EdVestors and the Boston Public Schools, has exemplified how blended learning can shift our practice, perspective and approach to learning using technology. One major lesson this initiative has taught us is the importance of teacher facilitation of learning with a digital interface. To apply that to the current situation, it is important we remember that online learning does not replace the teacher; but rather, it is a tool that gives students the space to exercise choice in a personalized learning path and teachers the opportunity to focus on facilitating this learning environment.

Online learning is not about task completion—it should free up the teacher to observe what students can do when they are given independence. We now have the space to make curious inquiry of student thinking, ask clarifying and probing questions of our learners and give thoughtful forward-moving feedback to students. This is an opportunity to relearn and lay a path for a new way of educating that is affirming, responsive and growth-focused for all.

The world has changed, and our schools must change, too. In this new era, we must engage students to think deeply, and position teachers as learners of students’ strengths, assets, needs and growth areas. Measuring engagement by accuracy and completion makes us information processors and taskmasters, not learners. Let us use this time to be, and do, different.

Our classrooms must shift to encompass this dual path of learning and re-invention. We must create more experiences where educators are the learners, too, just as much as the students. Learning drives teaching, not the other way around.

Online learning is not about task completion—it should free up the teacher to observe what students can do when they are given independence.

If we as educators commit ourselves to learning the motivations and strengths of students, we will be better equipped to teach them at their point of understanding. This idea is not novel, but often underutilized as a learning and teaching tool for educators. We must adjust our affinity for a banking model of education to a more communicative and inventive medium for inquiry for both students and teachers. That is where knowledge and progress is found.

 

Kayla Morse Higgs is the Manager of Teaching and Learning of Zeroing in on Math.

6 Strategies for Success in the Virtual Classroom

By Karen Levin and Marinell Rousmaniere

This article is featured on Education Post.

Like an uninvited guest, the COVID-19 pandemic swept into town, upending the school year and our very way of life. As we reinforce the need for social distancing and hand washing, school closures are affecting around 55 million public school students nationwide, with schools shuttering for the remainder of the year including here in Massachusetts. But just because the schools are closed doesn’t mean that school is out. Thousands of educators around the country have had to quickly shift from the familiarity of their classrooms to the uncharted terrain of distance learning in a crisis.

Many teachers are navigating distance learning for the first time, asking questions like, “How do I ensure my students are still receiving high-quality education?” and “Will I be able to track the learning that is taking place?” Educators understand it will be crucial to keep students engaged in the virtual classroom to prevent residual learning loss. Research shows that students across all socioeconomic backgrounds experience nearly three months of learning loss in math over the summer, and new research based on summer slide is predicting a “COVID slide” of half a school year or more.  These losses will be particularly acute for low-income students, as they are for summer learning loss.

existing technology-based interventions can be part of the solution for closing knowledge and skill gaps when school is closed

However, what we have learned from efforts to stem summer learning loss in math can guide educators, districts and parents as they transition their education plans to the virtual realm. For the past three summers, EdVestors has partnered with several public schools in Boston to pilot a virtual learning model as part of our “Zeroing in on Math” blended learning work. The initiative has helped us better understand how existing technology-based interventions can be part of the solution for closing knowledge and skill gaps when school is closed.

Amid this unprecedented public health crisis and recent guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), there is an opportunity to explore what works with these tools in this remote learning environment. Some of the lessons we learned over the past three years through “Zeroing in on Math” may be useful when putting any tech-based remote learning into practice including:

  • Set clear and reasonable expectations for students, teachers, and families.Teachers and leaders set clear expectations, as best as one can in this uncertain time. Educators can use data provided by various tools to monitor student progress and use the information to celebrate students, provide more challenging work to students and identify areas of focus.
  • Maintain relationships. Teachers and leaders set up structures for active communication with students and families to both create spaces for student discussion and as a way to check-in with students who may not be logging in. Connecting via phone or text was more effective than email in many cases, especially for younger students. Tools like Google Classroom or Class Dojo can help drive this communication, adding other helpful resources such as dedicated spaces for questions.
  • Use student incentives to drive engagement. With relationships and community maintained, the most important incentive is always a relevant and engaging learning task. Additionally, teachers and leaders can use a variety of other incentives to drive student engagement on the Ed Tech tools. They can show students working from home and celebrate student independence, ownership and resourcefulness. Some educators also provide an easy-to-use tracker for students to use throughout the week as a Google Doc so they can see their progress and have more ownership.
  • Encourage distributive leadership around technology troubleshooting. Have a school-level point person who can field technology concerns from staff members, while also encouraging staff to reach out to tech support on their own, so that all staff members have ownership and agency around their use of the tools. This is a learning opportunity for students and for their teachers.
  • Give grace: to students, families, teachers—and yourself. This is a transition and a learning moment for all. To start, know that virtual learning is not the same as in-person learning. It won’t be without its kinks.

Finally, see the opportunity. Although putting a system in place for distance learning may seem challenging, these investments will be worth it as they will get us through this pandemic and provide lessons for the future. Not only is it an effective way to connect with students and meet their educational needs, but these approaches will also advance educators’ ability to connect with students, their families, and our world in a time that is reassigning the role of school to be a collective effort.

 

Karen Levin is the Director of Zeroing in on Math.

Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

Live from the Café Podcast: The Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education

By Marinell Rousmaniere

 

During the Social Impact Connect conference at Venture Café, I had the opportunity to moderate the conversation around the Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education. The discussion goes to the core of mathematics education and proficiency that drives achievement in Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. I was joined by a cross sectional panel that dove into the nuts and bolts of math teaching and learning through their years of experience and research. The panel included Julia Bott, Principal at the Ellis Mendell School in Boston Public Schools, Aparna Rayasam, Vice President of Engineering at Akamai Technologies, and Justin Reich, Assistant Professor & Director at MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

The following are a few highlights from the discussion, the full conversation is available here. Portions have been edited for clarity.

 

Marinell: Mathematics is often an overlooked aspect of STEM yet is instrumental to unlocking potential in S, T, E – Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. What gets lost when math is overlooked? Why do you think giving math education more attention is so important?

Aparna: This is a multi-dimensional problem that manifests in different ways. When I compare notes with peers in other industries, we are seeing that more and more things we do rely on machine learning, data science, AI, and other technological tools to assist with our solutions. When you scratch the surface and remove the buzzwords, all these things stand for advanced math. A phrase industries don’t use enough is “true math experts”. Twenty years ago, complex techniques including neural network and applying mathematical models was in the domain of academia and educational experts. Large enterprises like Google and Facebook have democratized these techniques, so they are widely available now; the difficulty is finding the correct application which requires a knowledge of mathematical theory. Enterprises like ours, who want to move faster, want individuals who have this mathematic foundation. There is a supply and pipeline problem for experts who can truly understand this data.

Julia: When you look the data, a third of students are proficient in Math by 8th grade within Boston, which reflects the national average. That has grave implications for the future success of our students. Through a college and career readiness lens, if students come in thinking of themselves as mathematicians, learners and thinkers, someone who gets the answer quickly in the elementary grades but begins to struggle as they move up grade levels as problems become more complex that has terrible implications for college and their future careers. Students who are already marginalized by race, social economic factors, and other barriers experience these implications at a higher magnitude.

“Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking”

Justin: An alternative to the student who is ‘good’ at math – as someone who gets the right answer quickly – is the student who sticks with it or struggles and perseveres. Studying math learning across the world, this is the case in other countries. Being ‘good’ at math is being at the board and struggling with something and not getting the answer quickly. These issues as Julia points out are identity issues, how do you get students to feel good about themselves as they persist when with struggling against these puzzles?

Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities. In the absence of a fundamental understand of Algebra I, it’s hard to comprehend biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and all these other STEM-related areas.

Aparna: That’s a great point. Productive struggle in the industry is lacking as well. You have to respect the problem. If the problem was solvable in a couple of days, we wouldn’t need the individual to think through it. We need to cherish patience and perseverance.

Marinell: Math proves to be one of the strongest indicators of long-term success. Getting those foundations early in school matters a lot as you move up through concepts and formulas to more advanced courses. When you look deeper in the data, math achievement becomes a significant indicator of future earnings.

Julia, as an educator and school leader, why has moving the needle on this issue has been so hard? What has been participating challenging with teaching and learning in math?

Julia: The problem has never been and never will be the children. All children are intellectuals. They all come to school as sense makers, as problem solvers, as thinkers. They have natural abilities to figure things out.

The really hard question then becomes whose problem is it? At schools, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask hard questions about our beliefs in students in front of us, our own content knowledge, mathematical thinking, productive struggle, and perseverance; what is a worthy task and what does it look like to put one in front of children to create this space for them to showcase their ability to make sense and grapple with problems?

What does it look like to train teachers? It was always procedure, procedure, procedure. You had to memorize things. When the upper grades required conceptual learning about numbers, kids fell apart as their mathematical thinking had to be more flexible and the gaps become wider and wider. It became clear we needed support to think differently about how we approach the content and structure of learning so kids can build the skills and competencies to be successful.

“Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities”

Justin: As Julia mentioned, teachers doing more math thinking themselves will help them teach it to their students. Moreover, some form of discreetly individualized coaching is proven to help math teaching. One of our observations is that when teachers learn, they have insufficient opportunities to practice that learning. Teachers listen and talk with each other about teaching but very rarely are they able to practice. A stark contrast to other ‘helping’ careers, like social workers – they practice on each other and talk about it practically. Teachers have less of that opportunity.

Our team is always wrestling with innovative approaches to these problems and right now we are wrestling with ways to create practice spaces for teachers to rehearse and reflect on important decisions for teaching. In the fall, we’ve been working with 20 third grade math teachers on a tool we call Eliciting Learner Knowledge, a paired synchronous chat-based game where one individual is given the role of a teacher and the other is the student. A transcript is generated from all these chats and we are able to reflect upon strategies we use to better communicate with students. In the spring, we will be working on “Teacher Moments”, a digital simulation tool meant for individual play on a handheld device that immerses you with vignettes of classroom life.

Marinell: Thank you so much for all of your thoughts, it echoes the way we think of leveling the playing field in math achievement. Our leverage point is largely with teachers – the individuals that have the most impact on student outcomes. Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking. To be able to bring this kind of thinking to teachers and have them teach math in a different way for their students is a scalable action and advocacy plan to reduce skills and knowledge gaps.

 

The entire conversation is available here.

 

Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

My path to college included an arts internship that infused my life with creativity — and a clerical skill set, too

The October 24, 2019 Hechinger Report Student Voice op-ed by Eleasah Whittaker, “My path to college included an arts internship that infused my life with creativity — and a clerical skill set, too”, details Eleasah’s experience with Actors’ Shakespeare Project through the inaugural Boston Bloomberg Arts Internship in Summer of 2019 and the benefits of having access to real world experiences. From the article:

While I had 11 years of music experience under my belt, I had no experience with sound design, and the show was set to open only two-and-a-half weeks after my first day! That was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I had come into the project with the idea that I would be composing music for the show, but I quickly realized that this goal was unwise given the time constraints. Instead, I composed small themes for the different scenes, and then supplemented those themes with sound effects. Since the program’s participants were putting on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sounds included crashing waves, beach noises and spooky magic.

Read the full article here and learn more about the Bloomberg Arts Internship program here.