One of the challenges of being in startup mode at Village for the past year has been the often insular nature of the work. With limited co-workers to bounce ideas off of and the pioneering nature of what we are attempting, the dream can sometimes seem discouragingly far away. When I come across a resource that either confirms my assumptions, adds to my knowledge, or simply inspires me to keep doing the work, I consider myself lucky. At last month’s Twin Cities Startup Week, I had the opportunity to attend a session that checked all three of these boxes.
The answer is not more tech!
During “Too Many Children Left Behind: Improving Equity in Education through Innovation” panelists Maria Burns Ortiz, Shanita Young, and Dr. Michael Wuff provided insight and expertise from their work in tech, community organizing, and education. Not to spoil the ending here, but the key take-away from this panel session was that technology is not a panacea for academic achievement in any community but specifically when focusing on students living in under-resourced neighborhoods. Continuing to rely on hardware and software to be some sort of cure-all is doing nothing to improve achievement and opportunity gaps.
Another point of consensus was the need to debunk the misconception that families from under-resourced and historically-excluded backgrounds are not invested in their children's education. These families can face extraordinary hurdles when it comes to connecting with their local schools or finding out-of-school opportunities for their children. Language barriers, transportation issues, safety concerns, connectivity challenges, and the overall lack of understanding of their lived experiences can dramatically affect a family's ability to access resources in their communities.
What is working?
So what did the panel think does work when it comes to improving equity in education?
- Giving students opportunities to sit down shoulder-to-shoulder and work one-on-one with caring adults
- Exposure to a reflective curriculum where students can see themselves represented
- Connecting with the broader community to create an extended “family” of elders who offer support and encouragement
- Allowing students to visualize a future with brand new opportunities by seeing people they can identify with in a variety of different career fields
- Access to safe, consistent, enrichment programming that is infused with life skills and professional development opportunities
The panelists agreed that there are countless young innovators in every community who simply need the investment of time and resources to provide the opportunities needed for fostering innovation. Additionally, they stressed that there is a need to create spaces for this programming outside of the school day. What if there was a single digital location where the families of these young innovators could find the educational opportunities after school, on the weekends, and during school breaks they deserve?
Back to work.