Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Speakers at Colleges and Universities Need to Be Bolder: Theodore M. Shaw at Washington University

Yesterday, at Washington University School of Law, I had the opportunity to hear Theodore M. Shaw, a noted civil rights attorney, speak about Shelley v. Kraemer, the case that made racially restrictive covenants unenforceable. Shelley v. Kraemer started as a challenge made by a St. Louis family.

When I went to this talk, I expected to hear about how the legacy of the case has affected us today.  I expected to hear about how the world has changed, how it hasn't, why we still live in segregated cities, what crucial things were missing from the Civil Rights Movement, why we seem stalled in our progress toward a society of equal opportunity.

Instead, I heard something that has become commonplace at talks like these: a partial history story, some discussion about how other lawyers and cases were affected, and a lack of societal criticism.

A while back, I attended a similar talk where a lawyer affiliated with the Normandy School District asked the speakers' panel what lawyers can do to make a difference in race equality. The panel responded with a unanimous "nothing." Although Mr. Shaw was not so explicit, his talk unfortunately left out what the alternative answer is.

Since I started law school, I've been told on multiple occasions that the work I do in the St. Louis community is secondary at best. A nice thing to put on a resume. Something that will show employers that I'm committed to St. Louis. An activity I shouldn't allow to get in the way of my studies.

Instead, I should focus on memorizing cases, learning what they stand for, figuring out how they've had an effect on the law that followed them. I should study cases like Shelley v. Kraemer.

But these books on legal scholarship only tell you the history of the law. If you take a drive through the city of St. Louis, you will quickly see the real impact of segregation and discrimination. You'll see neighborhoods that are still segregated, not by law anymore but by lasting circumstances. You'll hear about crime that predominantly occurs in poorer, blacker, bleaker neighborhoods. You'll visit schools that are underperforming that just happen to cater almost exclusively to black students.

Screenshot from Dustin A. Cable, University of Virginia,
In a book or at a law school talk, you'll hear about the amazing impact cases like Shelley v. Kraemer had on America. And of course today we are a more accepting country than we were then.
But when you walk outside the law library, you'll see a world that, for some people, hasn't changed much for the better since the times when certain races were barred from moving into certain neighborhoods.

Maybe we've grown complacent or tired. Maybe we've lived in this world for too long without seeing much change. Maybe we've figured that law students in particular need to shy away from activism because they need to find jobs and employers want employees who keep a low profile so they won't scare away potential clients. Maybe law students need to get big-paying jobs because they're saddled with so much debt that taking on a lower paying position with a nonprofit or in the area of civil rights is insanity. Maybe that's true about all of our idealistic college students, the vast majority saddled with crippling debt, forced into jobs that they're doing just for the money.

Maybe we don't ask our younger generations to take on the risks that generations before did. Maybe that's why we don't inspire them or ignite their passions. Maybe that's why we keep kids in bubbles as they grow up, so they don't have to see how the less fortunate live. There's so little time for distractions from success these days: Do well in school, get a good job, have a family, repeat.

But then, looking around the room of law students as the talk was wrapping up, I had a strange feeling that people were not satisfied. I had a feeling that those listening were unfulfilled by what was said. I had a feeling that they wanted to talk about where we really are today, about how we can change it.

I have a feeling that these bubbles we've created are getting ready to burst. I've got a feeling that real change is coming.
For you older folks who come to schools to talk to us, don't be afraid to ignite the flame.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps. He is also a third-year law student at Washington University School of Law.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Letter from Our Chief Financial Officer Sam Golembieski

Dear Friends and Family,

                Upon returning to St. Louis one year ago, I got involved with the Education Exchange Corps – a locally-based, non-profit service organization dedicated to offering educational opportunities to at-risk children.  As a volunteer teacher during the organization’s Summer Academy, I enjoyed the spectacular opportunity to lead lesson plans that encouraged holistic learning of math, science and language arts in a more interactive environment.

Sam at our 2013 Summer Academy

         Currently, the program aims to serve children primarily from the St. Louis Public School District.  For those of you unfamiliar with the state of the SLPS, the Missouri State Board of Education ended its accreditation of the district in March 2007.  The district is now provisionally accredited as of October 2012, but that accreditation status may not last long.  This represents only one of the most recent blows to the district – a district that once achieved peak enrollment of 115,543 students in 1967.  Enrollment during the 2010-11 school year was 23,576, a significant decrease from the 35,361 students enrolled as recently as 2006-07.  These metrics paint a sad portrait of a struggling district that finds it increasingly difficult to provide quality educational opportunities to its most important stakeholders: the children.

Comparatively, I was fortunate to attend, and later work with, the School District of Clayton, which serves a municipality just a few miles from St. Louis city.  At first I was admittedly surprised (and even confused) by the notable achievement gap in the children’s academic performance across school districts.  Even within the Summer Academy, the disparity between children in the same grade levels was discouraging and profound.

Since last summer I’ve assumed both the Director of the Summer Academy and Chief Financial Officer roles.  This is why I write you today.  Our organization offers the aforementioned Summer Academy, as well as a Teaching Assistant Program during the regular school year.  The Summer Academy aims to provide children with additional educational opportunities they do not normally receive during the school year.  The Teaching Assistant Program allows college students and other volunteers to select one of our available classrooms during the regular school year in which assistants may work with the class as a whole, small groups of students, or one-on-one with children in need of the attention. The teacher and teaching assistant work together to develop the strategy and scheduling of the placement based on the abilities of the volunteer and students and the availability of the volunteer and teacher.  These programs are equally important and require significant time, effort and resources from all involved parties (e.g. volunteers, program administrators, teachers, SLPS administration, etc.).

While the EEC is still in relative infancy, we aim to expand the size, scope and abilities of our organization and the opportunities/programs we provide our children.  However, to do so requires us to raise funds, hopefully with your support.  Currently our primary source of fundraising is accessible through our website at  If monetary donations may prove too expensive, we would appreciate any “in-kind” donations, such as your time, services, children’s books or other classroom materials.  Likewise, we understand if you choose not to participate with our organization and thank you for your time and consideration.

To learn more about the Education Exchange Corps, please feel free to visit our website at  Further, please feel free to contact me directly at to discuss this request for donations or other questions further.

The EEC is a public charity exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and therefore cannot provide you with any goods or services in exchange for your non-refundable contribution. Accordingly, your contribution is tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. We recommend that you consult your tax advisor for questions unique to your own circumstances.


Sam Golembieski
Chief Financial Officer
Education Exchange Corps
(408) 409-9242 (mobile)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St. Louis May Only Have Three More Years to Live

24.6 out of 100. 

That's the St. Louis city school district's grade on a new state scale designed to better measure how well a school district is doing.

Yes, it is possible to get a perfect 100. And yes, a school district, Brentwood, did just that. Other school districts were able to score quite highly too.

But not the school district serving our city.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the two school districts in St. Louis County (the city is not a part of the county) that lost accreditation, allowing the students in those two districts to attend school elsewhere. One of those two districts scored a 28.6/100.

That's four points higher than the currently provisionally accredited city school district. To be at least provisionally accredited, a school must score a 50/100 or higher.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials claim that the city schools won't see a change in their accreditation status for at least three years.

If nothing changes, that's exactly how long the City of St. Louis has to live.

If nothing gets better, in three years every child in St. Louis City will be able to transfer to an accredited school district. The city schools will have to pay tuition and some busing costs. And those parents who do the work to have their kids transferred to a different school district will likely be those parents already most involved in their kids' lives.
The city schools will then serve a student body that, overall, has less support or resources at home, and the district will have to do its job with a lot less money.

Without some sort of massive turn-around plan for the city schools, that will be the end of the district. Today, the two unaccredited St. Louis County districts both find themselves in unsustainable financial circumstances.

In three years, the city schools will start to get worse, not better. Those kids who cannot transfer will leave school with even worse educations. With each passing year, the number of kids in the city schools will shrink along with the amount of money the district has until both evaporate.

No more kids in city schools. No more city school district. City residents will no longer even have the hope that the next year might be better for their kids. Maybe some families will stay or even move to the city to take advantage of the busing program, but how long do you think businesses and residents will stick around in a city without a school district where their kids have to get up at an ungodly hour to make it onto their buses? And how long will there even be money for the buses?

Our city cannot wait any longer. The superintendent for the district, Dr. Kelvin Adams, promised that next year's scores would be better. Is our city willing to make that promise too?

The clock is ticking.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Don't Need to Be a Superhero to Block Bullets

I know a kid who lives seconds away from where this teenager was shot last night
She saw the aftermath, emergency services. As far as she could tell, the teen was dead. He's not.

This isn't the first time one of my kids has been in the middle of chaos on the streets of St. Louis, and it probably won't be the last. These kids, who have no choice but to witness violence and death, go right back to school the next day.
That's just life. Some kids get shot. Those who survive can talk about it with their buddies at lunch. Or maybe they just won't talk about it at all. And those kids who are more likely to be exposed to such violence go to schools that can barely manage to educate half their students.

Add something else to the growing list of challenges schools and families have to deal with to give children a chance.

Those on the "outside" could just ignore these problems. We could relegate our involvement to reading five-sentence news articles about a shooting, pausing for a moment to take another sip of coffee, and then turn to the sports section to read about the Cardinals' latest extra-inning heroics.

This won't happen in my neighborhood, to my kids. 

                    But this is our city. These are our kids. This is our future.

I'm not a crime fighter anyway!

                    Maybe you don't have a cape or a mask, but you can fight crime. You can fight the brutal effect it has on the minds of its witnesses. You can give a person a reason not to give up and turn to crime. You can give a kid who thinks school is dumb a reason to come back the next day, a reason to want to do more than turn into the next unnamed shooter in a Post-Dispatch article.

How? You can volunteer with a bunch of different organizations in St. Louis. I know of a great one looking for volunteers right now.
And being busy doesn't mean you can't volunteer. You can meet with a kid on a weekend, talk about life, help them out with schoolwork. You can talk to kids on the phone or on Twitter. You can be a kid's person to talk to when no one else seems to understand.

But what we can't do is just sit there and wait idly for the next kid to get shot down on a street. Not for the sake of that child or the others who have to pass by his bleeding body on the way home.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Historic Moment for St. Louis: Student Transfers Must Only Be the Beginning

This year, some students from the Normandy School District and Riverview Gardens School District will be attending schools in other districts in the region. Why? Because these two school districts are performing poorly and Missouri law allows children in such districts to transfer.

Reactions in Missouri have been mixed. Some receiving districts are willing to accept transfer students with open arms. Other responses have demonstrated that fear--whether it be racism, or classism, or some other stereotype-based prejudice--still thrives in some St. Louis households. (The Normandy School District is 97% black with an estimated median income of $22,000. The Riverview Gardens School District is also 97% black with an estimated median income of $34,000.)

Some folks are hailing the transfers as an opportunity for kids to escape failing districts. But Normandy and Riverview Gardens have to foot the bill for their former students who are transferring. While some children attend different schools, the districts they leave behind will lose a combined $30 million, representing a huge chunk of their budgets. In 2012, the districts each spent about $50 million in "current expenditures." If the budgets remain the same this year, both districts will have to educate their remaining students with 30% less money. There will be about 25% less kids, but don't forget these districts weren't doing too well to start with. Normandy is not expected to be able to fund the transfer program for the entirety of this school year without help.

So now these two districts will be striving to become accredited once again with less resources. These school districts, which are being asked not only to teach kids, but to deal with the increasing challenges children face at home, are expected to find a way to do more with less.

Maybe the transfer system is the way to go. Hopefully those who transfer will receive better educations. Thankfully, this whole situation has put the state of St. Louis education into the spotlight. But in the meantime, while the region tries to figure out just what to do to give every child a chance, what happens to those thousands of children still going to school in these failed districts?

St. Louis ignored its education crisis for too long, and now, with the crisis finally affecting other school districts, we cannot be timid. We need systemic and lasting change that embraces the truth: When a child in a different district, who lives a completely different life miles away from me, suffers, we all suffer. When a child's hopes to be a scientist or a fireman or a poet are dashed in elementary school because she cannot read, we all are worse off. We cannot hide behind the artificial walls of a school district.

And we cannot afford to wait. Those kids still in Normandy and Riverview Gardens and other struggling areas of St. Louis cannot afford to wait. Together, we can provide kids with better opportunities and mentorship and hope. St. Louis can succeed.

The district system has allowed some to receive opportunities while others were left out. We cannot allow it to do so any longer. And we won't if we finally accept that our children will grow up in the world that our schools create today, and that the world our schools are creating isn't good enough.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

First Field Trip: Soulard Market

Sorry for the late post. We've been working hard to get ready for our Shakespeare scenes we're putting on in the park this Friday. More posts about that coming soon.

On the way to the market
Two Fridays ago, the EEC had its first field trip. We packed the kids in the bus and headed over to Soulard Market. A few days before our trip, I saw our partners at Gateway Greening teach our kids about the different food groups. Once the bus stopped, we divided the kids into four groups, gave each group pencil and paper, and had all of them participate in the Great Foodstuff Scavenger Hunt. 

Each group had to find as many food items as possible and organize them by food group. Whoever had the most foods in each food group would get points.

Hopefully now, having charged the children with a purpose, we could unleash the groups into a crowded space and expect more than aimless wandering.

Apples and melons and pears, oh my!
We could hear the hum of undifferentiated noise up ahead, a mixture of boxes dragging and being emptied, shoppers talking and buying, sellers shouting out prices and explanations. As we turned into the first lane, created by a row of vendor stands on either side, there was an explosion of color and excitement. Fruits and vegetables everywhere! 

The Scavenger Hunt was on.

The older kids needed more motivating and the younger kids needed more reminding, but the game channeled the kids' excitement and gave them a reason not to run too far off.

Some serious learning going on in the background
Some kids brought money with them to buy food, and maybe a few kids got a dollar from a teacher or two. I eventually realized that some of my kids were getting discouraged by the price signs, not understanding the difference between price per unit and price per weight. 

I tried to explain it to them, but then I decided it would be better if they figured it out in practice. Some very patient vendors introduced our kids to the foodstuff marketplace with great success.

This required a rock to open

As much as Soulard was a treat for our kids, I think it was great for the regulars there too. Many of the vendors enjoyed being teachers for a few minutes. Several patrons smiled as kids mispronounced new vegetables they had just discovered. One man asked me what grades of kids had come (to which I responded, "All of them!"). 

The trip became more than a learning experience for our kids. It was a moment of inclusiveness in which our community came together to educate children. That's what our program is all about.

As my group of kids got to the end of the first row of food displays, there was mumbling of joining the other kids on the playground. 

I reminded them of the Scavenger Hunt, of how champions pay the price now, of how victory would taste as sweet as the peaches some of them purchased. And so we continued on, finding the mother lode of dairy products attended to by a vendor who explained how mold is used to make cheeses.

Champions did pay the price. We had close to 170 different food items on our list. And we still got to play on the playground.

Play time

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Week in Review: AC, Puppy Chow, and Independence

This week was shortened because of the holiday, but that didn't stop the party!

On Monday, our kids learned how to make a homemade AC system. And puppy chow!

Rain fell on Tuesday, preventing the kids from visiting the garden. So Gateway Greening brought the lesson to them, organizing a gym-wide food group scavenger hunt.

On Wednesday, my group, the middle schoolers, read through the Declaration of Independence, made wigs, and wrote their own declaration of independence from the rule of King Sam of Clay's Landing.

And then this happened.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Desperate Times Call For... Engineers! Homemade AC Systems

The heat can be brutal in St. Louis, and it can be devastating in a well-insulated brick school building when the AC system is broken.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Clay Elementary!

Normally, the AC system works just fine. Just a few days ago, children hesitated to visit the frigid confines of the gymnasium. Without AC, that hesitation transforms into lethargy as the heat seeps every ounce of energy from the school's inhabitants.

Hey, we warned these kids we were going medieval.

Last summer, the three week program was cut in half because the AC system failed. This year, I had nightmares of a repeat. After researching how the world existed pre-AC, I realized three things:

1) Either the world really is hotter or our hardiness is not what it used to be.
2) I would like authorization to grow large plants on school grounds throughout St. Louis City.
3) I can build an AC unit.

The latter of the three points proved to be the most important. All you need is a fan, water, and a freezer.

I gathered my middle school kids on my first full day. "Knights of Justice, the Kingdom needs you! Today you are engineers!" We spent much of the day teaching the rest of the groups how to make AC units, how to use the scientific method, and that science is cool (get it!?).

We even talked freezing point depression. Put a bunch of salt in water and the freezing/melting point is lower. Just try taking an ice cube in your hand, pouring salt on it, and squeezing that sucker hard (in the other hand, just squeeze an ice cube without salt). Beware frostbite thanks to the very cold layer of salt water that doubles as a good conductor of heat.

Anyway, tomorrow we'll have salt water baths straight from the freezer sitting in front of fans blowing cold air.

Yeah, the kids did that.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Our Kids on TV: Partnering with Gateway Greening

Check out our kids on TV!

The Nine Network (the local PBS station) visited the Gateway Greening site near Clay Elementary, and they found our kids keeping the garden going over the summer.

The video is a great introduction to Gateway Greening, and they have been a very welcoming community partner this summer. Twice a week, our kids walk over to the garden to learn about where our food comes from and what it takes to grow their own food.

A couple of years ago, one of our volunteers brought in a bunch of fruits and vegetables for our kids, many of which our kids had not seen before. And the kids loved it! We are so excited to extend that kind of learning alongside Gateway Greening.

Our kids appear at 1:11, but the whole video is worth watching.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dress to Impress: Keeping Kids Engaged with a Suit and Tie

"I like your suit. Are you famous?"

I don't normally wear suits to our summer academy, but I'm also interning with the Missouri Attorney General's Office. I try to visit Clay Elementary as often as I can during my lunch breaks. After my latest visit, I'm not sure why Justin Timberlake forgot to mention that playing dodgeball in a suit and tie is pretty awesome. And if you can dodge traffic in a suit, what's the problem?

I've noticed that my dress calms even the craziest of kids around me. It interests them. They immediately want to know what I do or what movie I'm working on. I guess Harry Potter's resemblance will continue to be a topic of interest for the foreseeable future.

I used to dress up a bit when I was substitute teaching. No matter the grade level, I got compliments from kids, and I'm not a tremendous dresser by any means. The high school kids I worked with told me I was the best dressed at the school.

Kids notice what you wear. I think it makes them feel like you care, or at least it makes them feel special to be taught by a movie actor.

Then just yesterday, my fellow board member Johnny Buse lent me his copy of How To Be An Effective Teacher: The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. It's a cute read with several pages about dressing to impress kids.

But dressing up doesn't just impress kids. It gives them expectations of what they need to do to be professional, to be like you.

I help coach a high school Mock Trial team at Career Academy. I was sitting in a classroom with the kids before a tournament with my tie draped around my neck. One of our younger students asked me if he could see the tie.
"Sure." I handed him the tie and he tried to tie it. The coaches ended up helping him out, and when he finally got it, he walked right out of the classroom and disappeared for 10 minutes. When he came back, he still had the tie on.
"I was wondering where that went!"
"I just wanted to show it to some people," he said. "I feel powerful."

It was the first time he had put on a tie.

There are so many tools we can use to teach kids, and the longer I've been doing this, the more interested in the little details I get.

Don't worry, folks. You don't have to dress up to volunteer with us. But I'm pretty sure I'll be playing a few more games of dodgeball in my dress shoes this summer.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Knights of Clay's Landing

"Will the King speak to the commoners?"
The children watched in anticipation as the light hit off the coating of the plastic sword and the crown--an old Prom King trinket with lettering that still told the world of its past purpose--lay ever so close, yet just out of reach of the "common folk."

Sam, our summer director, called me King, and perhaps all the children there had expected I would be King too. This was the third year after all. Year One I was Professor Harry Potter. Year Two I was Team America in the Olympics. Of course by Year Three I would ascend the throne!

I had stayed up late the night before, preparing for this moment. I was to gaze into the children's souls and suddenly become the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time. "ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, MY FRIENDS!"

And for a moment, I thought about putting on that crown, holding up that sword, and rallying the children to war. But my designs had to be more noble. Plus the kids were way too young. Try reciting Shakespeare to a bunch of 5-year-olds and see how long they'll sit for.

"I am too old to be King. It is time for a new one to take the throne. Kneel before me." Actually, I didn't say "kneel before me." Sam just knelt right there. But this story shall ever be remembered as unquestionably awesome.

I took up the sword. "Sir Sam," as I touched the blade to his left, and then his right shoulder, "you shall be King of this realm to rule Clay's Landing." I fit the crown upon his head. "Arise as King!"

He stood, and after about four seconds, the crown flew off his head as he attempted to prevent its toppling, and all was as it should be at a Clay Summer Academy: Children flying out the door in pursuit of some item that has taken up a value of fantastical proportions.

So began the first day at Clay's Landing. Children were called before the King and were assigned to Houses. House Targaryen proved to be a mouthful to say and impossible to remember, so their ever-
thoughtful leader changed the name to House of Dragon. Other Houses are likely to undergo similar changes tomorrow, mostly for Twitter shortening purposes.

The Heads of the different Houses worked with the children to make badges, their Coats of Arms, and their House Rules. One little girl wanted to be a vampire. And so it was! All are welcome at Clay's Landing.

Tomorrow, the children shall venture outside the walls of Clay's Landing and into the Mystical Garden protected by the House of Gateway Greening. After their morning journey, they shall return, and perhaps visit Lake Vashon by way of the Yellow Dragon, who has aged terribly and must be wheeled around everywhere.

But whatever the sun brings forth, these valiant Knights of Clay's Landing shall stand ready, and glory shall be theirs.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Orientation Video

This Sunday, our volunteers came to the EEC headquarters for some BBQ, classroom management, and good times.

The video of our orientation is posted here, mostly for our latecomers and volunteers who couldn't make it to orientation. But all are welcome to get a glimpse of what we do.

Stay tuned, folks. More information about our first day to come.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

We're a 501(c)(3)!

Holy cow, we have a donate button!

After five years of working in St. Louis, the Education Exchange Corps became a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

This is great news! It makes us eligible for many more grants, donors can now provide us with tax deductible donations, and the government's stamp of approval legitimizes the work we are doing for the children and city of St. Louis.

And we get that cool donate button.

I cannot begin to count the number of hours we have spent to get to this point. On top of trying to do good work with a community, organizations that want to be independent nonprofits have to fill out detailed paperwork, build and manage a corporate structure, and save up a sizable amount of money just to apply for tax-exempt status. (Yup. Nonprofit organizations have to pay to be nonprofits, $850 in our case. Go figure.)

Then there's the wait. The IRS sent us an initial letter saying someone would contact us within three months. Some organizations are then contacted by an IRS employee asking for clarification and assigning more paperwork before they can receive tax-exempt status. In law school, I heard stories that the process can take half a year, sometimes way longer.

Lucky for the Education Exchange Corps, I learned the nonprofit legal ropes from the legendary Peter Ruger. And last summer, we had a wonderful legal intern from Washington University (and a wonderful classmate of mine too!), Bill Bradley, fixing all of the mistakes I made. So within two months of the IRS receiving our application, we were recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

No additional questions. No concerns about our paperwork or plan. Just a big ol' congratulatory YES!

This is a big milestone for us, and we couldn't have done it without the support of this community.
I mentioned some folks above, but there are more. The staff at DukeEngage gave our founders the original funding to start our work in St. Louis. The St. Louis Public Schools teachers and administrators have been so welcoming to our program. Eric Greitens and the Mission Continues helped us incorporate two years ago. Jenni Owen from Duke University taught me how to reach out to my community, and Maureen Nolan, now retired from the St. Louis Public Schools, has done so much for us and this city I'd need twenty blog posts just to do her some justice.

And of course a special thanks belongs to all of our volunteers, many of whom gave up so much of their time to help our kids, many of whom are now teaching professionally, and all of whom will be shaped by their experience with us.

But we're not done yet.

Now it's time to push our mission further.
Now it's time to find more volunteers to help in our partner elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the city.
Now it's time for the community to double down on its schools through participation and active support.
Now it's time for us to give our kids the best summer they've had yet.

We need your help to build St. Louis's future through our city's children. Consider volunteering or donating at

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Board Meeting: Our First Hire and Logo Redesign

The EEC is here for St. Louis, and we want you to be involved. So from here on out, we're going to be publishing a summary of our board meetings soon after we have them.

New Hirings
The EEC is proud to announce that we have hired our first Chief Financial Officer: Sam Golembieski! Sam is a graduate of Santa Clara University and he has years of experience in accounting.

He also volunteered as an EEC member last summer where he taught a woodworking class and courageously faced an ill-boding table saw during prep work in my basement. Sam also appears in our Game of Thrones video for this summer.

The EEC also hired Elad Gross, its President (and the guy writing this post), as its first Chief Executive Officer.

Logo Redesign Project
The board is also exploring a change to the logo and color scheme for the organization. I know you're all IN LOVE with the original design (seen at the top of this blog site), but it might be time to move on. If you are interested in helping with this project, feel free to contact us at We may soon open it up as a logo design contest.

We're still looking for volunteers for our summer program! Sign up today at

Posted by Elad Gross, President of the Education Exchange Corps

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston, Kids, and the Power of Choice

Faced with evil, our kids need to know they can choose to do good. That's how they'll find their answers.

On Tuesday, I met with a couple of my kids at a high school in St. Louis. It was our last class time together. My girls wanted to talk about their lives and Twitter. With some time still left, I asked if they wanted to talk about Boston. "No. That's sad."

On Thursday, I was with a few younger kids at a different school in St. Louis. In the middle of our conversation, one of the kids said, "You know they're going to bomb here too."

What happened in Boston will have a profound impact on our kids. The images of devastation and violence, the unpredictability of terror, the suddenness with which happiness and joy can turn to tragedy - all have the potential to shake a kid's understanding of the world. The children in Boston, effectively having lived under martial law and so close to unexpected violence, will have a lot of questions, if they don't already.

We need to answer them.

We seem to hesitate more at describing good and evil, calling an action right or wrong. Instead, we have become overwhelmed by the complexity in making those determinations, making the labeling of something as "evil" seem categorically out of place in our enlightened society.

There's value in dissecting this complexity for philosophers, social workers, writers, lawyers, adults in general. But adults need simplicity too; even adults need heroes. Maybe that's why we're so wont to find heroes - we've lost our bearings on what is good and what is evil, and we'll grasp onto any indication that good can still exist.

Our kids need to grow up learning right from wrong. They don't need us to see there are bad people in the world. But they do need us to be the good people in their lives, to let them know that the bad people can't win, to explain that even when they're scared that there are people looking out for them.

The challenge is when apparently normal people, like the two Boston bombers, or when those supposed to be fighting for good, like police officers, do something evil. No matter what we do, we will still hear stories of normal people committing evil actions.

That's why kids need to know that everything they do is a choice. They have the choice to help or to hurt, to do good or evil. Those men in Boston had that choice. They were normal people, but they chose evil actions.

Those people who ran into the blast sites at the marathon - they are normal people too. But they chose good actions. They chose to save and help and repair what evil tried to destroy. They are heroes.

In the wake of this whole episode, a lot of kids, and adults too, are probably most fearful of the lack of control they have. Someone could hurt them at any time. They may feel powerless in the face of all the danger and uncertainty.

But this is a chance to empower our children. This is a chance to let them know how powerful choice is. This is a chance to let kids know they can choose good or evil, that their actions can change lives.

And for those who are afraid, this is a chance to show them that America protects those who choose to do good. The world can be scary, but our community is here for those who want to help it, not hurt it. Those who do the opposite will end up surrounded by hundreds of police, watched by millions of Americans, stuck in a corner tired and hungry and utterly alone.

Our kids need to know they can make a choice. They need to be told about stories like this one in Boston so that they can be informed when it comes time for them to start making their own choices. 
And we need to trust them to make the right ones.

That trust - with information, with choice - is what will empower our kids, no matter what violence or hate they are faced with. It will empower our people to be free when others would take that away from us.

Elad Gross is the President of the Education Exchange Corps

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I'm Real: Kendrick Lamar and How We Have To Be There

"You love him, you love them, you love her
You love so much, you love when love hurts
You love a good hand whenever the card dealt
But what love got to do with it when you don't love yourself?"

Maybe it's because Kendrick Lamar is going to be giving a concert here on Wednesday, but his song, "Real," has been resonating with me in particular for a couple of weeks.

In my last blog, I wrote about some of my high school kids taking a trip to court and seeing someone they recognized pleading guilty to armed robbery, and a little bit about how kids are so much more willing to make self-destructive decisions when they don't care about themselves.

"You love streets, you love running, ducking police
You love your hood, might even love it to death
But what love got to do with it when you don't love yourself?"

I was driving some high school kids home one night when this song came on. The car got pretty quiet. At the end of it, one girl said, "I don't like that song. It's sad."

It's sad because it's real.

Empty kids are living lives without purpose and without a care for the long-term because these kids don't care about themselves.

How is a kid supposed to learn that she is worthwhile, that she has something to offer? When the kid is young, it comes from the encouragement of others. It comes from someone telling the kid she did a good job, that she can dream, that the stars in the sky are within her reach.

Lots of kids get that support already from teachers, even if they don't get it at home. The problem emerges when the positive encouragement, whatever the source, is outweighed by the negative, when the kid starts to think that he can't achieve.
Maybe a parent doesn't care about the cute sticker the kid got for a perfect spelling test. Maybe the kid has been traumatized by violence. Maybe he looks up to older kids who have nothing but bad things to say about school.

That's when the kid comes to class and stops talking. He's asked to read but he mumbles or covers his face with the book. Even if he actually knows the answer, he can't give it because he doesn't think he could possibly know the answer. Everyone else is better than him. Why should he talk?
Or maybe he doesn't have the answer. There's no way he could learn by being a part of the class.
Or maybe he doesn't care. School can't help him.

There are too many influences that prey on this lack of confidence. When confidence can't come from inside, the search for something outside to replace it begins.
Escape: Drugs, Sex, Dropping out
Responsibility: Joining a gang, Having a child
Power: Gun, Money, Respect

Life is defined by what the kid does have, or at least thinks is easier to have - Money, Power, Respect - rather than who the kid actually is.

This isn't limited to kids in bad situations either. Plenty of adults, even successful ones, lack confidence in themselves, try to define themselves by things from the outside they think can fill the void within. Maybe it's alcohol, maybe it's submitting to a bad relationship, maybe it's compulsively buying the best the world can offer. The environment adults are in still provides plenty of opportunities to get drawn into an underworld.

But when this same emptiness draws a kid down, they more often can't realize what's happening, that their lives may never get started, that it's all over before it even began.

In school, the farther a kid falls into the crack, the more the portion of her life spent in the positive environment can push her down. The troublemaker is rarely trusted to make her own choices about what's right and wrong. The kid becomes an outsider, continues to feel inadequate, hears others do something she can't, doesn't understand if something is wrong with her, withdraws from the positive world because she feels unworthy to be in it. The older these kids get, the more withdrawn they can be.

They can't have positive confidence because they don't love themselves. So making a bad choice - to skip school, to get into a fight, to drop out, to commit a crime - is just a reflection of how empty they feel, how there's nothing in them worth preserving, how they're fed up with a system that hasn't fulfilled their needs.

"But what love got to do with it when I don't love myself
To the point I should hate everything I do love?
Should I hate living my life inside the club?
Should I hate her for watching me for that reason?
Should I hate him for telling me that I'm season?
Should I hate them for telling me ball out?
Should I hate street credibility I'm talking about?
Hating all money, power, respect in my will?
Or hating the fact none of that s*** make me real?"

That's why kids who emerge from these backgrounds with confidence in themselves can end up being so powerful. They've had to deal with so much they don't have a choice but to be strong.
But more often the kid gets drawn farther and farther down until a life of low personal expectations becomes the norm.

Positive conversation might be the most important act the community can give to a kid. Sometimes a kid just needs to know someone is there for them when all hell is breaking loose.

I had a kindergartener in a science class. We were building bridges out of popsicle sticks, so there was plenty of time for me to talk to the kids about what was going on in their lives. One kid came in pretty sleepy.

"Were you up late watching TV?"
[Shakes his head.]
"Had dinner late?"
[Shakes his head.]
"Just didn't get much sleep?"
[Nods his head.]

The rule of three, and then let the openness sink in for a few minutes so the kid can understand on his own that he can be open too. And as the kid was putting glue on a stick, he started talking.

"I got to visit my dad last night."
"That sounds great."
"Yeah. He had to go to the court because he shot someone in the head."

The kid went on to talk about what his dad did, never once pausing in making his bridge. The other kids in the class didn't flinch. They were all in kindergarten too.

It might take minutes, hours, days, even weeks with a kid to get them to open up, but that's what needs to happen. Teachers are great at knowing which kids need that help, but our classes and schools are not designed to help all of these kids. Time and patience is often at a premium in classrooms of 30 kids, all at different levels, all supposed to be at the same level, all the teacher's responsibility. There are plenty of changes we can make to a classroom, but that's a post for a different day.

What we all can do right now is give a kid some of our time. We can be the ones who take a kid to lunch on a Saturday, text them on Monday to make sure they're studying for a test on Tuesday, tweet them when they notice they're going through a hard time, visit their school when they present their work, are there for them when their love for themselves wanes.

All we have to do is be there.

Kendrick Lamar's album has made him popular because it has a real message. You may have heard some of the remixed versions on the radio, but the popularization through alteration is cheapening that message for a society that isn't willing to deal with the hard truth of our internal emptiness.
The album tells a story about a boy who grew up in the midst of negativity, who witnessed violence, who emerges questioning his life, or really the lack of it.

Not every kid has the strength to question life like that. We can't question it for them, but we can help them find the strength to do it. All we have to do is be there.

And then maybe the kid will go to school and feel more confident, or at least talk to you about what's bugging her. Maybe she'll take your advice about talking to her teacher.
Maybe she'll go home and know that she is worthwhile, that all the negativity around her isn't. Maybe she'll see that her dream is worth dreaming, that her work today is for a real tomorrow.
And then maybe she'll look in the mirror and be "proud to say yeah, I'm real, I'm real, I'm really really real."

Volunteer with us at

Thursday, April 11, 2013

C-Murder and the Kids They Affect

C-Murder had never been convicted of a felony. He stood in front of the judge in an orange jumpsuit. A few other men had the same orange jumpsuit on just feet away from C-Murder, sitting in the jury box. But standing in front of the judge, C-Murder was on his own. The judge asked him several questions about whether he understood that he could go to prison for the rest of his life if he pleaded guilty. But that's just what he did.

I spent most of my day with a bunch of kids from a St. Louis city high school visiting a courthouse, seeing a holding cell, watching as men in orange jumpsuits confessed their wrongdoings. Later in the day, the kids argued their own motions to dismiss in a made-up case about how a school district was or was not liable for a child failing to learn in school. The fictional plaintiff was a senior in a high school in a made-up state, and he couldn't read. I was so proud of my kids, really all the kids who had the courage to get up in a courtroom in front of a real judge and give a serious argument.
Unfortunately, the facts behind these kids' arguments, a fictional child who was effectively illiterate when he was 18, doesn't just happen in made-up states. In real states though, most of those kids don't hang around in schools until senior year.

But back to C-Murder: one of my high school kids said she knew who he was. When she was in pre-school or kindergarten, C-Murder was a 6th grader. At one time, this young man, who used a weapon to commit a burglary while his buddy beat the woman being burglarized, was an innocent 6th grade student. But that was long before he had to put on his orange jumpsuit.

I've had a kid who went down the path to self-destruction. When I first started as a volunteer in St. Louis, one of my brightest students, a kindergartner, was also one of the most "hyper." He liked to do flips and other gymnastic acts of heroism at inopportune times, but he could read, write, do math at levels above his classmates. One day that summer, a police officer came to the school. He pulled my kid out of class to talk to him. Both of this kid's parents were sent to prison because of drugs.

Just a few years later, this kid had been deemed a lost child by his school. There was no reaching him. His family life was reflected in his inability to control his own behavior. I don't know whatever happened to that child, and it may be the biggest regret of my life that I didn't do enough to even know how he turned out.

This girl who recognized C-Murder, she told me she would tell her mom about her seeing this young man plead guilty in court. She said her mom would probably say, "Damn."

That's the reality of some of these kids' lives. Some kids end up in prison, some kids end up unemployable, some kids go on to work, some kids go on to college. More need to do the latter. More need someone to care for them so they can understand that they are worth caring for themselves. More of these kids need someone in their lives to talk to, before they decide to agree with their friends to go to some lady's apartment and rob her.

That's in part why I'm involved with kids, and it's why I want to end up working with kids all over this country. Because sometimes a kid just needs someone to love him before he can love himself.

If you're going to be in St. Louis this summer, consider sharing your time with a kid. Visit our website at to find one way to get involved. I promise you won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

EEC Summer 2013: Clay's Landing (Game of Thrones Comes to St. Louis)

This Summer
Winter is Coming
To the Education Exchange Corps

(Song of Fire and Icecream)

Join us and give a group of kids a summer full of dragons, mythical wonders, and tales of honor and glory.

Visit to sign up. We're looking for full- and part-time volunteer instructors from June 10 - July 26, as well as one-time volunteers willing to lead group activities drawn from their own professional expertise.

Our kids will love you, and you'll find that you'll love them right back. So spend some time this summer at Clay's Landing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spend Part of Your Summer with the Education Exchange Corps

The Education Exchange Corps (EEC) is looking for Summer Instructors for its Summer Academy in St. Louis!

Summer Instructors serve as leaders in our summer academy at Clay Elementary, working in teams with groups of children. The purpose of the summer academy is to provide kids with hands-on activities that educate and build confidence.

Summer Instructors develop lesson plans, lead group activities, decorate classrooms, and receive support from staff throughout. This position is a great opportunity to gain experience in classroom management in a school serving at-risk children. Instructors often develop long-lasting relationships with the children they teach.

Assistant positions are also available. Assistants serve in more of a support role.

Many of our alumni have gone on to serve in teaching roles with Teach For America and other similar organizations. Additionally, other alumni have gone into non-education fields and report that they have gained a lot personally and professionally from their time in our program.

The start date is currently being set. The program will potentially last 7 weeks during June and July with instructors able to participate part-time.

The position is unpaid, but we do work with volunteers to secure stipends and/or academic credit.

To learn more, email to contact our Director, Elad Gross, or visit us online at