Official Blog 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