Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fundraiser Sunday, December 14 at Molly's in Soulard

The Human Rights Campaign St. Louis Steering Committee is hosting a fundraiser for us this Sunday, December 14, from 2 - 5 PM, at Molly's in Soulard.

The event is open to everyone - the more the merrier! 

If you donate $5 or something on our wishlist, you get a drink ticket and appetizers. No brainer, folks!

We really hope you can come. When you support us, either through a donation or by volunteering, you are helping to give children in St. Louis better opportunity.

We would love to talk to you more about what we do, so stop on by, introduce yourself, and bring some questions. We'll be happy to answer!



Where: Molly's in Soulard, 816 Geyer Rd.

When: 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM, Sunday, December 14

Why: To support a local nonprofit organization and find ways for us to work together and make St. Louis a better home for all


If you have any questions, you can post them on the Facebook event page or you can send me an email at Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org.


Hope to see you there!


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Monday, December 1, 2014

What You Are Giving When You Donate to the Education Exchange Corps

When you support the Education Exchange Corps:

You are giving kids empowering enrichment programs. During the summer, we run a free academy in North St. Louis during which our kids get to participate in a lot of activities they normally wouldn't experience during the school year. Our kids have made slime, put on Shakespeare plays, produced their own news shows, built bridges, and then destroyed those bridges. In the coming weeks, we will debut our weekend programming - a leadership game that puts kids in charge of countries as they try to maneuver through the complexities of global challenges. We'll be holding our first sessions at the Ferguson Library.

You are helping teachers run better classrooms. During the school year, we place volunteers as part-time teaching assistants in classrooms in St. Louis City. These volunteers partner with their teachers to identify and work with kids who need help. By having an extra set of hands, eyes, and ears in the classroom, teachers can more effectively address the individual needs of their students.

You are giving kids college and career guidance. We have worked with kids applying for college before, but now we're trying to reach kids more systematically to let them know what resources are out there and how they can take advantage of them. Every child deserves opportunity.

You are creating a generation of future teachers, activists, and philanthropists. Many of our volunteers are undergraduate students, and almost all of them are so moved by their time volunteering that they continue to find ways to continue giving back to their communities. By exposing young people to the challenges involved in our education system, we are shaping a more aware group of leaders.

You are helping communities in need. This August, we were able to help work with over 200 kids from the Ferguson-Florissant School District when their schools were closed during protests. We assisted again in November when schools were closed after the grand jury decision was announced. We also developed a list of ways to support Ferguson and South St. Louis businesses and organizations that suffered damage. All of the schools we work with in St. Louis City struggle with the effects of poverty, and almost all are racially isolated. We need to do more to make St. Louis a fairer home for all.

You are bringing St. Louis together. We try to be as inclusive as possible. In Ferguson, we have invited protesters, politicians, police officers, parents, and community members to work together for our kids. We are working with Qeyno Labs to bring an inclusive Hackathon to kids in St. Louis. And we will continue to invite diverse groups of professionals to teach our children. We firmly believe that no matter our disagreements, we can all agree that we must provide a better future for our kids.


I hope you consider supporting our programming. You can donate, volunteer, or send us something on our wishlist. You can share our website: www.EdExCo.org. You can email me to discuss ways we can work together to make St. Louis better: Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org. You can help us find groups of people to talk with so we can all share our ideas and experiences. You can look for other St. Louis or Missouri or national organizations to support, and we'd be happy to help you with that too.

But whatever you do, please try to do something. We can't afford not to.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org
Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org







Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shopping this Weekend? Support Local Businesses, Support St. Louis

(NOTE: Keep checking back! We're updating the opportunities as more come in!)

Perhaps now more than ever, St. Louis businesses need our help.

Local businesses are very important parts of the community. Their owners have an interest in making sure the areas around them do well. The activity these businesses generate brings more people to their neighborhoods, builds connections between diverse groups of people, and keeps eyes on the streets. A thriving local business hub can do wonders for a neighborhood; we see the effects in many parts of St. Louis.

But a lot of these small businesses are hurting right now. Some have been looted or damaged. For a small business owner, the cost of putting up plywood boards and replacing windows can set the business so far back that its very survival falls into serious doubt.

We cannot let this happen. The loss of businesses will further damage neighborhoods that are already struggling with the seething consequences of inequity of opportunity.

This weekend, if you plan on shopping, please consider shopping local. Local businesses have so many unique gifts to offer. You'll enjoy visiting new places in the St. Louis area and revving your creative engine to find gifts for your loved ones (or for yourself!).

I took most of the day to make lists of local businesses in Ferguson, South Grand, and North City. Unfortunately, you will see that I could not find many in North City, a testament to the economic challenges present in the area. I'm sure I am missing many businesses, and if you have suggestions, please send them my way via email at Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org. I'll do my best to update the lists.

We have also had many people ask how they can assist the Education Exchange Corps as we continue to help children in Ferguson and St. Louis City. If you're out shopping and want to donate supplies to us, I've included a wishlist below. Please contact me via email to coordinate so we can keep the list updated as well.

St. Louis needs us to come together, to step forward with purpose, to make sure that tomorrow is better than today.


Local Shopping 






Education Exchange Corps Wishlist

Or click on our yellow donate button at the upper right of this blog page!


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps



Windows on South Grand

I spent all of last night with a friend of mine who owns a business on South Grand. Like so many others on the street and in Ferguson, her windows are broken. And like so many others, her windows are now covered with boards painted up to reflect the enthusiasm of the woman who runs the shop. 

Peace, Love, Imo's

I attended a fundraiser one of her many supporters organized for her and other stores on South Grand. After the night was over, she graciously walked up and down the street with me as I stopped to take pictures of the paintings on the plywood. 


Open Your Eyes, Open Your Heart

She showed me the rocks that went through her windows, the two cats who luckily were unharmed, the store that needed to quickly find a way to cope with not being able to display its goods to passersby because the windows are all boarded.


We Need Our Jobs

Today is Thanksgiving. Today, everyone in St. Louis needs to take some time to reflect on where we are today, how we got here, and where we must be tomorrow. We cannot allow rage to consume hope if St. Louis is to come out better from this Ferguson moment.


Hand in Hand

The days after Thanksgiving, for one reason or another, are dedicated to holiday shopping. This year especially, there are many small businesses in St. Louis that are edging the line between survival and surrender. If you will be shopping, please take the opportunity to see what they have to offer. Not only will you bring home something more creatively pleasing for your loved ones, but your purchases will go directly into supporting a community that desperately needs it.


Love Thy Neighbor

These places are safe. I have been in Ferguson many, many times. And last night, I strolled South Grand until after 2:00 AM. Please do not let media hype deter you from exploring your town. These places need our love, not our fear.


The Upcycle Exchange Fundraiser

In our next post, we will include a list of local businesses that we will update as we get more information. We will also publish an Education Exchange Corps wish list in the event you do some shopping and would also like to support us as we work with kids in St. Louis. But for now, be with those closest to you, open your hearts, and let love take your day. More paintings below.


Bow Tie Pig

St. Louis Flag

Justice Is "Blind," But We Can See

Shine on St. Louis









Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Case for Hope in Ferguson and St. Louis

At 2:00 AM, I was still watching the smoldering buildings on one side of my computer screen. On the other side, I was drafting more volunteer recruitment emails to beg the people of St. Louis to come out and support kids just hours later.

At 4:00 AM, I woke up, printed out sign-in sheets for "Emergency School" at the Ferguson Library, looked over emails, and headed to Walmart.

At 5:30 AM, I found the 24-hour Walmart in Maplewood, about 20 minutes south of Ferguson, closed, with private security patrolling the lot in cars. As I started to drive off in my old, rusty, dented Honda, I was hawked by one patrol car, the driver staring at me ominously as I attempted to leave. I just wanted to pick up some name tags for the kids and volunteers.

At 5:50 AM, I arrived at my day job, which was also locked down at the time. Thankfully, it opened within 10 minutes.

At 8:25 AM, I parked in the Ferguson Library parking lot. There were already a few men waiting outside, without kids, just wanting to use the library, which opened at 9 for the general public. When I entered, I was greeted by Carrie Pace, the Ferguson-Florissant School District teacher who has always been the driving force behind the emergency school program at the library, and Scott Bonner, the kind-hearted head librarian who embraces the library's role as a true community place. Teach For America teachers and alumni were back again. I've taken to calling them "the cavalry."

At 8:55 AM, we had no kids. The program was scheduled to start at 9. I walked from the library to the Ferguson Police Department, the site of protests just hours before, in the hopes of finding protesting parents looking for a safe place for their kids to learn. It was a cold morning, and an even chillier view as I walked on South Florissant. Store windows were smashed in. Glass was everywhere. A beautiful street was strewn with the remnants of violence and the plywood board reminders that the violence may not be over.

But well before 8:55 AM, the sun rose over Ferguson. Amongst the chaos, groups of people, some with their children, were diligently at work, sweeping sidewalks, cleaning stores, removing glass shards. I met some volunteers from the last library program out on the street that morning too who had traded in worksheets for push brooms.

I arrived at the police department, and no one was there. Over the course of the day, I called kids and put out blasts on social media. I even convinced a band of rowdy high school boys (as they naturally are) to stay and work for a while.

I saw a parent break down in tears as she talked about her community coming apart at the seams. I saw many more parents who were tired and frustrated, wondering out loud about what will happen in the coming days.

I also saw over 50 volunteers show up at the Ferguson Library. I saw donors drop off school supplies and food. I saw a couple dozen kids absolutely absorb the attention they received.

We all saw what a community can do when it cares about its future. But that can only happen when the community has hope.

Today, we had some reporters visit the library, the majority from foreign news outlets. A Canadian reporter asked me about the situation, about why there seemed to be so much anger. As I responded, I felt myself become enraged.

I felt angry that for the last seven years I've been doing this, little has changed. I felt angry that more and more kids are sinking into poverty, and we as a society are doing almost nothing about it. I felt angry that even those parents who work hard and try to do well by their kids too often see their children swallowed by the hopelessness of a broken system. I felt angry that St. Louis, in 2014, is still set up in a way that segregates by race and socioeconomic class. I felt angry that we have to wait for an 18-year-old to get shot dead outside his home and for the National Guard to be deployed before our region starts to care about the underlying problems that led to this reality.

I felt angry that even after all that we have witnessed in these past few months, it may not be enough to get us out of our chairs and into classrooms and boardrooms and courtrooms and city halls demanding a fairer St. Louis.

But I do not stay enraged because I refuse to live in that world. I refuse to allow the cycle of poverty to continue to cut down our future. I refuse to believe that we as a whole will turn our backs on children.

I refuse to be consumed by hopelessness. And I'm not the only one.

There are others running organizations that refuse to stop working in the face of overwhelming and deeply rooted obstacles. There are parents and school teachers who refuse to give up on their kids. There are kids who refuse to give up on themselves.

But you have to understand that years and years of seeing the same results, of experiencing the same negativity, of being ignored or even admonished by a society that ought to care can leave anyone hopeless. The fact that anyone can thrive in such an environment is a testament to that person's supernatural substance, not to some imagined myth that anyone can make it.

Everyone should have the opportunity to make it. But not everyone does. That simple fact is what spawns the widespread hopelessness.

And so it is up to all of us to banish the hopelessness. It is up to all of us to care about each other, to show it, to make those trips into the unfamiliar and touch our shared humanity. We are the hope.

No matter what happens during our darkest hour, the sun will rise again over Ferguson. It will rise again over St. Louis. And every time it does, we once again have the opportunity to not go gentle into the night.

One day, we won't.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org
Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Call For Reserve Volunteers: Backup School in Ferguson

We need volunteers to help run a backup school in Ferguson in case the school district must suspend school again.

The St. Louis region is bracing for the grand jury's decision whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Mike Brown. No one knows what to expect. But I pray that, whatever happens, we all remember the children who are still expected to go to school and learn through all of this. Yes, the events of these past months are a learning experience in and of themselves, but that doesn't mean our kids don't need to be learning multiplication and spelling too.

Shortly after Mike Brown's shooting, when protests hit a major street in Ferguson and police efforts escalated, the Ferguson-Florissant School District postponed the start of the school year. School was delayed for kids for almost a week and a half. Carrie Pace, a teacher with the district, held school at the local Ferguson Library. We were happy to help her and so many other people from the community as they came together to serve more than 200 children.

I hope we don't need your help to do this again, but we might be facing similar circumstances in the next few weeks. I believe that, no matter what the grand jury's decision is, our community won't descend into the chaos so many people seem to be predicting. People desperately want to make their lives better, not worse. As a region, we must come to the understanding that ensuring equity of opportunity is a shared responsibility, and I think we are moving in that direction.

But if I'm wrong, kids in Ferguson temporarily may not have an open school to go to. Kids need to go to school. Part of the movement that has grown in honor of Mike Brown is in response to the fact that too many kids in our region aren't given the opportunity they ought to have in many areas of life. Kids who don't go to school have even less opportunity.

We need a reserve group of volunteers ready to mobilize with short notice. We need people who are willing to have high expectations of kids, create a positive learning atmosphere, and listen to what kids need. If you've taught before, GREAT! If you haven't taught before, that's OK too! If you can only commit a day, or a few hours a day, or a flexible lunch hour - whatever it is, we would greatly appreciate your support.

We would be happy to have protesters and police working together to help the children of Ferguson. If you are personally willing to be a positive influence on a kid, we will be happy to find a way for you to help.

St. Louis, we called upon your compassion and hope and "huStLe" to help in Ferguson once before, and you came through in a huge way. Be ready to help us do it again for the sake of all of our kids.

If you are interested in helping, please email me directly at Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org. We will also have our normal ongoing programming for kids too, and you are welcome to help our kids then too.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ferguson Hackathon Cancelled

The hackathon event that was scheduled for Saturday, November 1, is cancelled.

Qeyno Labs' Hackathons are designed to bring people from different parts of the community together to support the brilliance of our children. I wrote about the Ferguson hackathon and asked for support on this blog. We received a lot of interest, but, in the end, financial support and logistical obstacles made the event impossible to hold.

We at the Education Exchange Corps have always strived to empower communities to educate their children. We were very excited to see that even organizations as far away as California, like Qeyno Labs and TEACHED, were interested in coming all the way to St. Louis to support our community's kids. 

The event drew from the philosophy of ubuntu and was to draw diverse groups - students, educators, programmers, protesters, police - together in peaceful cooperation. Although this will no longer happen on November 1, the experience has left a big mark on our organization, and we will be planning events to bring diverse groups and individuals together to build a sustainable peace within which the wellbeing of our kids is the focus.

As I write this, I received several texts from one of my high school kids from the Ferguson Library and tweets from some of my high school seniors from St. Louis City getting ready to apply for college. 

St. Louis, we have a lot of work to do.

Please stay tuned.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ubuntu Hackathon: Bringing Ferguson and St. Louis Together for Our Kids - Deadline to Register Is October 18

On November 1, 2014, kids will be mentored in Ferguson as they build the "app of their dreams" to solve a problem that they face in their lives. The event, called a Hackathon, brings professionals in different areas - coding, designing, marketing - together to work with kids over the course of a weekend.

This Hackathon will have an added element: ubuntu. Ubuntu is the philosophy that we can best solve conflicts by bringing opponents together in an environment of reconciliation and understanding. UbuntuHack: Ferguson will bring together community members and police officers to share in the common goal of providing our children with a better future.

I got involved in this project when the Co-Founder of Qeyno Labs, Kalimah Priforce, came to St. Louis to visit. Kelley Nayo, Chief Operating Officer for Qeyno Labs, arranged our meeting after seeing me speak about the Education Exchange Corps at the Missouri History Museum's Ferguson town hall meeting.

I met Kalimah at the airport and we spoke over dinner. I told him about the work the Education Exchange Corps has done in St. Louis and our plans for the future. He introduced me to the great work Qeyno Labs is doing, and he shared with me the concept of ubuntu. We spent the next hour touring St. Louis. He was amazed by the quick transitions that are visually apparent when going from an affluent area to a poor one. He had many questions, and I answered as many as I could.

When I left him, I wished him the best, and I asked him to do all he could to bring one of his Hackathons to St. Louis. I promised to do all I could to help Qeyno Labs, and St. Louis, succeed.

St. Louis, this is an amazing opportunity to give a group of kids an experience of a lifetime. To do it, we will need:

1) KIDS! Ages 11-18;

2) Coders, developers, programmers, and designers - those with technical expertise;

3) Marketers, business developers, and community leaders who can help make these kids' plans a reality;

4) Volunteers willing to work behind the scenes to make sure the event runs smoothly;

5) Community members, police officers, and others that want to be involved in the healing of our community. Protests in St. Louis have highlighted the need for change. Those that occurred just this past weekend in so many areas of St. Louis have the potential to bring us all closer together if we take the next step. This Hackathon is a great opportunity to take that step toward dialogue, progress, and community.

I'd be happy to answer any questions I can, but you can learn a lot from the event website, located at http://www.ubuntuhack.com/. You can register on the site. The deadline to register is October 18.

Feel free to contact me as well. My email is below.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org
Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org

Our Three Phase Effort for St. Louis Education

The Ferguson Library was peaceful as always. The regulars were sitting at their regular seats or using their regular computers. A group of adults was in the small conference room just a couple feet away from the colorful kids' corner. And off in the very back of the library, in the room that was once filled with over 50 kids and dozens of volunteers, there were now four of us, with sugar just within reach and homemade whiteboards leaning on a wall.

Sugar + Whiteboards = Plans

I learned this equation while taking one of Wash U Professor Anna Shabsin's classes when I was in law school.

A few miles away from us, protesters were marching in downtown St. Louis. People from near and far joined together to protest police violence in the wake of the Mike Brown shooting. From my personal experiences and observations, the protests also criticize the inequity of opportunity that too often characterizes the St. Louis region (and our region is certainly not alone). A large protest later moved to the Shaw neighborhood, where another teenager, Vonderrit Myers, was a victim of an officer-involved shooting just a few days ago. Last night and early this morning, the protest moved onto St. Louis University's campus. This weekend was named "Ferguson October."

No matter where you land on this protest movement, I think most of us can agree that our kids ought to have better opportunity. And no one who has driven just a few minutes around the St. Louis metropolitan area can say that all of our children are getting an opportunity.

So we were in the library, drawing out diagrams and plans. Someone had an idea? It went on the whiteboard. A concern? A long discussion until it was addressed.

What we ended up with was a way to make sure kids have support in three phases of education:

1) Support inside the classroom by offering volunteer teaching-assistants to interested teachers to help identify kids who need extra attention and then give it to them.

2) Enrichment outside the classroom through the EEC summer academy that will emphasize character building by putting kids in simulations where they will have to solve the greatest crises our world has to offer. In a world that's gone mad, we'll put the kids in charge and see what they come up with. And we won't just do it in the summer anymore. We'll extend our programming to weekends to stay connected with our kids throughout the year.

3) Mapping of kids' futures both within schools and outside of them as kids apply their academic and character skills to choose the futures they want, be it college or whatever else they want to do when they graduate from high school. We need to give kids a chance to be what they want to be.

All three of these supports work off of each other. They're designed to make sure that a kid who "slips through the cracks" is caught by another supportive aspect of the overall system.

Will it work?

I don't know. I think back to hearing Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone speak at St. Louis University a couple of weeks ago, how he said he tried so many things to help finally reach a solution for Harlem. And I think about the seven years we've been in St. Louis, how we've been moving to this triple-support system for a long time, how we've seen successful outcomes.

That's why I think it will work. I also think it will take a lot of hustle (or huStLe, as one might say in this city) by the overall community.

Unfortunately, St. Louis is a community divided. It was divided before the protests began, but this division was ignored. We are committed to bringing people together so that we can explore solutions together, especially when these solutions can give our kids a better chance to choose their own destinies.

So for our next upcoming project.... I'll just wait for the next blog post. Stay tuned.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org 





Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Above&Beyond Week 2: First Kids!

Week 2 for the Above&Beyond College Readiness program became an open house college counseling session. Three volunteers, including myself, were parked in a conference room at the Ferguson Library. We were ready to work with up to 50 kids and their parents, but word has been slow getting out to families.

When the first kid showed up, though, magic happened. She was a high school junior with tremendous grades, tons of extra-curriculars, and her eyes set on working with children as a career. And one of our volunteers was a teacher! We talked to her about resources in her community and college prep programs she was already involved in. We helped her make a plan of action to take home with her. She'll be talking to her college counselor at school about her goals and how the school can help her reach them. And she'll be coming to us on the Saturdays when she can make it to get help with the ACT.

Her mom was patiently waiting for her outside in the car. Daughter introduced me to mom, I introduced the program, and mom nearly jumped out of her seat asking for more information to give to her church.

Not long after, I met a librarian from one of the local high schools who was trying to get her students to be a part of the Ferguson Library's teen council. We talked about kids, the community, and how to get people interested in the college readiness program we are running. The librarian also will be spreading the word at her school.

When I came back to the conference room, I found another child and his grandmother being helped by the other phenomenal volunteers. This kid was a high school freshman who was dragged into our area of the library by his grandmother. But stroke of luck number two: He wanted to be a lawyer, and two of us were practicing attorneys! Grandmother asked most of the questions, but I wouldn't be surprised if she brings him back next time.

In one week, we went from zero kids to two kids. That's an increase by a factor of infinity!

And that's two kids who received individualized attention to help them achieve their goals, two kids who are a step closer to going from high school to college, two bright hopes for a future that is better than today.

I can't help but be hopeful for what next week brings.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Letter from Chief College Readiness Officer Kielah Harbert

We are happy to announce that Kielah Harbert has joined the EEC team as our Chief College Readiness Officer. Kielah is the Founder and Director of Above&Beyond.

Kielah came up with the idea for this program while she was starting to go through the college application process herself. She is a graduate of Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, a public school in St. Louis City. Now, she attends Washington University, where she hopes to use her education to find ways to make a difference in her community and beyond. We are happy to help her do so. And what makes this particularly exciting for me is that Kielah was a former student of mine when she was in high school.

Without further ado, here's Kielah:


My name is Kielah Harbert and I currently attend Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. I, along with Elad Gross, created Above&Beyond in the hopes of helping students with the college application process.  However, a major concern that precedes the college application process is high school. Many people focus on applying to college but not what comes before, which is how to become the best candidate for any college, including those with prestige. A crucial aspect of our program is helping students at any age level because it’s never too soon to learn about college. Our services expand to parents and teachers alike in the hopes of creating a united support system around each individual student in the program. We aim to help students on an academic level while also offering support for them in their everyday lives. Above&Beyond is for any student, including the student who was never asked what college they wanted to attend or their career aspirations. It is for the student who wants to succeed, but is not sure how. My own success is attributed to my dedication along with college access programs such as LEDA and College Bound; without them I would not be where I am today. We hope Above&Beyond can join the college access revolution.


Kielah Harbert
Founder and Director of Above&Beyond
Chief College Readiness Officer
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Washington University in St. Louis '18

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Above&Beyond Day 1: The Mystery of the Missing Children

The clock showed 11:00 AM. The back conference room of the Ferguson Library was ready to receive parents. The outdoor activity area was set to welcome children via icebreaker. Mr. G (apparently at the Education Exchange Corps, we all go by an initial when we are teaching) sat at the front of the library with stacks of registration papers at the ready. We had construction paper and folders and pens and snacks and juice and plans.

But no kids.

No parents coming in to ask questions. No one lined up on the sidewalk or in the parking lot waiting. No one on their way to the program.

We still gave our volunteers an orientation. We talked about the program and protocols, history and purposes, what we hoped they'd be doing that day.

But still no kids.

The minutes passed by. I checked in on Mr. G at 11:30 to find that, although no kids had arrived, their spirit somehow made it onto the back of some of the registration forms.



I spoke with the trickle of kids who were coming in and out of the library, and my conversations were initially accompanied by stern looks from parents. But when I explained the program we were running, the parents were thrilled. Excited parents, but no children? The Mystery of the Missing Children was solved! The word had not gotten out.

So we printed a bunch of fliers and took to the streets of Ferguson. We knocked on doors. That didn't work too well.

We went into businesses. That worked better.

We stopped kids on the street. That was great. I spoke with one high school freshman who was actually on his way to the library. He took several fliers and plans to come with his friends next week. He writes poetry in his head, he told me, and he wants to go to college to be a writer.

We stopped at a custard shop. That was FANTASTIC! There were two kids hanging out in a tree outside, making fun comments to those passing by. I gave them fliers too. One of them wants to be a lawyer because "they make lots of money." His backup plan is to become an engineer.

We ended the day where we started, at the library, still without kids. But the mystery was solved, and the culprit - lack of awareness - was laid to rest. And the custard was so good!

Until next week.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Volunteer with Kids in Ferguson and Give Every Child a Chance

Every child deserves an opportunity. On Saturday, September 27, the Above&Beyond college readiness program will make its debut at the Ferguson Library. The program is open to children ages 10 and up served by the Ferguson-Florissant School District and is being offered by the Education Exchange Corps at no charge. 

Above&Beyond will take on kids’ perceptions of college, reveal the resources available for college applicants, and assist kids throughout the application and preparation process. It’s never too late to get kids thinking about college, and we will also provide guidance for younger students so that they can start thinking about their futures. 

This is a great opportunity for St. Louis to give every child a chance. We are looking for volunteers who are willing to serve as mentors for children, facilitating discussions during our Saturday programs and following up with their kids during the school year. We have designed the program to get as many qualified volunteers involved as possible. Even if you can only commit a couple of hours on a weekend, we will find a way for you to help the St. Louis community. 

When: Saturday, September 27, 2014, 11:00AM – 3:00PM with volunteer training starting at 10:30 AM

Where: Ferguson Municipal Public Library, 35 N. Florissant Rd.

How: To volunteer, email Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org or KielahHarbert@wustl.edu 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Above&Beyond College Readiness Program Starts Saturday, September 27 in Ferguson

The Education Exchange Corps will debut its college readiness program in Ferguson on Saturday, September 27, from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The program, called Above&Beyond, will engage kids in the college process, from discovering personal interests to honing communication skills to working on applications and test preparation. We will be at the Ferguson Library for at least two Saturdays in a row.

Volunteers are welcome to come for however long they can. Most importantly, we will need volunteers willing to listen to kids and tell the kids about their own experiences. But if you have special experience in ACT or SAT preparation, scholarship application, academic tutoring, or college admissions, we would love to work with you to design some of our programming. We are also looking for professionals to talk about their careers and the paths they took to get there. We would be happy to partner with you or your business to get kids interested in the many different jobs out there.

To volunteer or donate to the program, please email Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Monday, September 15, 2014

College Readiness Program Coming to Ferguson

Kids were everywhere. Several 5-year-olds were chatting away while coloring at their tables on one side of a partition, many younger kids were sitting on a mat nearby doing some sort of loud reading activity, a line of second-graders marched right in front of me on the way either to the library book stacks or to the large-ish back room where a gazillion older kids and volunteers excitedly embraced the controlled chaos that was the Ferguson Library program.

In the midst of it all, as Governor Nixon came through and Captain Ron Johnson visited and a number of other celebrities shared a moment with the kids, an older gray-haired gentleman sauntered up to me as I was just dropping off a new kid to her group. "Here," he said. I expected to be given another kid to take to her class, or maybe another pack of donated food to place by the lunches. Instead, in this man's hand, was a gray t-shirt, emblazoned on the front with the phrase, "I [heart] Ferg."

The surprise knocked me out of my auto-logistics mode. Amongst all the excitement and attractive insanity of holding a makeshift school at a local library, this man's face was totally normal. I had met the man a few hours earlier in the morning when I was greeting kids and parents into the library. He asked me if I had gotten a Ferguson shirt yet. I said no. He disappeared. And now here he was. All he wanted to do was give me a shirt. Sometimes, the most memorable thank-yous don't ever make use of those two words.

I wrote about the great work the St. Louis community did in Ferguson at the library a few weeks ago (a lot, actually: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). We were fortunate and honored to be able to help.

But since the program ended, something has kept drawing me back. Something about that library, about the kids, about the volunteers, about the whole atmosphere was enchanting.

So we're coming back.

We will be working with the library, the school district, and whomever else wants to get involved to provide college readiness programming for kids and parents on Saturdays. We'll talk about kids' current perceptions of college, their dreams, and what they can do today to make sure they have options when they graduate from high school. We'll provide help with standardized testing preparation. And, as oft happens with such programs, we'll give kids another level of support: mentors to talk to as they go through the academic year and beyond.

Eventually, we plan to provide these college readiness workshops at multiple locations on the weekends, rotating from one site to the next to reach even more kids. Based on the six plus years I've been working with underserved kids in St. Louis, I can tell you that this kind of programming is desperately needed.

We're excited to start in Ferguson.

Over the past several weeks, many folks in St. Louis and around the country have been taking part in tough conversations. Some people feel deeply passionate about what Ferguson so starkly demonstrated to the world. Others don't know how to feel. Some believe that they don't have a right or a true ability to feel because, in part, they don't know how to contribute.

But, no matter how you feel, there are at least a few things most of us can agree with. One of those things is that kids today should have a real shot at charting their own futures, should have the support they need to have real opportunity. And you can give them that.

You don't need to be good at math or the ACT to help a kid. All you really have to do is listen. Too many kids today grow up thinking that their society does not value them and is not willing to care about them. You can change that.

You can change how a kid thinks about herself just by being there, by paying attention to her and the stories she wants to tell, by answering questions about what being an adult is like, what being in high school was like for you. This is what our kids need from you.

We've always looked for ways to get as many qualified volunteers involved in kids' educations as possible. That's why we are holding these workshops on the weekend. If you can, we're asking for just a little bit of your time. And that little bit will make a world of difference.

Years ago, when I was young and impressionable, I had a mentor tell me, "Just go change the world." He said it as an order, as matter-of-factly as a parent telling you to wash the dishes or take out the trash. No matter what life has thrown me, I keep finding ways to work with kids because I believe it is the best way to change the world. And maybe I'm paying my many mentors' service forward.

By working with kids, we can escape the politics that have plagued the adult world. Kids bring out the best in adults, and they bring adults who never knew each other before together under a common banner. I've seen volunteers make lasting friendships with those they serve and with those they serve with. These programs became a magical world of their own, generating experiences that make everyone involved better.

St. Louis, you want a way to heal the fissures that have torn our city apart? Come join us. Email me at Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Final Day of Teach For Ferguson, but First Day of an Expanded Effort

So far I've written about my time working at the Ferguson library. On the last day of the teaching program, that's where I started.

By the 9 AM opening time, the line wasn't just out the door. It was wrapped around the sidewalk along North Florissant. I spent time talking with half-awake kids, excited parents and grandparents, and volunteers who were arriving all smiles.

Since I started on Wednesday, I organized a corps of high school kids in addition to other members of the community to work as volunteers. Together, we kept track of their volunteer hours, and this upcoming week I will either email or deliver an Education Exchange Corps certificate to each one of them documenting the hours they worked. Many high schools and scholarship opportunities require proof of community service. In that vein, we will also be offering these kids advice as they go through the college application process.

We have had so many kids show up that we needed an overflow site (200 kids on the last day!). The Ferguson First Baptist Church stepped up in a big way and provided the children with a wonderful and absolutely HUGE space.
Just one room at the Ferguson First Baptist Church
At about 9:30, I marched down to the church with some of my high school students and a couple other volunteers. We were greeted by Maxine Clark, Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear, and Teach For America staff.

I tried to help however I could, but Teach For America had the church site running like a well-oiled machine. So I got to hang out with the kids! I worked alongside one of our many parent-volunteers for the first few hours.

As I was strolling around the church looking to help, I came upon volunteers from the National Parks Service Old Courthouse site who had been there just about every day. They wanted to run a scripted mock trial, Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson, with the middle and high school students. I was beyond excited! I spent the last two years on Wash U Law's trial team (I'm hanging out in the picture at the top left), three years coaching high school mock trial at Career Academy, and I'm a lawyer!

Our Courtroom at the church
In our trial (which was a bit of a combination of a few Dred and Harriet Scott legal actions for the historians out there), the jury returned an 11-1 verdict granting Dred Scott his freedom. I explained to the students that, in real life, a jury eventually returned the same verdict, but, after the decision was taken up on appeal, the Supreme Court refused to even recognize black people as citizens of America or to give Scott his freedom. The kids had a few questions. Some even wanted to know about becoming a lawyer.

I spent the rest of the day working with much younger kids. I identified one as having special needs, and I stayed with him until his mother picked him up. He had a lot of energy, and my neck is still sore, but we had a great time making up stories about Batman, working on spelling, and finishing a few art projects.

The outpouring of support we received was phenomenal. We had volunteers from far away - including two volunteer teachers I met from Chicago and Virginia - and from all over St. Louis donate their time and energy to giving these kids a great week.

In a last act of selflessness, the Ferguson-Florissant teacher who started this all, Carrie Pace, offered me a ride home. I learned that she is an art teacher, that she has an undying passion for her kids, and that she too hopes more comes of this. Carrie is certainly special, and there are many selfless teachers all over this country who are willing to go above and beyond to care for their kids. I got to meet many of them this week.

Right before she dropped me off, Carrie signed up to volunteer with us. We will be staying in contact over the course of the year to consider plans for next summer.

St. Louis, if this program showed anything, it's that together we can. We are committed to making sure that tomorrow we will. Stay tuned folks!


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferguson Library: A Summer Day Full of Chills

I keep thinking about the multiple moments I got the chills today while working at the Ferguson Library. The good kind of chills. The kind that precede progress.

200 kids.
100 volunteers.
A TON of donations.

Just another day at the Ferguson Library!

When I arrived early this morning, the library was closed to the public, but that didn't stop families from lining the sidewalk in anticipation of the 9:00 AM opening. After coordinating some of our volunteers and speaking with the other wonderful staff, I did my thing. I walked out the door, pen in hand, donning a time-tested maroon button-down, and started getting parents and kids fired up for the day. They still had ten minutes before they could go in, but I was compelled to make sure even the moments in the morning heat on the sidewalk would be fun and engaging.

The day started and the kids poured in. Parents remembering Mr. E from yesterday cheerily shouted "Hello" and "Gooooooood morning!" right back at me, some beating me to the punch. I had a few kids hug me or demand high fives as they entered. I'd only met them yesterday.

One child insisted that he knew me from somewhere other than the library. No matter how much I disagreed, he was convinced that I was a teaching assistant at his elementary school. This was my first time working with the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The surge of students quickly filled the library. Once we were full, we sent kids to our overflow site at First Baptist Church just down the street. Thanks to the wonderfully well organized folks at Springboard, we had plenty of arts, music, dancing, and other activities for our kids to do. Because of the efforts of the church, Springboard, the library, and all of the volunteers, from our organization, Teach for America, and so many other places, we were able to accept every child who came to us to learn.

And we had visitors too: Governor Jay Nixon; Captain Ron Johnson and several officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol; Judge Marvin Teer; St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French. I watched kids line up to talk with Captain Johnson, but only for a second. The Pre-K kids needed a story to read, and the Science Center staff came in to do my favorite experiment: SLIME!

I should also mention that Jack Dorsey of Twitter-fame was there yesterday. He volunteered for much of the day with a friend. He joined a legion of St. Louisans who have given so willingly of their time to make these children feel special.

Due respect to all of our visitors, but I was absolutely floored when I heard the familiar, low, radio-ready voice of high school football teammate and righteous dude Anthony Wise. He just got in from out of town and had to volunteer. I took him with me and he settled down with our Pre-K crowd.

Anthony is a tall man. He towered over these kids and spoke with a booming voice--the kids loved him! I came back a while later to see him pick out a book to read out loud. I sat down to watch as the kids interacted with him and asked him questions in the middle of the story about a boy and his alien friend. Other volunteers started watching too not just because he is engaging, but because he actually wasn't reading the story at all. He was making up a story, with the kids, based on the pictures in the book. I had to leave because I was tearing up laughing. He'll be back tomorrow.

The day wound down. Parents picked up their kids. I gave every kid and parent the old don't-eat-your-slime joke on their way out. The high school students I am coordinating as volunteers helped reunite kids and their parents. Two middle school brothers weren't picked up. Well after the program ended, after exhausting all resources, I walked with them to their grandmother's home.

We talked about a lot of things on our walk: jet planes, the neighborhood, the protests in Ferguson. We even passed through the protest being held in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Our conversation was natural, nothing pressed. The younger kid told me he felt like I was his cousin.

After getting them home, I walked back to the library alone. I passed through the protest again. I stopped to invite parents to bring their kids to the library tomorrow. One man said he volunteered there today. I thanked him, he smiled, and I left him standing on the street with a sign.

I skipped one piece of the day. As I was waiting for someone to pick up the two brothers, two young black men asked to do an interview with me. They traveled from Virginia to show the real story of Ferguson. The interview turned into a conversation about education in the whole region, about the importance of giving every child a chance, about what we can do when we decide to work together.

Toward the end of the interview, I got the chills, those good ones, not just because I am passionate about education and kids and our future, not just because of the outpouring of support this program has received, but because the men who were interviewing me, who were there just to document my words, were nodding in agreement.

I invite you to join us at the Ferguson library again tomorrow. Click here for the details.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Call for Volunteers: Teach in Ferguson

Schools are closed. But kids want to learn!

The Education Exchange Corps is supporting the efforts of Ferguson-Florissant School District teachers, in partnership with the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, to hold classes for kids Pre-K-8th grade this week. We're calling on volunteers to work with kids for however much time they can.

Where: Ferguson Municipal Public Library, 35 N. Florissant Rd.
When: Anytime between 9:00 AM - 3:30 PM, Thursday and Friday 8/21-8/22
What: Lead and/or assist others leading group activities for students
Why: Just because the school district is closed doesn't mean they shouldn't learn!

Today, I spent most of the day at the welcome desk of the library to greet parents and kids, get them registered, answer phones, and dole out the EEC's soon-to-be-patented form of logical discipline. I also organized high school students to serve as volunteer assistants during the program. It was a long but wonderful day. The teachers of the district were out in force, and the kids were funny, open, and so happy to be there.

Tomorrow, the Ferguson-Florissant teachers will be gone for professional development. We'll have several retired teachers, Teach For America members, and other volunteers coming to help, but we can always use more motivated, active, engaging people who are willing to step up and work with kids with little instruction from others. We had 150 kids show up today, and the more active volunteers, the merrier.

If you come, I guarantee I'll be super supportive. I know I won't be the only one. Not only will you help a bunch of kids, but you'll also get to work with some very special people, like Mr. Washington.

I promise you will not regret it.

If you cannot volunteer, you can still donate supplies.

To get involved, contact me directly either by email at Elad.Gross@EdExCo.org or by phone at 314-753-9033.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Summer That Wasn't

Today, instead of being full of kids painting, making slime, rehearsing plays, and playing soccer, Clay Elementary will be empty.

For the first time since 2008, the Education Exchange Corps will not be spending the summer educating children in the city of St. Louis.

Until very recently, Clay Elementary was known as a Community Education Center. A handful of schools in St. Louis received this designation. The idea was for these schools to be community hubs, being open for extended hours most days of the year to provide needed services to kids and families. Members of the community could take GED classes, receive counseling and health care, and know their kids would be supervised before and after school. 

This summer, these Community Education Centers closed. They will still be schools, but the services they once provided to their communities will no longer be offered. At Clay, we were one of those services. 

Many of these schools' partners are left at a loss, needing to find new ways to serve the kids and families they've grown so close to. We will be taking this summer to figure out what our next steps will be. But, although we'll be back, many people who served the school district, its students, and their communities won't be. These are the people who served as the Community Education Coordinators and the Community Collaborative Specialists for the district.

Mr. Gardner, Clay's Community Collaborative Specialist, served the school district for two decades. He was a constant face at Clay Elementary. He knew the families--kids' siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins. He knew where the kids lived, what organizations were in the neighborhood, when the group of older boys would come to the school to play basketball, which families needed a little extra help.

When he first heard about our program, he called me immediately. He had to have us in his school working with his kids. Over these last three years, we have had the pleasure of working closely with him. He was a no-nonsense educator who served as a necessary authority figure for so many children at his school, and he cared deeply about the well-being of so many in the Hyde Park neighborhood. His departure will be a terrible loss for the community. I'm sure the same is true for so many of the others who will be leaving with him. It's a tragedy that these dedicated folks will no longer be involved in the education of their kids.

For our program, this will be the summer that wasn't. But the empty schools won't stay empty for long. Unfortunately, the empty Community Education offices will, even though the communities are still in need.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Empires of Earth: This Summer, the Kids Rule

The United States of America no longer exists. At least, not the country we know as the United States. None of today's countries have survived. In their stead, four empires have divided the world between them. All control the same amount of resources. All can make any choice or perform any action they want. And all are run by children.

This summer, the Education Exchange Corps Summer Academy will house the greatest social experiment ever run at Clay Elementary that we have heard about. Our kids will be divided into four groups comprised of relatively equal numbers of elementary, middle, and high school students. Each of the four groups will manage an empire. They'll name their empires whatever they want, choose whatever government they think appropriate, and determine how national resources should be allocated.

Think a bunch of Kid Presidents.
http://kidpres.tumblr.com/image/77208611735

Each group will be assigned adult advisers, but every decision will be left to the kids, even decisions on how to make decisions. They'll choose whether to launch attacks on other countries, initiate international negotiations, or focus on domestic development. Their decisions will have consequences; an empire that focuses on the happiness of its citizens may be unprepared to defend against an attack by a militaristic empire. An empire that does not determine a process to make decisions may be paralyzed by governmental gridlock or civil war. An empire that supports a strong culture may appeal to the hearts and minds of the globe's citizens.

The empires will also have to deal with world events, some tied to the empires' characteristics as chosen by their managing children. Other events will be related to the interactions between the empires and the crises that inevitably crop up on the world stage. How will an empire that has chosen to govern by dictatorship respond to a rebellion? Will a democracy have an emergency powers doctrine to allow it to respond to an immediate security threat? What if the religious leadership disagrees with the political leaders of an empire--will dissent be tolerated? Will the empires cooperate on global environmental challenges, space exploration, or a variety of other monumental tasks?

Whoa now! These are kids attending a summer academy for four weeks. How are they going to be able to do any of this? Soon after we hatched this idea, we learned of the World Peace Game, which throws elementary school kids into a complex world and asks them to solve 50 interlocking crises. Kids regularly rise to the occasion and become immersed in the game.

Unlike the World Peace Game, our simulation will not ask kids to solve problems. Kids will face global challenges, but the choice to solve those problems or even to make long-term goals will be totally up to them. Our game will end after four weeks, by the end of which anything can happen. I like the concept of the World Peace Game, enough to have purchased John Hunter's book. But I'd like to see what happens in a world where world peace is possible but not valued over other options, where the specter of international competition haunts the hallways with multiple boards comparing the empires' strengths in the military, economy, arts, and sciences, among other measures. 

We won't be leaving the kids totally in the dark. During the program, we will teach the kids about different governments, economies, religions, traditions, and other national characteristics so the kids can make educated decisions about what will characterize their own empires. We will bring in guests to teach lessons and to consult with each empire about their plans. We will introduce kids to the historical empires that came before them and how they managed. We will read, write, do math, all for the sake of the empires' survival. We will give them responsibility and control over what happens this summer.

And then we will watch to see what happens when you put kids in charge of the world. 


Come join us: http://on.fb.me/1jXT3pt.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Peace Rally at Northwest Academy of Law

On Thursday, I volunteered at Northwest Academy of Law's Peace Rally. Northwest is a high school located in North St. Louis City. Washington University School of Law has been developing a deep relationship with the high school, and I was asked to help out by a fellow law student. Thursday was my first day visiting the school.

When I walked into the building, I was immediately greeted by several smiling high school students who were eager to help me. I didn't stay inside for long. I was one of the safety volunteers, and I, along with several others, put up barricades in the streets to prevent cars from interfering with the high school march on Riverview.

The Peace Rally begins.
The march was delayed by five, fifteen, then thirty minutes. As we began to wonder if the rally would ever start, suddenly a slowly moving police car appeared on the horizon, with hundreds of kids and community members right behind.

The kids may have been late, but they were ready to march. They shouted slogans involving the buzzwords "responsible," "peace," "resolve," "respect," and, of course, their school name. As this mass of kids passed through the street, people came out of their homes to watch. Firefighters emerged from their station. Drivers who could have been frustrated that they were blocked from using the street smiled when they learned why they had to turn around.

These kids started a neighborhood conversation, one that was full of joy and hope. And one that is desperately needed.

I spoke with some neighbors as the children passed by. When I told them the kids were marching for peace, they were happy and proud, but one also spoke with an urgency subdued by a status quo that has lasted for too long. Just the night before, someone was shooting in the neighborhood, maybe a block or two away from where the kids were marching. Just a handful of days ago, a man was found murdered in a car not too far up the street. One of the children spoke about some of the kids she knew who have died because of teen violence.

This rally was meant to wake up a community--not just those who live around the school, but everyone in St. Louis--and give kids positive, safe options for this summer.

Everyone there was so proud of these kids and the school staff for putting on this event. There are few things more impressive than seeing a group of kids demonstrate leadership and poise in the face of adversity. But the sad truth about St. Louis and many other areas in this country is that so many children live in neighborhoods where their very lives are in jeopardy, where they may have lost a friend or a family member to violence.

It would be a shame for this effort to fade away as just another news piece. That's why our organization will work with the school to offer a few jobs to their high school students as teaching assistants with our summer program. We encourage anyone who can help out to reach out and make a difference for these and so many other kids in St. Louis.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org

Monday, January 20, 2014

Our first grant! Thanks to the United Way

"Dear Elad,
I would like to congratulate you and your team on receiving a one-time $1,000 grant through Student United Way."

Today, we received our first grant! We will be using the money to run a summer academy for children at Clay Elementary. We are proud to have the United Way's support as we work to give all kids a chance to get a good education.

As we take time today to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his efforts to make America a fairer place, and how far we have come in pursuit of that dream, we shouldn't forget that we still have a ways to go.

There's no question that we can do more to give all children in this country a fair chance. Every dollar, every commitment of time, every piece of advice and support that we get goes to doing just that.

We appreciate the support you have given us, and we will continue to work hard to keep your trust. 


Elad Gross
President and Chief Executive Officer
Education Exchange Corps