Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

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 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

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 

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

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

Washington University in St. Louis '18