Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Monday, October 13, 2014

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 

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