Inspiring Innovations in Education

Today I had the unexpected good fortune to attend a TedX event focused on Education Innovation and, while in theory I was only there to support my cousin Jake who was speaking (and had flown in from the UK), in reality I found it incredibly inspiring. And intriguing because here were these people with fantastic ideas for challenging the status quo, advancing education and creating new generations of globally-minded, community-focused and technology-leveraged children and future leaders. Who wouldn’t be inspired?

Three talks stood out for me.

The first was by Julia de la Torre of Primary Source and focused on introducing global education into the curriculum as early as K-12. Empowering young, eager minds with a meaningful understanding of different cultures, not just through one-off International Days when they learn about one country’s food and history, but through new types of curricula, new models for learning, collaborations across classrooms, even countries. This really resonated for me: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel far and wide, to have lived in different countries, to speak different languages. As a European, this is not so unusual. I desperately want for my kids to have the same exposure, appreciation, challenges. I’m only just starting to experience the American Public School system and I sincerely hope my kids’ education and mindset are able to expand beyond Massachusetts. I know my husband and I play a large role in opening their eyes to the world beyond Framingham but I would love for their school to also forge a large part of this global education.

The second talk was by my cousin Jake Hayman of Future First. Jake created this organization to tackle the issue of social mobility and the reality that your family’s wealth – or not – foretells your future. Jake talked about how hard it is for lower-class kids to break out; that the cycle of poor education and poor jobs and poor prospects repeats itself. But that a solution lies in bringing these kids, hope, mentoring and financial support via their school’s alumni. Future First’s mission is to help schools make the most of their communities using the enthusiasm, experience, skills and talents of former students. To quote Jake, “We can flood schools with army of alumni ready to give back.” In the UK, more than 500 high schools have bought into this concept and have instituted powerful alumni networks. Now, Jake is bringing this to the US; and I wish him so much luck. This is not about innovating in education, but about creating meaningful bridges between classrooms and communities that can effect change and progression. I respect that.

The last talk that inspired me was by Eileen Rudden, who recently served as Chief Officer, College and Career Preparation at Chicago Public Schools. She presented some shocking facts about how US students might be making it to college but are increasingly dropping out; the root cause being that their high school education has not fully prepared them for college success. Eileen is creating a Massachusetts-based cluster of ed tech startups to challenge this, bringing together startup companies that are innovating across aspects of education. After all, Eileen said, “How come teachers do not have software solutions at their disposal, like almost any other profession?” Innovation in ed tech can not only improve kids’ ability to learn but also substantially improve teacher efficiencies.

Each of these topics hit home to me, as a parent, an expat, and a passionate follower of technology and innovation. I’m inspired. But I’m just not sure what to do with this inspiration, how to channel it. Still processing it all. There’s change needed. Ideas are a good start. But action is required.

Crossing My Fingers & Toes for Free, Full-Day Kindergarten

Like so many other local families, I’ve been watching the news out of each Framingham School Committee meeting as eagerly as episodes of Mad Men.

The good news is that it appears that everyone is in favor of implementing free, full-day kindergarten across Framingham’s elementary schools. The budgetary details have been worked out. All systems go?

But, wait, it still needs to be approved through the Town Meeting – and that meeting starts tonight!

Parents of five year olds across the town are waiting with baited breath.

Why does it matter so much to us? Here’s why it matters to me and my family:

  • Free – Who doesn’t like free? Truth is, we were prepared to pay for full-day as we did for our older son. In fact, the cost of full-day kindergarten felt like a huge discount compared to the cost of preschool. But for many, it’s not an option. Implementing free, full-day kindergarten will be a huge break for large numbers of families across town. Not just for their wallets but also for the two to three extra hours they’ll get (to work and/or organize busy lives) instead of having to pick up kids in the middle of the day.
  • Full-day – While we all acknowledge that “full” in this context is a misnomer, the fact is if we don’t get universal full-day, we get thrown into a lottery system and may end up with half-day. This element of uncertainty makes me very nervous. Having to wait till late May or even early June to find out makes me hyperventilate! If we don’t get full-day kindergarten, it will be a huge problem for our family. My husband and I both work full-time. Our son attends an after-school program that does not accommodate half-day kindergartners. Will we have to find separate transportation and care for our daugher? How will this all work logistically? How much extra will it cost? Is it even worth my working?

Of course, I’m coming at this from how this decision impacts me and my husband. But what about the kids? In my opinion, three hours of school barely counts as school, especially for those children that are already used to spending all day in a preschool setting.

So many questions, so much angst. I know I’m not alone in this. Please, Town Meeting people, do us all a favor and pass free, full-day kindergarten so we all know where we stand.

Yours with baited breath and clutching a brown paper bag,

One of Many Anxious Working Mothers

(This post originally appeared in the Framingham Patch.)

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