Last spring, we set out to pilot our Learner Advocate Network with working parents at two Denver-based employers.
Over the course of one year, each family’s relationship with our Learner Advocates followed a similar progression, starting with 1) building trust and family context, 2) articulating learner identity, 3) accessing learning experiences, 4) setting learning goals, and 5) reflecting on learning and adjusting course. Families also connected to essential resources and participated in issue-specific workshops as needed, on relevant topics such as school choice.
Our pilot culminated at the end of May with each family planning out a summer of learning experiences. In partnership with their Advocate, learners and their parents determined how to spend a $250 scholarship. They used Blueprint4SummerCO to find opportunities that responded directly to their needs and aspirations, complementing what they get in school by gaining exposure to new concepts, forging new relationships, or building on existing passions. Some of them tried out the new ride share service Hop Skip Drive to get to and from activities.
These 15 ReSchool families live in 12 different zip codes and 4 different school districts. Some of them are new to Denver or even to the United States, while others have lived here for generations. Their kids span in age from newborns to 18-year-olds getting ready to move out of the house. Among them, 32 learners are attending 17 schools or childcare centers and 19 out-of-school learning providers. They are diverse across race, ethnicity, language, age, family structure, and income, and have had a wide range of experiences - from negative to positive - interacting with our education system. In other words, we believe they are representative of families all over the Denver metro region.
One young learner attends a school that prioritizes the humanities and global citizenship, so she will spend two weeks of her summer at Metro State University’s Summer Science Institute. Another student attends a school with an intensely rigorous academic program and few opportunities for physical expression, so he chose to spend his summer honing his basketball skills with the Denver Nuggets program. One mom encouraged her sons to go on their first expedition with Avid4Adventure, to expand their comfort taking healthy risks beyond the realm of their tight knit community. Another family was feeling the strain of a lack of quality time together after a busy year of many changes, and chose a Denver Zoo membership so they could partake in learning days as a unit.
Some of the older learners chose to take driver’s education, so they could get to and from work to save money for college. A student who is already college-bound spent his scholarship on a physics tutor, to ensure he didn’t slip behind before heading to the University of Colorado in the fall. Perhaps the most popular choice among ReSchool kids was visual and performing arts programming that many don’t get during school, at the Art Garage, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, or Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We're hearing directly from learners about the sense of empowerment that comes from being trusted to chart their own learning.
The map below shows where this learning occurs, and demonstrates the need for a reorganized system in which individual kids have their dynamic and ever-evolving needs and interests met in a range of places and spaces.
For an interactive version of this map, click here.
While we learn more about the existing supply and demand of learning providers in the metro region and what it tells us about quality, value, and equity, it’s clear that families are building their capacity to take advantage of various opportunities with the support of an Advocate, flexible learning dollars, and increased access to transportation. We’re also engaging in thoughtful reflection with ReSchool families after each new experience, to understand whether it met their expectations and how participating in it might impact their learning trajectory going forward.
As another part of our evaluation process, our partners at APA created a cost model that demonstrates the potential for significant cost savings to the employer by providing LAN support to their employees. For mission-aligned employers, we see an opportunity for great return on investment to both the organization and the employees, who have reported feeling more confident now about their capacity to navigate and advocate for their kids’ learning.
We are actively exploring opportunities with local employers who are interested in adopting the Learner Advocate Network approach to supporting their working parents. Stay tuned as we continue to iterate on one of the central elements of the ReSchool vision!