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Lessons from Kinvolved HQ: Perspectives from a third grade teacher

By Tips and Resources

Packing up my third grade classroom at the end of June, I had only a limited perspective of the education reform movement and the education technology world — that of an educator and Teach For America corps member. Now that my summer at Kinvolved is coming to a close, I feel as though I have gained a more textured view, and a little bit more perspective.

There are three key takeaways that for me, as a new teacher, were revelations about how I could fit this month-long trip into the world of EduTech into my classroom.

1. No two schools are alike.

As an educator, I spend a significant bulk of my time within the four walls of my school. Excepting the occasional professional development session or meeting, I don’t visit other school sites during the school year. At Kinvolved this summer, we visited many different kinds of schools. And, at the helm of each of these sites, was a different principal, a different administration, with a different staff, and a different student body.

Though these schools commonly served diverse students from urban, low-income communities, in alignment with Kinvolved’s mission, these schools ranged in every other possible way. They catered to different age groups. They are specialized in different subjects. No school buildings, even, are alike enough to be indistinguishable from one another.

But still, when people talk about education technology, or about the education movement, they lump these schools together as one entity.

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In school reform and education technology, I think this means that these services need to be tested for malleability. Anyone, with any needs, should be able to gain from social and technology services. In my own classroom, I am beginning to recognize that there’s not one “way to teach.” Different teachers, and different schools, create different points of access for students.

2. Technology should be accessible to all teachers — not just the tech geeks, or even the moderately savvy.

When my school’s technology coordinator stepped out last year, I took over a few of her responsibilities. A lot of the time, this meant I was referred to other teachers who needed help installing a program or reading an unreadable file. Just because a teacher isn’t the most tech savvy doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t be able to easily access to a tool.

This summer, we attended a panel where one panelist mentioned he didn’t like trainings for teachers who didn’t know how to turn on their iPads. One of the things I appreciate about Kinvolved is, they will teach you to do something as simple as how to turn on your iPad if you need them to. I think all tech companies (and many of them do) should have this attitude about their customers. We’re providing a tool, and a service, but we can’t do anything to create change if teachers can’t use our product.

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Now, when I seek out tools for my classroom that’s the first thing I’m looking for: tools that prioritize teachers and students, and not applications that seem designed for a business and not a classroom.

3. Education innovation is happening.

In my first year as a teacher, it was surprisingly easy to feel disconnected from the education reform movement. My students sometimes seem to be completely disconnected from the media’s abstractions about national youth, which can make it feel easily to be disillusioned by the influx of initiatives and unsure about my role in the movement.

Working with Kinvolved this summer, I attended meetings and panel events, and learned about the work of lots of committed organizations, all the while working with a team of very passionate people. I met principals who, like mine, were committed to their kids and to the educational mantras they had posted around their offices. I learned about organizations like Good Shepherd Services, and The Children’s Aid Society. I got to explore education communities outside of my own school in a way I hadn’t fully been able to since before I started teaching.

Their commitment really informed my sense of the education reform community, and reinvigorated my faith in the eventual success of its mission. And the re-exposure to that sort of commitment and vigilance is something I will carry into the fall.

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Contributor: Michele Narov is Kinvolved’s Summer Business Development Associate. She is responsible for developing and fostering partnerships with schools, after school programs, and community organizations dedicated to improving student success. Michele is a Teach For America corps member, and serves as a third grade math and science teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

Defining Student Success in the South Bronx with South Bronx Rising Together

By Tips and Resources

The South Bronx Rising Together (SBRT) initiative’s vision is to transform the South Bronx, specifically Community District 3, currently the poorest in NYC, into “a vibrant community of infinite opportunity where people aspire to live, work, and raise families.” On July 18th, Kinvolved co-founder, Miriam Altman, and I had the chance to attend the SBRT’s “Deep Dive,” to learn more about how we could collaborate with other NYC organizations to achieve this shared vision for this high-potential community.

As I exited the five train and headed towards the Urban Health Plan Care Pavilion, I was flanked by close to 70 stakeholders from 40 different organizations. We had commuted from different parts of the city (Miriam and I a full 17 subway stops from our Kinvolved home in Brooklyn).

When we arrived, we were divided into seven tables. Each table represented a specific goal that would help the South Bronx meet the SBRT vision statement.

Abe Fernandez of The Children’s Aid Society and Elizabeth Clay Roy of Phipps Neighborhoods explained the lengthy process they had undergone to establish the seven goals. Now we, the participants, were tasked with quantifying each goal into three quantifiable outcomes that would represent stepping-stones on the way to realizing the large vision.

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We were seated at the table for goal three, “All succeed in school.” In the minutes before the meeting had begun, we had gotten acquainted with our tablemates from organizations like the Children’s Aid Society, Columbia University, and the NYC Dept. of Education, among others. Like us, they had experience in the education reform movement and have committed their work to finding ways to best serve our city’s children.

Still, the task was not easy. As we began our attempt to break down “success” into three quantifiable outcomes, we realized that success is a complicated concept. As a group, we didn’t want to reduce “success” solely to academics, and we didn’t want to prioritize one age group in preK-12th grade over another.

The New York City Department of Education partner at our table pointed out that specific benchmarks were important for different reasons. Reading level and mathematics level are especially important at grade three as predicators for later success, but similarly high school readiness and long-term thinking skills are important during middle school. We learned that transition years, from elementary to middle and middle to high school, are especially formative.

We considered the role that a community takes in the education space. Based on the experiences of past educators and parents at our table, we didn’t believe students could be fully successful without the investment of the community. We recognized the need to establish a shared the community value of education.

We talked about the importance of nurturing our students. As a third grade public school teacher, I recognize the need to focus on our gifted students as much as we focus on our more struggling students. Other people at our table also talked about making sure students who drop out can re-enter schools and providing students access to mentors.

The discussion was interesting and fruitful. We raised many indicators of success to which I hadn’t given previous thought and might translate into my life as a teacher. This fall, I look forward to incorporating professionalism and tailored mentorship into my third grade classroom.

At the end of the day, we came to the following three outcomes, which we hope envelop all of points things we talked about:

First: Students meet grade level expectations (including reading and math levels, attendance, other academic areas, high school readiness in middle school, and college and career readiness in high school).

Second: Students are supported and nurtured by their school (including access to a mentor, support systems for failing students, opportunities to re-enter school after dropping out, and enrichment program for gifted schools).

Third: Students should have access to the community (be it community programs, outreach events, and backing of school events by community vendor, i.e. the feeling that the neighborhood values education).

We really enjoyed our time with the South Bronx Rising Together coalition, and we were excited to be in a room with so many impassioned people who are committed to strengthening the South Bronx community. We look forward to developing the partnerships we established, and are interested to see how the coalition will proceed to help make these goals and this vision a reality.

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Contributor: Michele Narov is Kinvolved’s Summer Business Development Associate. She is responsible for developing and fostering partnerships with schools, after school programs, and community organizations dedicated to improving student success. Michele is a Teach For America corps member, and serves as a third grade math and science teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

Balanced Leadership: Can lifestyle and gender balance at and outside of work lead to sustainability?

By Tips and Resources

Such a concentration of females as there was at the 2014 Women Entrepreneurs Festival is hard to come by in the entrepreneurial sphere, and even more rare in tech. My company, Kinvolved, fits into the rare three percent of female-led tech startups that exist. I’m proud to be a feminist, and one who comes from a long line of feminists before me. Yet, I am wary of the narrative I find to prevail at many women’s events: women must expect to make tremendous personal sacrifices, even in some ways “act like men,” if they expect to become leaders within male-dominated workplaces and fields.

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I was pleased to find that the message of WE Fest was the contrary: choose the path that makes sense for you as a female leader, and empower the men around you to recognize that they neither must fill traditional male roles. In essence, women can fill gaps in the workplace left by men who take time for their families and passions outside of work and vice versa.

The conference opened with a keynote by Anne-Marie Slaughter, currently the President and CEO of the New America Foundation. Well-known in the feminist debate for her 2011 article in The Atlantic, titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Slaughter described her personal decision to step down as the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department in 2011 (she was the first woman to hold this post), “because of [her] desire to be with [her] family and [her] conclusion that juggling high government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”

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I recall reading both Slaughter’s resignation and subsequent Atlantic piece in 2011. As a daughter of an active feminist who came of age during the Women’s Rights Movement, I remember feeling a sense of disappointment. However, having had the opportunity to hear Ms. Slaughter speak in person, I understand that she of course did not quit working. She took the steps necessary to ensure she could live a fruitful, well-rounded life, while retaining the stamina to remain a committed female leader. The key to success for both genders, she said, is to support one another equally both within and outside of the workplace.

I learned from Ms. Slaughter that it takes long-term commitment to create lasting change for the next generation of women, and men. The reality is that there is more to life than work. The job title, “Startup Co-founder” and phrase “well-rounded lifestyle” seemingly mix as well as oil and water. Yet, my most trusted advisor (my dad), also a social venture founder, recently told gave me the following advice: “It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make an idea become reality, but you can’t let your work come at the expense of your personal relationships.”

Despite the lengthy days, anxiety, challenges, recognition, and successes that come with starting a venture, I’ve recently realized that sustaining my passion for Kinvolved requires me to accept that there is, in fact, life outside of Kinvolved. It is acceptable, even necessary for founders to have external interests, whether spending time with family and friends, a significant other, volunteering, or traveling. It is the responsibility of both male and female leaders to cultivate cultures that both promote quality work and balance for both genders.

Contributor: Miriam Altman, Co-founder, Kinvolved, miriam@kinvolved.com 

Affirmation that 2014 will be a break out year for female entrepreneurs

By Tips and Resources

An abundance of brilliant minds, pairs of stilettos, and 2014’s latest fashion trends greeted New York University’s campus to kick off the New Year on January 14th and 15th. Hundreds of women gathered at the 4th Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Festival, hosted by NYU’s ITP. My Kinvolved Co-founder, Miriam, and I had the opportunity to participate in the celebratory affair. The WE Festival was packed with networking, education, and inspiration. These series of events have pushed me reflect on what it means to be a female entrepreneur.

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“Let yourself be scared to death. Wild happiness lives on the other side of your own fear.”  Lauren Zander, Co-founder and Chairman of the Handel Group, confidently said this during her opening remarks on Saturday morning alongside Joanne Wilson. Lauren pushed us to look at fear straight in the face, and acknowledge that failure can be one of the most brilliant things we will experience as entrepreneurs. Failure is accompanied by many lessons that will make us smarter, work harder, and be better at what we do. I have certainly experienced failure as I have started by own venture, but I more importantly have learned that hard work, grit, and passion can triumph any setback or defeat.

“Let the little failures fuel you.” One of the few, yet fearless women technology founders, Crystal Hutter, CEO of Edmodo, shared this as advice when I asked her what she wished she would have known ten years ago. Crystal spoke to the ups and downs we all face as entrepreneurs, but encouraged the women in the audience to do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. She advised we turn frustrations and failures into positive energy.

“Women have 12 percent more prefrontal cortex than men. Women are more intuitive, but we do not always trust our intuition.” Geraldine Layborne, serial entrepreneur, Founder of Oxygen Media, first President of Nickelodeon and the President of Disney/ABC Cable Network, gave us a brief biology lesson about how our brains differ from men’s. The prefrontal cortex enables us to process multiple thoughts at once, and is the connective tissue that allows us to talk about our business plans, plans for Friday night, and plans to take over the world all in the same conversation. This portion of our brain explains why women make great strategic and intuitive thinkers. Research proves that women tend to combine intuitive and logical thinking more seamlessly than men, a quality that is integral to leading a business. Yet, Geraldine questioned why it has taken so long for women to be at the forefront of business decisions, and why women sometimes counterintuitvely fail to trust their intuition. The science and facts are on our side, ladies. Let’s keep pushing the needle forward.

“Often women put up a guard that is off-putting. I say free love.” Geraldine stressed that we women need to be better at self-promotion and more supportive of our female colleagues. The best way to advance our role as women in the entrepreneurial arena is to do these two things. As Geraldine advanced in her career, she recognized herself as a guardian to make sure women around her were heard. If you are not comfortable promoting your company or yourself, share accolades for your business partner, or the woman you just met sitting next to you. She will appreciate it more than you know.

“Forge your own path to make things easier for other women.” During a Q&A session of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s opening keynote, my friend and fellow entrepreneur, Michele Spiezia, expressed how she wants to give back more to the WE community. She said she was not quite sure how to do this, since her early-stage venture requires so much of her limited time. Anne-Marie gave her the task to “just succeed.” “Just succeeding” is no small thing to do. However, by the pure nature of more women succeeding and building their own empires today, we are making the lives of women coming after us that much easier tomorrow. As we make the entrepreneurial playing field more diverse, we open up so many invaluable opportunities to create innovative solutions to our world’s most complex problems.

We live in a fortunate and opportune time to make our mark as entreprenuers, to build things that will make the world a better place, and to afford opportunities to women, and men, that will come after us. The Festival showcased this, and exhibited that 2014 will in fact be a break out year for women entrepreneurs

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© All rights reserved by ITP Photos (Pictured above: Miriam and me networking at the WE Festival!)

Contributor: Alexandra Meis, Co-founder, Kinvolved, alexandra@kinvolved.com. Follow Alex on twitter @alexedtech and @kinvolved. 

The Most Important Education Reform: Reducing Absenteeism

By Tips and Resources
Achievement and graduation rates are not going to improve if students are not showing up for school. It’s an issue that’s finally getting a lot of attention.

Educational initiatives ranging from increasingly rigorous teacher evaluations to national Common Core standards to STEM and early-childhood literacy programs are gaining rapid momentum. All of these approaches, and more, can have a hand in holistically reforming and improving our schools. But the reality is that if students do not first show up on time to school every day, these innovative programs and reforms will be lost on them.

While research shows that attendance is one of three key predictors of high-school graduation as early as sixth grade, 7.5 million students nationwide miss an entire month of school annually. In New York City, the nation’s largest school district, 20 percent of students miss a month each year. Until as recently as five years ago, attendance was not even accurately recorded in cities as large as Washington, D.C.

Many factors contribute to these high rates of absenteeism, but one of the greatest is family engagement. Regardless of socioeconomic status, it is the most important factor in children’s academic success. Yet parents and families, particularly in underserved communities in which up to 50 percent of children are chronically absent from school, are often uniformed of their children’s attendance and academic standing until it is too late. A Gates Foundation studyreported that 71 percent of recent dropouts thought that increased communication with their families would the best way to have kept them in school. Of those dropouts, less than 47 percent reported that their families were informed when they had been absent.

The good news is that there is increasing recognition of the importance of school attendance. Government leaders are talking about the issue: California Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for example, recently co-wroteLos Angeles Times op-ed column on the need for accountability to address absenteeism. Lawmakers are holding school districts accountable for attendance and linking their state funding to improvement. And nonprofit and for-profit organizations are collaborating to provide education about these problems and tools to help solve them.

These collaborations are going a long way toward bringing the attendance crisis into the public consciousness. Public awareness campaigns financed by governments, private donors and nonprofits are popping up across the country, from Newark to Minneapolis to Sacramento. City initiatives, such as New York City’s Mayor’s Task Force on Truancy and Absenteeism, are drawing on research from nonprofits like Attendance Works and piloting tools to promote attendance and family engagement. Nonprofits including Get Schooled are educating students about attendance in partnership with community-based programs such as City Year.

The Grad Nation initiative has set a goal of increasing national high-school completion rates from the current 75 percent to 90 percent by 2020. Closing a 15-percentage-point gap is just seven years won’t be easy, and improving attendance alone will not close the nation’s achievement gap. But by working together to ensure that all students are in school all day every day, government, the public and the private sectors each can have a hand in providing our youth with the basic opportunity to learn.

Contributor: Miriam Altman, Co-founder, Kinvolved, miriam@kinvolved.com 

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