I believe that communities have the power, potential and the will to lift themselves out of poverty. In East Palo Alto, a poverty-afflicted community in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was not uncommon to hear that the high school drop out rate was 60%. But for that salient statistic, we can look at the converse and realize that in East Palo Alto, 40% of the kids were NOT dropping out of high school. Who are these kids and families? Amid a turbulent and poverty-afflicted community, why and how were these students successful?
When I worked at a college access nonprofit organization, I saw firsthand the reasons why these kids and families were successful. They leveraged the social capital that was around them. They had a loving teacher or nonprofit program manager who pushed them. They had a trailblazing mother or cousin who led the way for the entire family. It’s people talking to people, working together to find solutions for each other. Through this critical network we leveraged every single connection to ensure that our students were on a path to personal success.
I believe that this network can be scaled up to entire communities. What if we built the connective tissue in communities so that people could access this human-powered network at a larger scale. What if all families, community members, educators, nonprofit workers, business people, and leaders took ownership and responsibility for the future success of all children.
However this will require a shift in the way we currently think about the purpose of education. A few years ago I was planning an event that showcased our students’ successes to the community and needed a large venue. Naturally I thought to ask the neighborhood schools to see if they would allow us to borrow their gym for an evening, and I was shocked when a school principal was completely unwilling to help. She aggressively asked, “How many of MY students are you serving?” When I named only a handful, she rejected my request stating that she only allowed use of her premises for “her students.” It’s this kind of insular attitude that hinders relationship-building in the community. Instead of thinking just about “her students,” how can we change the community conversation to “our students”? I knew there had to be a better way.
The good news is that hundreds of nonprofits, community-based organizations and innovative schools and initiatives across the country have already made progress and action. There is a movement happening in the education sector towards rebuilding the system from the inside out and from the outside in. Although we’ve got a lot of new and innovative initiatives happening all across the country, many of these initiatives work in isolation, don’t collaborate, or don’t communicate — they’re still acting like that isolationist school principal, thinking about “her school” and “her students.”
We can change this.
With your help and with the help of many other supporters from communities across the nation, we will launch Connective Possibilities (CP, a working title), a social movement that will connect kids and families to vital poverty-fighting resources. CP aims to build the connective tissue in low-income communities to transform our lowest performing schools.
The vision is to create a human-centered platform in low-income communities across the country that will help to strengthen and innovate entire education systems from the ground level, rather than from the top-down.
The first phase of the movement will start at the ground level to address poverty-related issues that plague students and families from low-income communities. We will build a one-stop shop of all of the resources in the community in low-income schools. It’ll have a “Wikipedia” for who to go to for whatever issue kids and families are going through. We will staff them with heart-driven, innovative college students so that teachers can focus on teaching. There are a hundred more details about how this will work, and if you want I can even share the business plan with you.
Starting a new nonprofit organization is a daunting task, and I’ve spent enormous amounts of time in solitary reflection and in consultation with many supporters about the concept. However the time for action has come, and I’m incredibly excited announce that we will launch (and incubate) Connective Possibilities this year and do a full launch during summer 2012 (after I graduate from my masters program at Harvard).
Just like I believe that a community has to work together to improve schools, I believe that I can’t launch this organization by myself. Well, technically, I can, but that completely goes against the core beliefs that undergird this startup. I hope you’re intrigued and curious. I also hope you can join our growing movement to help families fight poverty and transform our nation’s schools.
For our youth,