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May 6, 2016

"All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother." — Abraham Lincoln
First - would like to wish all of the mother’s in our organization a Happy Mother’s Day.    Appreciate each of you for your worth, your work, your walk and your wisdom.  Hope that you all have a beautiful day with your families and loved ones.   wanted to share (again) a throwback video in honor of all of our Mom’s at BPL and our extended BPL family.   As Kid President says in the clip, “What’s the secret to changing the world? Mom's!”    
I first met. Elayne Walker when I was considering applying to The Met to be an advisor.   She was trying to recruit me to be the “principal”/coordinator of the night school program she was going to be launching once the Public Street campus opened.    At the end she withdrew her unofficial offer and assured me that being an advisor would be best for me and would change my life.   She was right.     As a young advisor, Ms. Elayne would always look out for me (as she did for everyone). She always made sure that my students had opportunities outside of schools and let me know when there were community events that i should be present for (both for networking and my own professional development).   Felt like she was always looking out!  Always - and believe everyone that knew her, felt this way.     
Dennis was spot on about how much Elayne loved The Met and Big Picture!   As I transitioned into The Met leadership - we worked more closely as partners to provide scholarships to students, hold fundraisers together with my fraternity’s alumni chapter and programming for men of color through the world-class extended day program she helped organize for over a decade at The Met.  At the adult programs she ran in the evenings, Elayne made sure there was always daycare for little kids, families had food, transportation for those who may need it and that we were thinking about ALL families and everyone in our community at all times.  
When I think of the role of a mom, I think of a person who provides love, guidance, support and protection.   Elayne was my Met mom.   She made sure I ate.  She told me when I looked tired.   She reminded me about the importance of my work/life balance. She told me when I was wrong.   She treated my daughter like she was her own grandchild.  She invited us every summer to her place on Martha’s Vineyard.  And she did so much for the Providence community.   She was special and her spirit will live on forever! 
Look forward to getting back into the groove after a slow-return to work this past week.  

Very sad news from Providence this week - Elayne Walker Cabral, who had been with the Met and by extension the Met since the very first days, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. “Z” was an amazing woman with an outsized personality tremendous heart, passion and compassion that filled up a room. She is missed and It’s hard for me to believe that she won’t be there with a warm hug to greet me and other visitors to the Met. One of my first memories of BPL is at the very first Big Bang at Bryant College. That very first evening, the first person to grab the microphone at the Karaoke, was Elayne and she belted out a rousing rendition of “The Greatest Love of All.” I’ve been connecting with many of my advisees who had special bonds with her over their years at the Met - Elayne’s had a way of connecting quickly and deeply with people and she wore on her sleeve and in her heart that “the children are our future.”

The most recent that I was at the Met, it was to meet and “chaperone” a number of visitors attending the Entrepreneurship Center Pitch Competition. The opening pitch of that day was by a 10th grade student Owen, aka “Astrowen” a young man who seems likely to help define the future… stay tuned!

It’s been awhile since I’ve TGIed, and there’s a lot to catch up on… Truly this period of the spring is “silly season” as we are prepping for the upcoming BPL Board meeting (and 20th Met anniversary!) and seem to have more exciting projects popping up every day...

At my son’s early childhood center (he’s 3½) they spent a professional development day thinking about how they might best engage the children in outdoor play. They sent home a survey asking parents about their own experiences playing outdoors. I didn’t realize that I had such strong memories, that they were quite different than what my own children are likely to experience, and the ways in which they are (by analogous extension) what I hope that BPL students get to experience when they go “outside” of the school/classroom and venture into the adult world to leave to learn. I feel that a similar exercise might be an interesting way to launch PD/training conversations with educators across the BPL network. Here are the questions and my responses:

What are the ways YOU played outside as a child?

During the school year, I grew up in a suburb that still had a lot of undeveloped land, woods and fields. After school each day, I would walk home and drop off my backpack, then (starting in about 1st or 2nd grade) my parents allowed me to wander out into the backyard which led into large wooded area (20+acres?) and once I got a bit older to walk to other much larger "reservation" areas. I engaged in all kinds of exploration including looking for insects, slugs salamanders, worms, birds, etc. I went fishing, climbed trees, rode dirt bikes, built tree forts, shot sling shots, made small fires, planted seeds, ate berries, whittled wood, etc.

I spent the summers in a cottage on the shore of a lake on Cape Cod where I was given free reign of the neighborhood and also could wander to similarly undeveloped wooded areas. I also was allowed to go out in a rowboat, canoe, sunfish and other small watercraft alone, soon after I learned how to swim. At the age of 7, so long as I stayed within line of sight I could take any of these out in the cove and go fishing/swimming with minimal supervision.

How does your family spend time outdoors today?

In the warm months on weekends, we are creating something similar to our children to what I experienced in the summer (see above)... During the week, there is less exploration... Due to the more urban environment, most outdoor play during the week is confined to playgrounds and parks - we also do some gardening in our backyard.

What do you want to teach children about the natural world?

That it is AWESOME!... and amazing... and beautiful... and full of opportunities for discovery.
That it is busy and active.
That it is slow and incremental and requires close observation and connection to understand.
That it is fragile, and also tough and unforgiving and resilient.
That all living things should be treated with respect (even those that we eat)
That the "warm and fuzzy cute stuff" isn't any more important than any other living things.
That holding insects and worms and all kinds of other little beasties, even if occasionally they smell bad or are slimy or even bite or sting you is AWESOME!
That they are a part of it.
To love and appreciate it

Some articles worth checking out (I’ve been facebook and tweeting these as well)

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

  • Leo Buscaglia, author (31 Mar 1924-1998)

  1. EdWeek had [another] annual article about the Gallup Student poll results showing how student engagement declines over the course of compulsory schooling (this graph is likely not a surprise to anyone)

However, this blog post included a bit more detail that I feel makes for great “fodder” for BPL

2. As we’re working out details for the upcoming Big Bang, we know that in some way we’ll be engaging with Disney while we’re in Orlando. I thought that this piece from Fast Company about how Disney “designs for happiness” was intriguing and one that we might share with folks in advance of Big Bang. When I think about the way in which “spaces” and “rituals” can contribute to students’ and families’ experiences of BPL schools, there seem to be some things that we could borrow from this.

"The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented."

  • Dennis Gabor, electrical engineer and physicist

3. This article from The Atlantic entitled “How effective ar Career Academies?” is worth reading… I have found that BPL is sometimes incorrectly conflated into the antiquated version of career and technical preparation that aligns with a more Western-european approach to development of skilled workers for a predictable and static economy rather than the rapidly evolving one in which we live. I was glad to see Louie F. Rodriguez, an associate professor in the college of education at California State University San Bernardino, who co-authored Small Schools and Urban Youth quoted in the piece. See this section in particular:

Rodriguez adds that a major oversight in these kinds of college-and-career-readiness reforms is inattention to school culture, and the failure of “visionary educators [to] embrace career academies with a critical lens.” He stresses that many efforts are overly-concerned with setting up the structure of the academies, overlooking conditions that can replicate and perpetuate age-old inequalities for youth of color. “What kind of experiences do we want students to have? We need to intentionally create environments that contribute to the social, cultural, and intellectual development of our students. A structure alone won’t do that.”

4. One of my former advisees from the Met in Providence (class of 2006) wrote this profile of Worth Motorcycles, a quite intriguing upstart/rebellious/innovative motorcycle repair shop that is also a lot of other things. Be warned that this piece is a bit “salty”

5. Here’s correspondence that I received from a former Met Sacramento student’s mother. He graduated a few years back and is thriving in college, but also clearly knows how to engage in “Leaving to Learn”

So, Andrew, I was just telling someone that I think the Met education is the reason Sawyer was able to land a terrific internship this summer, so I thought, why not tell the former internship coordinator himself?!  He cultivated a contact, applied 2 summers in a row, requested a shadow day when he was in NYC last summer, reapplied this December, got phone interviews, and this year, got the internship for this summer!  

That same parent emailed me that, “A good, old friend of mine, Jordana Raiskin, had her letter published in the New Yorker magazine. I really like what she wrote so I've cut and pasted it from her facebook page. Sending it as food for thought.

Though I applaud AltSchool’s desire to create an educational environment that is both interesting and productive, the endeavor strikes me as geared not toward children but, rather, toward parents who are focussed on finding achievement-oriented systems that will create the next generation of leaders. When educationalists fetishize “big data,” we lose the learning and the emotional connections that are fostered when children engage in unstructured play. These activities and relationships are fundamental, and they activate children’s imagination and curiosity, and inspire exploration. - Jordana Raiskin, Austin, Texas

6. This had me shaking my head… Apparently the NYT feels that it is worth doing a story about Kahoot, an “app” that allows you to more easily run classroom quiz competitions?!?... Really?!?... sure it might look slick, and enable you capture some data about whether kids have memorized a variety of esoteric facts, but these kinds of activities are ones that I remember BORING me when I was in 7th grade… Is this really the best that EdTech can come up with?... Just wait til we bring ImBlaze to fruition!