Guest blog post by Lindsay Ridinger, manager of Wow! Communications and Marketing at Summit Education Initiative in Akron, Ohio.
Growing up, Frank was always “the new kid.”
Frank’s family moved so many times during his childhood that it was difficult for him to get on track in school. He stumbled at every step, from cradle to career, and his family did not know how to help. Frank eventually gave up and dropped out of school.
After being on unemployment a few times, Frank filed for bankruptcy to stop all the calls he received from collectors. Now, Frank worries about his children’s safety in the neighborhood where they live. His kids hate school, just like he did.
Frank’s story, as well as the stories of 11 other fictional students, came to life during Summit Education Initiative (SEI)’s Cradle to Career Experience plenary session at the 2018 Cradle to Career Network Convening. SEI’s executive director, Derran Wimer, and senior research associate, Dr. Matthew Deevers, led nearly 500 attendees through their interactive presentation, in which everyone had a role to play.
During Friday’s plenary session, 12 individuals volunteered to play the roles of students, while all other audience members became advocates of those students. At the beginning of the presentation, Wimer and Deevers directed the students to stand along the continuum on stage.
Tall, retractable banners — one representing prosperity and the other, hardship — stood at either end of the continuum. As the presentation continued, the 12 students moved closer to or farther away from prosperity and hardship based on educational outcomes described in their fictional student profiles. During the first round of the experience, advocates could only watch their students’ progress — and perhaps shout words of encouragement — but subsequent rounds included opportunities to support their students’ success.
The goal? To get yourself or your student into the prosperity zone — or as close to it as possible — by the end of each round.
“We designed this experience to help community members develop a greater understanding of how each transition point in a child’s educational progress impacts future success and opportunities into adulthood,” Deevers says. SEI’s work addresses six transition points, or key indicators, within a child’s education: kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, ninth-grade success, college and/or career readiness and college and/or career persistence.
During the experience, Frank and his classmates encountered different pathways that led them to their life experiences after high school graduation. All audience members and participants saw how advocates’ resources — as well as unexpected setbacks — affected the students’ outcomes.
“Students, get a good look at each other,” Deevers tells the participants on stage at one point. “This may be the last time you see some of your friends. Some of you will enroll in honors and advanced courses and take on leadership roles. But some students will struggle to keep up and school will become something they try to escape rather than embrace.”
Since January 2017, SEI has delivered the presentation to more than 650 people from community organizations, school districts and businesses in Summit County and beyond. A few Cradle to Career Network members have purchased the Cradle to Career Experience materials to adapt the presentation for their own communities. The Cradle to Career Experience has received local press in the Akron Beacon Journal.
“We ultimately seek commitment from business leaders and employers, funders, parents and other community members to volunteer or donate their time, money and/or other resources to help more Summit County students and adults lead prosperous lives,” Wimer says. “The interventions we discuss with participants after the experience will hopefully inspire community members to get more involved.”
Lindsay Ridinger is manager of Wow! Communications and Marketing at Summit Education Initiative in Akron, Ohio. Summit Education Initiative is a nonprofit organization working to increase the educational attainment of individuals and their families living in Summit County.