Read descriptions of these timely, early-stage projects that are aiming to shift practice in the social sector.
Several recent developments have provided an opportunity for mission-aligned investment in Chester, PA. After many years of decline and then vacancy, entrepreneurs are returning to Avenue of the States. With strong entrepreneurial leadership emerging, the arts are poised to ignite an urban renaissance in Chester. Unlike other artist driven urban revivals, the leaders are from Chester and are dedicated to developing and showcasing local talent for local audiences, nurturing arts enterprises and creating a distinct Chester arts movement. A Program-Related Investment (PRI) in the form of a low-interest loan to New Day Chester, Inc. will provide the funding needed to continue rehabbing three of the six buildings, which will be at the core of the arts district. Since this would be Barra’s first PRI there is a significant opportunity for Barra to learn, and share its learning, about this emerging tool for foundations and nonprofits.
Big Picture Philadelphia will plan for the K-12 Community School of Sharswood (Sharswood School). The Sharswood School will adopt and adapt the nationally recognized Big Picture Learning (BPL) model, including BPL’s Learning Through Internship (LTI) approach which places students in internships aligned with growth fields to provide pathways to living wage jobs. The school will also include grades 13 and 14 through a collaboration with the Community College of Philadelphia, which will allow students to stay at the school while pursuing post-secondary education. The Sharswood School will be the first K-12 school of The School District of Philadelphia and the first to provide extended learning for an additional two years. This project is part of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s $500 million investment in the redevelopment of the Sharswood/Blumberg neighborhood.
Drexel University (Drexel) will lead the efforts of the Digital On-Ramps (DOR) collaborative network of 13 agencies and employers to test digital badging in Philadelphia. Like Girl Scout badges (but virtual), digital badges are designed to demonstrate skills and provide opportunities that follow from completing the badge. Digital badging is gaining recognition as an innovation for reimagining education; integrating formal, informal and blended learning; and recognizing industry credentials. In an era when schools are looking to broaden modes of learning and the internet provides an ever-expanding pathway to learning, traditional resumes and transcripts are no longer enough. Badging is a practical approach to capturing a more complete picture of an individual. It has the potential to transform how employers and admissions officers evaluate applicants. Drexel will work with LRNG, which is creating a digital platform that combines in-school, out-of-school, work-based and online learning opportunities in a manner that is visible and accessible to all. By partnering with LRNG, Drexel becomes part of a national network of communities implementing badging.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (Law Center) has an illustrious history of ensuring vulnerable populations have access to fundamental resources, particularly special education. Like many legal services agencies, the Law Center possesses deep knowledge in a specialized area of the law that is of interest to varied constituencies (parents, educators, lawyers, social workers, etc.). However, they do not have the resources to create a training delivery model that is self-sustaining. To do so requires understanding marketing, event planning and curriculum development—all areas that are outside the mission of a legal services organization. Further, the training they conduct is not like traditional legal training geared towards attorneys—it is meant to bring the range of constituencies together to build networks and understanding, making it different from other legal education providers. The Law Center proposes creating a separate entity to further their mission of delivering specialized information to the widest audience possible. To do this, the Center hopes to further its mission while creating a stronger business model. As a social enterprise of this type is a new approach for a legal service agency, but one that others could emulate, the research into the viability of this model can serve to inform this sector.
Through “Symphony for a Broken Orchestra,” Temple Contemporary seeks to answer the question “How can we get more music back into the schools?” in a creative, sustainable way. In support of and in partnership with The School District of Philadelphia (District), this project will teach music teachers in the District how to repair some of the District’s 1,500 broken musical instruments, returning them to the classroom and the hands of children. How-to videos will be created and music repair kits will be provided to all District schools with music programs. Opportunities will also be provided for the public to learn more about the District’s music programs and instrument repair. The program has the potential to spark a chain reaction in other cities facing financial challenges in providing music education by creating a low-cost, replicable, school-centered and sustainable model.
While the number of K-12 schools adopting innovative approaches to education continue to expand, training for teachers in these methodologies has not kept up. In collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and Drexel University School of Education, The School District of Philadelphia will design and pilot a program for training pre-service teachers which aligns with the varied modes of learning now being offered in schools. The program will leverage Penn and Drexel’s deep expertise while supporting the District’s development of creative new approaches to education. The project has the potential to inform how other schools of education partner with school districts.
Tiny WPA’s Building Hero Project provides design, leadership and entrepreneurship skills to individuals ages 16 and up who want to be part of a diverse community of civic change agents. The Project harnesses the enthusiasm of those interested in the maker movement by providing deeper learning and connections to a trade. The Project centers on an 8-week training program where participants acquire the design and fabrication skills needed to create products and the know-how to undertake neighborhood revitalization and design-build improvement projects for the community. Using lessons learned from national models, Tiny WPA will build the Project into a sustainable social enterprise that provides fabrication services by Building Heroes to the design and manufacturing sector.
Northeast Philadelphia is a rapidly changing community and its neighborhood high school, Northeast High School (NEHS), is a unique microcosm of the growing diversity. NEHS is the largest public school in Philadelphia and one of the most diverse high schools in the nation, serving over 3,000 students, with 56 languages spoken and 750 English as a second language students. Currently, there are few opportunities for channeling this level of diversity in positive ways. Al-Bustan will engage NEHS students, parents, faculty and staff in a multi-faceted arts program that will use deep exploration of cultural identity and connectedness to further important conversations about diversity at NEHS and in other schools and neighborhoods. This work has the potential to promote understanding of and have a deep impact on communities that are often overlooked and, therefore, misunderstood.
Based on evidence that demonstrates teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in student success, Jounce Partners seeks to improve student learning through a new model of professional skills development for educators that provides targeted support and an easy to follow structure. Jounce Partners will further develop its unique school leader and teacher coaching model that employs extremely high-frequency feedback, high-repetition practice of key teaching skills, and very specific criteria for execution of those skills.
Philadelphia has a rich cultural sector that provides informal educational opportunities for youth. These are often disconnected from the needs of the city’s schools. The Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative will explore how to bring together the cultural and education sectors to facilitate a more robust and academically purposeful relationship between the two sectors to create an integrated STEAM curriculum. A planning process that engages key stakeholders from each sector will aim to determine how to leverage the valuable programs of the cultural community to better support schools. If planning efforts are successful, subsequent phases of the Initiative will include creating a full curriculum and piloting it in three high schools.