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Preparing Students for a Complex and Changing World With Center for Inspired Teaching

By Rebecca Bauer, Project Manager, Inspired Teaching
BlogPhoto1Only weeks after beginning my job at Inspired Teaching, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive component of the organization’s signature program, the Inspired Teaching Institute. At the Institute, educators participate in hands-on, improvisation-based activities to align themselves around best-practices for engagement-based instruction.

When I arrived on Day 1, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what I should expect, but I’d been told the Institute is something I had to experience to truly understand. Less than two weeks later, I’d bonded with a cohort of amazing teachers, danced and sang, lesson planned and discussed ways to address students’ needs.

I’d used yo-yos to learn about inquiry-based education. I’d honed my ability to think creatively by overcoming obstacles while climbing imaginary mountains. Now, I was beginning to truly understand: when colleagues had told me that Inspired Teaching leads transformative teacher trainings, they really meant transformative.

A particularly impactful activity challenged teachers to examine their understanding of discipline and what that word means and looks like. Gathered around two sheets of chart paper, the facilitator sternly said, “This school needs more discipline,” and asked the group to share what words come to mind when they think of “discipline.” Teachers began shouting out words. Punishment. Consequences. Control. They had no trouble brainstorming a vast list. Suspension. No Recess. Phone call home. After the sheet of chart paper was covered in words that gave many flashbacks to their own days of being sent to the principal’s office, the facilitator told us to close our eyes. “Imagine you are a skilled artist,” she said. We sat focusing on this idea for a moment, envisioning our crafts, the skills that we’d honed. “Now open your eyes. Tell me what words come to mind when I say discipline.” An entirely new list began to form. Dedication. Focus. Self-control. Sacrifice. Passion. We examined the two lists, noting the stark differences, pointing out that the lists had very few words in common. The activity left participants thinking about how schools need to shift from enforcing a rigid set of rules to preparing students to be good citizens of our complex and rapidly changing world.

FILE2369Through thought provoking activities like this one, as well as many others that required more flexibility (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the Institute demonstrated that – for both teachers and students – creativity and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but rather go hand in hand.

In addition to being a fun, joyful and refreshing program, it was inspiring to witness the teachers engage in serious reflection on their practices, learning about themselves and discovering new ways to reach their students. One teacher commented, “Institute has helped me look at the types of ways I can elevate my teaching practices emotionally, psychologically, and physically.” Another shared, “Institute has fine-tuned my metacognition and skills of perception.” Most importantly, while teachers celebrated the growth that took place at the intensive, they also acknowledged that there is always more work to be done – which is why the Institute includes seminars and ongoing support throughout the year.

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The Inspired Teaching Institute, comprised of the summer Intensive and seminars throughout the school year, is only one of Inspired Teaching’s many programs that serve teachers and students in the DC area. From the Residency program that prepares pre-service teachers for successful, sustainable careers to Real World History, a hands-on course that provides students an internship experience where they cultivate the skills of an historian, all of our programs authentically engage participants to become changemakers in their schools, districts, and communities.

Given that students report feeling bored during 70% of their time in school and stressed for 80% of it, we need changemakers now more than ever. If you’re questioning whether Inspired Teaching’s professional development can really impact these bleak statistics, if you’re skeptical that we can create meaningful changes to our education system, one teacher at a time, I hear you. Two weeks ago, I was skeptical, too, but I’ll tell you what my colleagues told me: You have to experience it to truly understand.

Knowing that seeing is believing, we host visits to our programs each month. If you’d like to see Inspired Teaching in action, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates!

Sorting Fact From Fiction in the Digital Age With the News Literacy Project

by Alan C. Miller, Founder/CEO, News Literacy Project

30971125946_fc15feb0f7_z The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit, founded in 2008 and located in Bethesda, Maryland, that works with educators and journalists to teach secondary school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age and to give those students the tools to become informed and engaged citizens in a democracy. We are teaching literacy for the 21st century.

In our first eight years, our classroom, after-school and digital programs reached more than 25,000 students in diverse middle schools and high school students in the Washington, D.C., region (including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs), New York City, Chicago, and Houston. We have formed partnerships with 33 news organizations and enrolled more over 400 journalist fellows in our online directory; our volunteer journalists have delivered more than 750 lessons, both in person and virtually.

In May 2016, we launched the checkology® virtual classroom, the culmination of all our work to date and our primary path to national and international scale. In just over one year, 7,000 educators in every state in the U.S. and in 61 other countries, with a potential reach of more than 1 million students, have registered to use this platform.

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While these numbers are gratifying, we know that there is more to do. In the United States alone, there are 26 million public school students in grades 6-12, as well as the millions in private and parochial schools and in after-school, home-school and library programs — not to mention those students in schools and other programs outside the U.S. We look forward to dramatically expanding the reach of the checkology® virtual classroom among these students.

Even as we improve and expand the current platform, we’re preparing for its next iteration, along with international and Spanish-language versions. We have plans to reach beyond the classroom with a mobile-friendly app, which will likely be a news literacy game. Finally, we are working with Facebook on a public service advertising campaign to encourage millions of the platform’s engaged users to critically evaluate the news and information they share and to share only what is credible.

A healthy democracy depends on engaged citizens who can sort through vast amounts of information, separate fact from fiction, and know what to trust. Today, misinformation, rumor and spin can overwhelm real news, and the News Literacy Project provides the tools to meet this challenge. We’re working to give facts a fighting chance and to create an appetite for quality journalism. You could say that we were the antidote to “fake news” long before the term gained its recent currency.

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We are inspired by these challenges, by the tremendous opportunity to make a meaningful difference and by an urgent sense of responsibility to move as quickly as possible to meet the growing demand for our services. Since the emergence of the field of news literacy a decade ago (a field that we helped to create), we have gone from being a voice in the wilderness to an answer to prayer for many.

We’re particularly inspired by the educators and journalists who partner with us to deliver our curriculum and by the students who find it transformative. Those students include Christian Armstrong, who said of his experience with NLP as a student at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago: “This class has definitely changed my life. We prioritize news literacy over all else. The newspaper is considered to be our Holy Grail.” And Jenari Mitchell, a recent graduate of KIPP DC College Preparatory in Washington, who wrote in an essay about her NLP experience: “Learning how to distinguish between false and factual information allows us to control the news we consume, instead of allowing the news we consume to control us.”

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The News Literacy Project aspires to see news literacy embedded in the American educational experience, inside the classroom and outside of it. We want to teach many millions of young people how to know what news and information to believe, share and act on as students, consumers and citizens. We also hope to begin to change the culture so that people will take personal responsibility to stand up for facts and for quality journalism.

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Our website is www.thenewsliteracyproject.org. Anyone who wants more information or has questions can email us at info@thenewsliteracyproject.org. We welcome volunteers, including journalist fellows who can play various roles with us. People can engage with us through social media, as educators and journalist fellows, and as financial supporters. Please let us know your interest and we will respond. Finally, educators can register for the virtual classroom at www.checkology.org.

Around Town

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Monday, June 19, 2017
The Young Playwrights’ Workshop Presents…
Young Playwrights’ Theater

The Young Playwrights’ Workshop is YPT’s award-winning student theater ensemble. Members work together to create, develop, rehearse and perform an original play. A professional teaching artist helps the ensemble develop a foundation of theater skills that form the basis for creating new work. Students learn a diverse set of skills: improvisation, stage combat, clowning, solo performance and playwriting. The final performance is presented as part of CulturalDC’s prestigious Source Festival. This performance is free and open to the public. 6:30pm Reception 7pm Performance

Event Information

When: Monday, June 19, 2017 (6:30 PM – 8:30 PM)
Where: Source Theater, 1835 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 map
Fee: all tickets are Pay-What-You-Can
Volunteer Info: Volunteers will help check in guests, set up and run the reception and clean up after the event. All volunteers are welcome to watch the performance.
Contact: Laura Wood, (202) 387-9173

A Local Recipe for Healthy Kids

by Emma Boel, City Blossoms
IMG_6151 City Blossoms is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthy, diverse communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces and innovative resources.

Working out of Washington DC as its home base, City Blossoms innovates new resources and techniques in urban, educational gardening and youth empowerment. City Blossoms facilitates local empowerment within predominantly black and Latino populations by partnering with schools and organizations, maintaining Community Green Spaces, and offering tools and trainings to educators and community leaders. Their holistic approach incorporates art, gardens, science, cooking, healthy living, and community building into one joyful and educational experience for people of all ages.
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The nonprofit reached a total of 3,500 students at its gardens in 2016, and boasted 300 hours of free programming at its two community green spaces in the same year. Washingtonians rave about the results. One garden parent, a city native, insists, “Programs like City Blossoms are absolutely vital to the youth of DC.”

This impactful work has recently resulted in an exciting new outcome: City Blossoms just printed a cookbook.
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Garden Gastronomy, Gastronomia del Jardin is a vibrant collection of bilingual recipes designed to help children become enthusiastic and healthy chefs. Perfect for the educator, parent, or veggie enthusiast interested in sharing the joy of cooking with kids, this artfully constructed book is full of colorful photographer and cheerful illustration to make it an appealing treat for readers of all ages. The book includes 32 bilingual garden recipes, guidance on cooking seasonally with local produce, and tips for preparing food with kids.

The recipes include snacks and dishes like Sunflower Seed Pesto, Strawberry Mint Salad, and Garden Ramen. It’s a valuable product in-and-of-itself, however, the book’s most important feature may be its local roots.

Every recipe has been made time and time again by thousands of little hands. Every dish comes with the approval of young DC gardeners, who have built this book in the same way they have built their gardens: themselves. City Blossoms wrote and published the book after testing and tasting each recipe in the gardens with young chefs. They hope it will reach educators, gardeners, parents, and food justice activists. They hope it will find readership around the country. However, they know that these dishes have already made their way into the homes of the children who provided the energy for its creation, and that feels like a great start.
FullSizeRender 8The best days at City Blossoms are those full of community. We love to have volunteers at our garden work days, participants in our Open Time programming, and visitors at our public Community Green Spaces. To buy a copy of the cookbook, to connect with us, or to become a member of our essential team of donors and partners, visit our website at cityblossoms.org.

LearnServe Helps Young People Find Their Voice

By Scott Rechler, Learn Serve International

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LearnServe believes in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders.

Youth have the energy, creativity, and passion to identify injustice and drive innovative change,yet often feel powerless to act on that potential. LearnServe helps them find their voice. We envision a new generation of young leaders standing up for the issues that matter to them most.
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A basketball tournament designed to bridge DC teens and police officers. English classes for immigrant and refugee students in northern Virginia. Support for girls building self-confidence and a healthy body image. A fleet of electric school buses. Meet the high school students behind these dynamic new ideas and more at the 8th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 27 from 5:00 – 8:00 pm at Washington Latin Public Charter School (5200 2nd St NW, Washington, DC 20011).
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Students teams will present their ideas in short pitches to panels of business and community leaders, and in a science-fair style exhibition with the opportunity to win up to $200 in seed funding for their projects. RSVP online at http://learn-serve.org/programs/fellows/2017-panels-venture-fair.

LearnServe International is a non-profit organization that equips students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad.

Each year LearnServe brings together 100+ students from public, charter, and independent schools in the Washington, DC area. We strengthen their academic and professional success through three complementary programs. The LearnServe Fellows program guides students as they design and launch entrepreneurial ventures with social goals. LearnServe Abroad introduces social innovation through a global lens, as students volunteer with entrepreneurs overseas. Seeding Social Innovation offers curriculum materials to bring social entrepreneurship into the classroom.

We invite you to join the community of individuals, businesses, and schools committed to sparking a new generation of social entrepreneurs across the DC region. Get involved and learn more about our programs at www.learn-serve.org.

Every Day is Earth Day at National Park Trust

by Grace Lee, Executive Director, National Park Trust

Preserving parks today; creating park stewards for tomorrow.

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Photographer: Chris Rief, courtesy of National Park Trust

Celebrated each year on April 22nd, this year’s Earth Day falls during National Park Week (April 15th through April 23rd). National Park Week is celebrated at more than 400 national park units across the country, many of which are located right in our backyard. Did you know that the White House, National Mall, Rock Creek Park and the C & O Canal all are National Parks?

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Photographer: Chris Rief, courtesy of National Park Trust

Earth Day is a time to pause, think, and take action to protect our environment – something that is at the core of the mission of National Park Trust (NPT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit included in this year’s Catalogue for Philanthropy. For more than 30 years, NPT has worked to protect our national parks locally and across the country. Our mission focuses on preserving parks today and creating park stewards for tomorrow.

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Photographer: Chris Rief, courtesy of National Park Trust

NPT acquires privately owned lands located within and adjacent to our national parks including national parks in the DC-metro area. There are millions of acres of privately owned land located inside the boundaries of our national parks. NPT’s land acquisition projects are selected from a high-priority “wish list” provided to us by the National Park Service; many are at risk for development.

The long-term protection of our country’s unique natural, historic and cultural treasures depends on our youth – our future stewards who will protect these special places for generations to enjoy. Most of the visitors to our national parks are white and aging. If our parks are to be protected in perpetuity, we must connect our growing young and diverse populations with these special places. Simply said: kids need parks — and parks need kids.

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Photographer: Billy Schrack, courtesy of National Park Trust

That’s why in 2009 we launched our fun and innovative Buddy Bison School Program in the DC-metro area in six under-served elementary and middle schools. At the heart of the program is our mascot Buddy Bison who encourages kids to explore outdoors, the parks are yours! Little did we know how quickly (in just eight short years!) our program would grow, as teachers eagerly incorporated environmental education into their classrooms. As a result, and thanks to the outstanding support from our donors, we now fund 60 Title I schools locally and across the country. Our dream? To grow and sustain 100 schools in honor of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, which was celebrated last year.

The Buddy Bison program provides park trips tying in STEM, history and social studies curricula. In addition to being terrific outdoor classrooms, parks are also ideal places where students can learn about health and wellness through outdoor recreation and park stewardship through career and volunteer opportunities.

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Photographer: Chris Rief, courtesy of National Park Trust

This Earth Day, we invite you to join us in taking action to protect and preserve our national parks and the environment. Then on Saturday, May 20th, let’s keep the momentum going by celebrating Kids to Parks Day – a national day of outdoor play, organized by NPT, that focuses on kids, our future park stewards. There are lots of free park events registered at kidstoparks.org including several in our backyard.

If you’d like to learn more about our work and how you can get involved, visit parktrust.org because…Every day is Earth Day at National Park Trust!

Building Remarkable Futures, One Middle School Student at a Time

By Cynthia Rubenstein, Executive Director – Passion for Learning

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It’s not what you pour into a child, it’s what you plant. - Unknown

Passion for Learning (P4L) engages economically disadvantaged middle school students in Montgomery County through digital technology, after school programs, and college readiness summer camps. Coached by talented school teachers, digital tech professionals and high school student mentors, our youth become savvy and responsible digital citizens with aspirations and plans for bright futures.

Middle school is the perfect time to engage youth in dreaming and building their futures. At Passion for Learning we know it is critically important to engage students in their middle school years and help them prepare for successful transitions to high school, as well as, develop goals for post secondary education.

In Montgomery County, academic enrichment opportunity gaps continue to exist for students of color and students from low income families. At P4L we aim to close these opportunity gaps by surrounding middle school youth with adults and older students who expose them to exciting possibilities in technology and help them develop their potential and talents.

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Every year P4L engages 120 plus students at eight middle schools who develop digital technology skills and interests. Each year at least 80% of P4L’s youth develop new interests in taking digital technology courses in high school and more than 60% plan careers that require technology skills. At least 80% of youth say that our programs help them think about what they want to do in the future and more than 75% say they plan to achieve four year college degrees.

Our middle school youth inspire us with their boundless curiosity, energy and potential. Middle school students are at a remarkable stage in their lives. They are discovering who they are and figuring out their place in the world. They are open to new experiences and exploring new interests that may “spark” them for life. It’s the exuberant and inquisitive spirit of middle school youth that inspires us at P4L!

A typical day at P4L after school program finds students designing video games and learning Java Script or Python programming languages; creating youth videos for local cable tv stations; building circuit boards to power LED lights; taking a digital photography and photo editing workshop from a pro; designing web sites and writing news blogs.

At P4L we are always looking for adults who want to share their knowledge and experiences with our middle school youth. If you’re a tech professional, we’d love to have you meet and engage with our students after school. We’d love to talk to you about the possibilities. Contact us at p4learning@aol.com or call Cynthia Rubenstein, Executive Director, at 301-589-1725.

A Safe, Nurturing Place for Girls

The Washington School for Girls – By Kelley Lockard

Kelley Lockard and WSG Students (Class of 2016)

Before 1997, there were few quality educational options or services for girls in Southeast DC. And there was no place where a girl on the verge of womanhood could find mentorship or learn in a safe environment that values her as an individual. That is why the Washington School for Girls (WSG) was founded: to provide a safe, nurturing place for girls to not only learn and grow, but to thrive.

Of course, a lot has changed since the school was founded 20 years ago. More people have started to take an interest in Southeast neighborhoods. There are more resources, more options for education. The community itself is changing. However, through all of these changes there continues to be a strong need for a school that works for and with the community. That’s why WSG is so important, and why our students succeed: we educate the whole child.

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We pride ourselves on providing a holistic model of education, one that accepts not just students, but also families. A student’s experiences at home are just as important as her experience in the classroom. We work with parents to engage them in the educational process and help them access the resources they need to support their daughters as learners.

As an administrator and former teacher, I feel I am most attuned to a student’s needs when I have developed a close relationship with her family. I know that if I can build a long-term, reciprocal relationship with a family then I can truly help a child reach her full potential. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing a girl come into her own after entering the school with nearly every aspect of her life in disarray. That kind of transformation does not happen overnight, and it’s impossible without the support of the family.

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Luckily for me, I’ve witnessed that transformation innumerable times in my years at WSG. It’s what motivates me to do the work that I do. My desk is full of photos of the young women I have helped to transform, and every day I am fortified by their smiles and the knowledge of their achievement. I look at them and know that they will make a positive difference in their communities.

WSG was built on the beliefs and values of extraordinary, courageous women. As we enter Women’s History Month and approach the 20th Anniversary of the school this spring, I am increasingly reflecting on that fact. In the classroom, our students are learning about women who have changed the course of history, but they are also learning leadership skills, whether it’s helping their teachers hand out assignments, leading an after-school club, or mentoring younger students.

I recognize the ability to lead and the determination to do so in many of our students. It is something I have worked hard to incorporate into the curriculum at WSG because I believe that leadership builds confidence and allows students to become more actively engaged in the classroom. Seeing the lightbulb come on over a student’s head is the best feeling the world, and it only happens when that student knows she is capable of more.

My hope for the future is that our students take the lessons they learn at WSG, both in and out of the classroom, to heart. There are many challenges ahead for our country and the world, especially in terms of equality and justice. The most daunting task in my job as an administrator is to ensure that our students are prepared to face those challenges, to navigate a world that does not always value them. I know that they will not be able to do it alone, but I hope that we can give them the knowledge, skills, and courage to overcome adversity.

Posted on my door is a daily affirmation known as the Serenity Prayer. It’s a very popular prayer and my mother’s favorite prayer, but I never appreciated it until I became a teacher. I look at it every day, sometimes several times (depending on the day), because it reminds me to be myself and accept the things I cannot change. Superwoman is not at all a part of my name, but I find strength in accepting that fact and courage to try anyway. If my students walk away from WSG accepting of who they are and still ready to change the world, then I know I will have succeeded.

Celebrate Black History Month with Dance Institute of Washington

Picture #1-webFebruary is Black History Month, a joyous time of celebration and reflection. We applaud the many contributions of men and women of African ancestry, many of whom accomplished feats of greatness despite considerable challenges.

We are indebted to black creative minds throughout history, those who carry the life blood and soul of the African diaspora. In artists from Duke Ellington to Aretha Franklin, from Michael Jackson to Chance the Rapper we appreciate the innovations of song and dance–the beats, the rhymes, the rhythms. Poetry, philosophy, style and culture have all been shaped and enriched by black creators.

The black community has given the world African dance and drumming, jazz, blues, soul, rock, hip hop and countless other modes of powerful expression that survive, evolve, and change the world around us. People of African descent have contributed and continue to pioneer the way in diverse fields including politics, medicine, economics, technology and science, business, sports and more.

For this blog post, Dance Institute of Washington interviewed its students, parents and teaching artists about how Black History Month inspires them.

“Black history lives in dance, because popular dance has a lot of infusion from Afro-Caribbean dance styles. Back in time, dance was a form of communication and recreation,” says Crystal Waters, a DIW parent.

“Black history is dance! Every form of dance comes from black roots,” shares Maria Fenton, another parent.

“All of our lives are connected through dance. It’s a means of communication,” DIW teacher Yasmeen Enahora explains.

Dance Institute of Washington provides youth, especially at-risk, under-served youth from low-income communities, opportunities to develop artistically, socially, emotionally and intellectually through after school dance training, performances, education, work readiness and experience, and youth development.

The late Fabian Barnes established DIW in 1987 after a career with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Celebrating 30 years of service this year, DIW is one of DC’s largest African American arts organizations.? It is a cultural, educational resource, with its own Columbia Heights studios.

DIW meets the needs of DC children through year-round dance training, education, youth workforce development, and performances. DIW affords underserved populations pathways out of poverty. Graduates go on to colleges, including Harvard, Temple and SUNY Purchase; others enter careers with companies such as Ballet San Jose, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, The Lion King and Dance Theater of Harlem.

Black history and, more specifically, the progressive, successful trajectory of black artists leading the way in contemporary ballet and professional concert dance are true inspirations. From pioneer Arthur Mitchell to Dance Institute of Washington founder Fabian Barnes to today’s beloved Misty Copeland, black artists continually rise above barriers and perceived limitations to excel at the highest levels of dance, establishing the strong appeal of the beauty, versatility and virtuosity of black artists and the black experience. To have a thriving dance world, we must continue to diversify both the talent and audience for dance, and the positive examples of successful black dancers help make this possible.

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Black History Month is incredibly important to the work of the Dance Institute of Washington. Black history is vital because the success stories and foundation work established by other African people help to empower and inspire today’s citizens. When young people of color and of all backgrounds learn their history, they feel increased membership and belonging, they discover precedents for their own endeavors. The learning and creativity that come from looking back to our ancestors provide a path forward to new horizons.

Hope for the future

“DIW gives me hope for the future! Seeing so many young people involved in the arts.”–Crystal Waters, DIW parent

“DIW gives me hope for the future because the teachers mentor me and allow me to be exposed to new opportunities, and I admire them for that.”--Lauren Mueller, DIW student

“DIW gives me hope for the future because the teachers give us the experience that they have as professionals, and allow us to see how far we can go, as dancers.”–Terrion Jenkins, DIW student

“DIW gives me hope for humanity. Today, in the world we live in, DIW shows that through dance the continuation of humanity is possible.”–Faith Wilson, DIW student

“I love that black and white people, people of different races, are focusing on dance together. DIW is a place that offers a diverse dance experience for all races, and that’s what is hopeful about it.”–Robyn Lee Murphy, DIW parent

Picture #3Kahina Haynes, DIW’s new Executive Director is working diligently with the board, staff and community to strengthen DIW’s operations, programs and partnerships to secure DIW’s position as a beacon of hope and launchpad of talent for years to come.

Whether you have a lot of time to give or just a little, DIW welcomes the generous contributions of all volunteers and interns who can support the organization’s mission and core programs. Help is always needed in the areas of marketing, board development, management assistance, fundraising, operations, program delivery, evaluation and customer service. To explore possibilities, please email Mari Williams.

Guest Post: LearnServe International

On the eve of the 5th Annual LearnServe Venture Fair, we welcome Scott Rechler, CEO and Director of LearnServe International to GoodWorks! LearnServe International’s program prepares students in greater DC to be the next generation of global leaders and social entrepreneurs. Their Fellows Program brings together over 70 high school students from 30 public, private and charter schools to learn how to bring sustainable social change to their communities. Over an academic year, students design and launch their own social ventures — action projects to benefit their schools and communities — while learning core business entrepreneurship skills, including budgeting, strategic planning, and team-building.

Can you really teach social innovation?

by Scott Rechler, CEO & Director, LearnServe International

 

Could the next Jamila Larson, Mazi Mutafa, or Robert Egger be sitting in class right now in the District, Maryland, or Virginia?

Maybe.

In a March Washington Post article, J. D. Harrison opened his article titled “Can you really teach entrepreneurship?” with a similar question, but a different cast of characters: Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg.

Toss in Bill Gates, and you’ve got the three examples of entrepreneurs referenced by every high school group I speak with. And for good reason. All three have built successful companies whose products shape our daily lives, and a personal brand that complements their corporate identities.

Ask a room full of high school students for examples of social entrepreneurs? Uncomfortable silence.

We are surrounded by powerful examples of social entrepreneurs here in the DC region. But they’re not (yet) household names — unless you happen to spend time with their organizations.

Take for example Jamila Larson, founder of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which brings much-needed recreation to kids living in shelters. Or Mazi Mutafa, founder of Words Beats & Life, giving young people a voice through hip-hop. Or Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen — and of C Forward, an initiative to raise the profile of the non-profit sector nation-wide.

The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg may well be sitting in a DC classroom today, preparing to launch the next breakthrough technology or scalable business. And sitting right next to her is the next Jamila, Mazi, and Robert.

LearnServe is committed to inspiring and training the rising generation of social entrepreneurs. These are the young people who know they want to do something good in the world — but may not yet know what or how. We help them blend this passion with the tenacity, vision, and technical skills essential to entrepreneurship in order to transform the lives of their classmates, neighbors, and communities.

Tricia Granata, executive director of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in DC, reflected in Harrison’s article on the “innate entrepreneurial spirit” of young people, and the importance of helping them develop the accompanying technical skills.

LearnServe offers an outlet for our students to channel this innate entrepreneurial spirit and build those technical skills — coupled with a powerful dose of empathy and social insight.

LearnServe alumni have gone on to launch companies introducing fair trade coffee to China, and improving hygiene in India through the sale of sustainable soaps in the U.S. They have created lasting organizations teaching foreign languages to elementary school students, and science to middle schoolers. Yasmine Arrington, a LearnServe and DCPS alum and founder of ScholarCHIPS, was awarded the Washington Women of Excellence Award for Community Service earlier this month for her work raising college scholarship funds for children of incarcerated parents.

Tomorrow, 70 more young social entrepreneurs will “pitch” their social venture plans to a panel of business and community leaders at LearnServe’s 5th Annual Venture Fair and top projects will receive seed funding to help get their ideas off the ground. We invite you to join in celebrating their creative spirit and vision for our community. These are our region’s rising generation of social innovators.

Harrison concludes his article with a quote from Wendy E. F. Torrance, director of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation: “No matter what career they choose, it’s important for young people to look at the world through the lens of an entrepreneur.”

We couldn’t agree more — and we are working to ensure that lens is wide enough and community-oriented enough to include Jamila, Mazi, Robert and Yasmine, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

To learn more about LearnServe International and their Fellows Program, visit them online at: www.learn-serve.org. Meet the Fellows at the 5th Annual Venture Fair tomorrow (4/24) or get involved here!