2015 Pilot Summary & Outcome Report

October 2015

Summer 2015 Pilot exceeds expectations; Ambassadors4Success will now extend experiential, inquiry-based learning into more underserved urban communities.

Opportunity Gap refers to a range of factors that perpetuate lower educational aspirations and achievement by our urban youth. Students from historically disadvantaged families have just a 51 percent Opportunity to Learn compared to more affluent students. To eliminate this gap, we need to reinvent our education system and inspire student learning, prepare graduates with a 21century toolbox of skills, and connect young adults to their local and global communities.

This summer, through generous support from Guggenheim Partners and the Chicago community, six underserved community schools turned the city into an interactive classroom and engaged in the power of inquiry-based, experiential learning.

The following report provides details on the Summer Pilot, the impact on teacher and student engagement, and the subsequent launch of Ambassadors4Success – a much more ambitious program to expand on the Summer Pilot results and help educators reinvent urban education at scale.

2015 Pilot Program

Studies prove that student engagement, retention of information, and even standardized test scores improve through experiential learning. Most of our urban classrooms continue to focus on group lectures and memorization of facts and figures. Something transformative is happening in Chicago. Over the past 5 years, GCE Lab School has pioneered an innovative curriculum of experiential, inquiry-based courses with a student population designed to replicate our urban public schools: 65% of students receive need-based scholarships, more than 50% have IEPs, and many were not on-track to graduate when they first enrolled in the school. GCE’s results, however, far outperform Chicago’s public schools, with a 100% graduation and college-acceptance rate, and 80% of graduating students earning merit-based scholarships for college (more than 2x the national average).

UrbanX, in collaboration with GLM Education (designer of GCE Lab School’s curriculum and professional development model) and Guggenheim Partners, the program’s signature sponsor, launched a pilot project intended to disrupt the status quo, expose educators and students to a reinvented classroom, and establish base-line data for scaling interventions in the education system.

Six underserved schools received professional development (PD) for educators, tuition-free summer programs for students, and technology support for blended-learning instruction, all based around experiential, inquiry-based learning. A cohort of teachers from each organization received 15 hours of in-person professional development (PD). Following a collaborative group workshop, the teachers benefited from on-going support and supervision as they ran 4-week summer immersion programs for a total of 132 students. The summer program invited teachers and students to use the Chicago community as their classroom and to think differently—creatively, collaboratively and critically – connecting student’ academic learning to the real-world. Students and teachers experienced a paradigm shift of how classroom instruction can and should look. Students felt a new type of learning; one in which they are the center.

Participating Schools & Program Demographics

UrbanX Demographics

The Power of 4 Weeks

The four-week summer programs produced invaluable teacher and student feedback on the effectiveness of the professional development program and the impact of project-based instruction on urban youth. Two anecdotes help illustrate the range of breakthroughs.

…my way of thinking about society and how I looked at real, live events has changed. I question everyone now. Trust no one until I see the truth.

University of Chicago’s Woodlawn Charter High School elected to use the integrated Journalism course for their pilot. Students were challenged to pursue questions such as, “how do you know about the world?”, “which media is best suited for reporting different stories?”, “why is journalism one of the world’s most dangerous professions?”, and “what’s the meaning of life, in 1000 words and 1 photo?” To find the answers they visited WBEZ, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and interviewed professional journalists. Free to explore journalism as it happens in the world—immersing themselves in their neighborhoods and communities, the students thrived. They became advocates for education and invited friends to attend classes with them. The culminating Action Project was to create a school newspaper—the first in the school’s history.

This course is different because it helped me understand who we are as people. There are some things you will never hear people come in and ask us: what do we believe? To be able to have a course that was able to help me understand was really helpful.

Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy and Josephinum Academy both elected to use the Who Am I? course to help their students experience self-reflection as a means for taking charge of their destiny. Teachers and students worked collaboratively to explore “what are your beliefs, fears, and dreams?” and they were transformed by the experience. For both Bridgescape (drop-out recovery youth) and Josephinum (currently transitioning to IB curriculum), the teachers said the summer PD provided a “teacher boot camp” that inspired them to refine their current curriculum and teaching practices. As for the difference in the classroom, “The students were engaged—like really engaged! They created podcasts. They made dreamcatchers. They dug into Plato, trying to define reality. They talked about the power of sound at our local NPR affiliate, WBEZ. They debated the meaning of Salvador Dali surrealist sculptures at the Art Institute of Chicago. They took pictures. They smiled. They forgot to save their work, and re-did it. Several times throughout the last month students have said they prefer this model over the current one.” – Teacher

Teacher Impact

Best professional development that I have been to in my 6 years of being an educator.

Educators unanimously claimed the professional development (PD) program was the best they had ever experienced. Many asked for continued “advanced” courses, and to involve their colleagues and administrative personnel so the curriculum and learning approach could be extended throughout their school.

  • Desire for more cross-curricular collaboration with colleagues
  • within the same school and with teachers from other schools
  • Deeper appreciation of the value of experiential learning in engaging students
  • Confidence in their ability to execute effective and relevant field experiences that connect student learning with the real world
  • Desire to extend project-based, experiential learning throughout their schools, recognizing that this is what education should look like

Student Impact

More. More. More.
I think we should have more courses like this for many other subjects because it’s fun and more interesting.

Students reported feeling genuinely compelled by and engaged with the courses. For many students, the experiential, project-based approach was very different than anything they had previously experienced. This left them excited for more.

  • Actively engaged in the learning process
  • Exposed to transformative experiences by connecting with professionals and organizations outside of the classroom
  • Higher degree of confidence and mastery demonstrated through their action projects
  • Higher level of social and self-awareness through participation in field experiences
  • New way of thinking about and seeing the world around them and their role in it

Key Take-Aways

  1. Principals and administrators overwhelmingly advocated the necessity of summer programming to act as a bridge in facilitating the transition from 8th grade to high school. According to the Consortium for Chicago School Research, ninth grade performance (grade point average and attendance) is the single best predictor of whether a student will graduate from high school.
  2. Both students and teachers reported significant personal and emotional investment in the “communities of learning” they built over the summer. For teachers and students, peer collaboration is both invaluable, and commonly denied. This program aimed to facilitate teacher mastery of the model and customization for unique students and communities. Students, in turn, engaged more deeply and reached higher bars.
  3. The “Three T’s” (Talent, Time and Technology) posed considerable constraints for many of the schools. Before undertaking future initiatives, each school needs an internal “implementation team” to ensure representation from all critical decision makers, better define requirements, and accurately assess each school’s technology capabilities.

Moving Forward

UrbanX is now piloting a much more ambitious proof-of-concept with Clinton Global Initiative America—Ambassadors4Success, an educator-led, high school bridge program that combines educator training, experiential summer courses, school year meet-ups, and post-secondary prep programs. The program starts with incoming freshmen and grows with each student through graduation. Its core is rooted in educator training in experiential, inquiry-based, blended learning instruction to be practiced in summer immersions for students. Monthly Meet-Ups throughout the school year will keep both teachers and students connected with their “community of learners.” Finally, Senior year internships will help students explore their passions and gain real-world professional experience.

Learning Ecosystems

As core partners, GLM Education will provide curriculum and educator trainings and Magic Johnson Enterprises will “hook” students on believing in their potential and ensuring course content and field experiences are relevant for urban youth. UrbanX will coordinate a passionate coalition of local City2Classroom™ partners who will support educator training, help students challenge their assumptions about the world around them, and expose students to a wide range of jobs and career paths, drawing out the relevance of what they study in school.

Ambassadors4Success is designed to achieve systemic change in urban education. The goal is to pilot this proof-of-concept program in Chicago and Lansing, Michigan (Magic’s hometown) and prepare for national replication. Combining experiential learning, mentorship and internships, the program equips educators with the tools to develop student academic, non-cognitive, executive functioning and professional skills, and it empowers students to become self-directed leaders and ambassadors in their communities.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

We invite all interested parties to serve as City2Classroom™ partners, host field experiences and/or provide guest workshops at schools. Volunteers are of value every day, in myriad ways. We are also seeking funding partners to join in the consortium of organizations collaborating to cultivate a generation of global citizens.





With Special Thanks to Our Signature Program Sponsor