First Month In: Oxytocin High – BUT What Are We Missing (a lot!)

It’s been now a full month since the Next Jump New York office staff started helping with the After School Program at PS 119. The school has been very smart and creative, and stretched our funding to host 212 kids in the program – far beyond the 100 kids initially planned. We were touched to learn how applications were prioritized: first, 17 families who live in shelters received top priority. Second, single parents were admitted next. Lastly, the school ran a lottery for all other applicants, and in the end, after accepting 212 kids, the demand was so high that a big stack of applications had to be turned down. Knowing this fires us up even more as a business to continue to succeed at higher levels so we can achieve full funding for all kids who want to attend.

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By now, every single employee at our NY office has been engaged touching kids in a positive way, helping them learn and grow through 1 of 4 teaching tracks we developed: videogame programming, robotics, business & health and wellness. And the feeling and response has been awesome. The kids are wonderful, a delight to be around, pumped and excited to meet us, and likewise employees have been loving it. The formula of 1 afternoon of giving per 30 day cycle seems to be a good one for us. Oxytocin has been flowing abundantly through the NY office, creating a strong positive feeling for which we are grateful.

Oxytocin is usually called the love hormone. It helps relaxation, trust, and psychological stability. Several recent studies identified high levels of oxytocin in people who are generous toward others, it is something new and being studied as “the helpers high.” It sounds similar to the high we get exercising but comes from changes in the brain that happen when giving. When you’re touching people in a positive way, lending a helping hand, your oxytocin level goes up – and that relieves your own stress.

Being the data nuts we are, we ran a survey at the office and compared the level of engagement of employees today vs. 90 days ago, before the infusion of oxytocin from helping at the after school program. Preliminary results show that engagement definitely went up, and beat engagement levels from our other offices in Boston, SF and London. People actually feel more positive now than they did 90 days ago because of this program. And that is a very good thing.

But let’s set aside the initial good results, and pause for a moment to take a serious look at what we might be missing…And you may ask, why do that when it sounds like the program is working? Because our aim, our goals are not small. We want to create a movement that will result in all 100,000 public schools in America being adopted, and change the face of education. That is a big ambition. It will not happen by us being content with where we are today. We need to put on our critical hat and probe deeper into what is not yet working, into what we are missing, into what will make this program great. In mapping out what is not working, we found 4 areas that need significant work, illustrated in the picture below:

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The 4 areas are:

1) We need to reach more kids. We have focused in teaching 4th and 5th graders, about 60 of the 212 kids, because we thought would be easier to get started. But that’s creating an imbalance as the other grades know we are there but don’t get to spend time with us, and all the energy we bring. We need to expand and touch more kids. We have an idea on how to do this: graduated teaching, having older kids helping us with teaching younger kids. The best schools learned long ago this is a great model, and we want to borrow from that. We are going to start experimenting with this right away. Besides this, we also need to continue to grow and succeed as a business so we can fund every single kid who wants to attend the program, all 1,000 of them!

2) Engaging adults. We learned a while back that the key to helping kids is helping the adults. Yet, we have not engaged the parents yet. In fact, we learned last week that some students weren’t wearing the t-shirts we had made for them. One student told us that their parents said to throw it in the trash. Parents are skeptical, and they have all the right to be. Yet we are not in there out of short term interest, or as a PR stunt. We are there for the long run. But we have to show them, earn their trust, prove it. And we will work on it. The same goes for teachers, we hosted a Professional Development Day at our offices in November, but have work to do to follow up, and bring programs to help them.

3) The playbook. We are NOT doing enough to share what we are learning with others, and share it with empathy so that they may pick it up and make use of it to adopt more schools – time tables, schedules, curriculum, … we have a lot to share and we have done very little. We are also working on this, creating the outline of a playbook that we will fill in as we go. We also want to create a more fully featured website, and start doing some videos to help spread the word.

4) The platform. We have now created a platform to give! Others can tag along, as they did on our health track last week – we had a group of elite NYC personal trainers who volunteered and came along, and had a blast – experienced oxytocin with us. It is our responsibility now to leverage this platform to invite others, it is a win-win, everybody gains from it.

As you can see, turns out we are missing a lot… we still have a lot to do, and we are fired up by the early signals. This is just the beginning. We look forward to our monthly sessions and will continue to post updates as we go along and learn.

Albert

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