Adopt A School Learnings After the First 3 Months: Part 1

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I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since we started regularly teaching at the PS119 After School program. Every time I visit the school I come back recharged and so grateful we are in a position to be able to do this. I was reflecting over the weekend on some of the roadblocks we hit, as well as the things we have learned so far, and I thought worthwhile sharing them so they can help others.

1)  Picking a school – this can be a daunting task, we had no idea  where to go when we first started thinking about adopting a school. We started at the easiest place: most people know somebody who is a teacher or has a roommate who is a teacher, or a family member, etc. And so, we relied on contacts from our own employees both internal and external, and asked them to refer schools to us. Next, we spoke to non-profits we had relationships with and were in the education space, like Summer Search whose NY chapter we had incubated in our offices through our Adopt A Non-Profit program. Last, we reached out to superintendents of the districts we were interested in. The Bronx super-intended was very responsive, and she referred a list of schools she felt could be good matches. The school we ultimately partnered with, PS119, was in the short list the superintended had sent.

2) On giving money and general interactions with the school system. Expect more red tape that you are prepared for. For example, for us to fund the After School program at PS119, meaning to give the money to the school, it actually required a significant effort involving multiple calls and letters to the DOE Grants Office. Eventually we figured it out, you can send the Grants Office a check along with a letter of stipulations explaining how you’d like the money to be spent. Then the Grants Office signs off, and the principal also has to sign off. If the principal is not experienced he or she may review the proposal with the superintended which can further delay the process. Once all this is cleared, the funds get released. Even after we had all the signatures it took several weeks for the money to reach the school- so build time into your timelines!

TIP: You can specify in your letter that you’d like 100% of the money to pass through to the school. If you do not, by default, the DOE will withhold a portion of it.

3) Meet the principals of potential schools you are considering, their teams and key influencer teachers. This is very important. Investing in a relationship with the principal is key, without their support the program will not go anywhere. It is also important to get the principal’s team and key teachers bought in, so they will help you implement the program, and also when you hit roadblocks.

When you visit the schools and meet the principals and teachers, it’s key that you set context. The default attitude of any savvy principal will be extremely skeptical, they are used to people coming in with checks and just wanting to take pictures and get PR out of it, a 1-day-and-done event, and then they never come back. You will have to invest in explaining your long term vision to counter this, explain you are at the school to setup a lasting partnership.

4) Start by getting involved with an After School program to start. The rules and regulations for you to be at the school are much easier to fulfill during After School vs. regular school hours which are much more strictly regulated by the DOE.

5) This is probably the most important point: Setup your relationship with the school to be “sustainable giving”, and not all just money. What we did, for example, is we split our whole New York office employees into 4 teams, and each week a different team travels to the school for half a day to teach one of four tracks we developed for the after school program:

1) video game coding
2) robotics
3) business skills and
4) health & wellness.

In this way every employee in the office spends one afternoon a month experiencing the joy of giving and learning, and the positive impact in our office is awesome. Teams come back with lots of buzz and fun stories of interacting with the kids. It’s the consistency + team volunteering that has a profound impact.

TIP: When you design the curriculum for whatever you end up teaching, don’t try to do it by committee. We tried this at first, large teams deciding jointly, and we stuck spinning and going nowhere. Then we decided to change the approach and put the people with the strongest drive and engagement in charge of designing the tracks. That work much better.

These are my initial thoughts, on the next post I will talk about the choice of Elementary vs. a High School, helping the adults (parents, but also teachers), setting up feedback loops for your visits, and more.

Albert

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