Innovation is the driving force behind the success of our schools, the effectiveness of our educators, and commitment to our mission. It is how we have helped thousands of students achieve success in college, leadership, and life. Now we’re using our expertise in creating transformative learning experiences to better engage students as active participants in learning 21st century skills. Three schools are launching innovative educational hub programs, where middle and high school students can access targeted learning and skill development in leadership, entrepreneurship, and STEM.
In 2016, we launched JetSpace at Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy, an immersive learning environment where students develop their creative voices through cutting-edge technology, unique artforms, and guiding mentors. For the last five years, we’ve refined our framework and learned how to expand it to even more communities.
Similar to JetSpace, students in these programs build on novel experiences and expand their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity skill sets. We’ve also integrated these activities into class time, school culture, and after school activities though our Innovation framework.
Our educators are providing students with self-directed learning opportunities, specialized coursework, semester-wide speaker series, and mentor programs to help students affirm their goals, aspirations, and paths. This school year, Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School is offering a STEM pathway; Ánimo Compton Charter School is offering an entrepreneurship pathway; and Ánimo City of Champions Charter High School is offering a specialized leadership pathway.
In developing this framework, we asked ourselves how we can develop a replicable 21st century approach that makes education relevant and even more equitable. Our educator effectiveness coordinator, Julia Fisher, has worked with the school leaders at our three schools to maximize the ways academic pathways can serve our students, schools, and communities. “In this program, students get to identify their path and pursue something and have exposure to really high-quality electives at every grade level aligned to that path,” Fisher said.
Many public schools offer specialized magnet programs where students can take unique electives to learn more about STEM, or another unique career pathway. At Green Dot, the integration goes beyond classes. ”This is something that touches every aspect of a student's experience at the school,” Fisher said. “It’s a cohesive and ingrained experience for our students.” Students taking advantage of these programs have direct access to mentors, can participate in an array of pathway-centered after school events, and a series of targeted elective courses.
For example, at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa, which is offering students a pathway in STEM, provides students with the opportunity to learn about research methods and scientific ethics through a series of assignments, projects, and events. Students will also partner through relevant organizations to explore new scientific projects, including Project Lead The Way, Femineer, and Northrop Grumman. “It's one thing to learn about science and learn about space and learn about technology and engineering, but it's another thing to meet an astronaut,” Fisher said. In this pathway integration, students will apply their critical thinking, problem solving, and collaborative skills to progress through each challenge.
In the STEM pathway at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa in East L.A., middle school students are currently taking an introductory computer science elective to develop their 21st century skills. Science teacher Esmeralda Padilla has refined her curriculum to ensure students feel encouraged throughout the length of the course. “It’s nice to teach this course and offer it to our students. Most of the surrounding schools in our area don't offer this type of course.” Padilla said. Currently, Ánimo Ellen Ochoa students are learning how to code through block-based coding, bits of pre-written text that can be combined to make a working program. By the end of the semester, students will be able to write in more complex programming languages, such as HTML and Python. “I guarantee that our students are going to complete this course with higher self-confidence and a growth mindset. They're not going to give up as soon as something becomes challenging,” Padilla added.
Students can also modify their pathway to fit their aspirational goals. At Ánimo City of Champions in Inglewood, high school students can take classes through Project Destined, and graduate high school with a real estate certification. Our students can also choose to take classes in partnership with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and learn about startup industries and leading companies in the private sector. And at Ánimo Compton, their program focus on Leadership empowers students to develop their sense of agency in their own communities by participating in a monthly speakers-series, while also partnering with community-driven partners such as Leader in Me, Coro, and Vans.
At Green Dot, we look for every opportunity to innovate education for the greater good. Through our innovation programs like JetSpace and the three focus areas at Ánimo Compton, Ánimo City of Champions, and Ánimo Ellen Ochoa, we’re disrupting the way schools approach education. We believe that exposing our students to diverse pathways and equipping students with well-rounded skill sets will help them in their pursuit of success in college, leadership, and life.