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Student Achievement Opinion

Summer of Learning Program Launched in L.A.

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — May 14, 2014 3 min read
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Los Angeles school superintendent John Deasy and Mayor Eric Garcetti launch the L.A. Summer of Learning program. Photo: CTK

I love it when a plan comes together.

It was fulfilling to be in the audience Tuesday morning as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and School Superintendent John Deasy officially announced the Los Angeles Summer of Learning.

As ‘On California’ noted recently, the program is closely modeled after its Chicago counterpart. It will connect more than 50,000 students to learning opportunities in park’s, libraries, schools, and museums, as well as internships in participating companies, government agencies, and non-profits. More than 30 organizations have signed up, according to Thelma Melendez, who recently left the mayor’s office to help guild the initiative inside the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Last fall I advocated that Mayor Garcetti use some of his political power to organize the city into a giant learning community. And on Tuesday, he spoke of “transforming the city into a 500-square mile campus.” “You won’t be able to go anywhere in L.A. without an opportunity to learn,” he said.

There are three elements to the summer plan: earning, through a 10,000-job internship program, announced earlier, playing--A Summer Nights Lights program to transform 32 parks from places of violence to hubs of family activity--and the Summer of Learning program.

SOL responds to a simple question: Can your city make you smart? Scholars have long maintained that cities and neighborhoods have embedded knowledge that promotes and sustains particular skills. Thus, Hollywood is not a sign or a subdivision, or even shorthand for the movies. It represents an industry containing scores of crafts. Many daughters and sons of L.A. learned how to enter the industry and how to thrive in it because they absorbed neighborhood knowledge. The same is true in technology as the arts add an A to traditional STEM (science-technology-engineering-and-math) disciplines.

SOL seeks to make these resources flow for students in Los Angeles. And the secret ingredient is something called a digital badge, evidence of learning that creates pathways for learning and a way for students to demonstrate what they have learned to their teachers in conventional schools, to college admissions officers, and to potential employers.

Earlier, I wrote that digital badges are sly disrupters of the existing education system. They don’t pick a political fight by challenging the governance of schools, as charters advocates do. Instead, they quietly expand the capacity of the education system by linking students with multiple sources of learning.

Daphne Bradford, the president of Mother of Many, an organization that develops coders and developers, was in the audience as her students from Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools flanked the mayor at the rostrum. She said of digital badging, “It’s a perfect connection because I’ve always done certification. Badges can offer a pathway to certification for coding and programming.”

Bradford said she is looking forward to working with Melendez and the district’s, beyond school department, which is called Beyond the Bell, to make the coding program available in libraries and other sites around the city.

The L.A. Summer of Learning will focus on four neighborhoods: South Los Angeles, East Hollywood, East San Fernando Valley and Pacoima, and Boyle Heights. On-line programs, which now include 50 offerings, will be available citywide. In addition to resources from city departments and the school district, the California Endowment, J.P. Morgan Chase, and the MacArthur Foundation have pledged resources, as have more two dozen organizations that will offer badges.

Another supporter, Sanjay Sarma, director of digital education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, signaled his support in an email, saying: “We are excited about the SOL. Digital learning tools are a great asset and we are passionate about reaching as many young minds as possible.”

In his remarks, Garcetti pointed to the summer opportunity gap for rich and poor students in the city: “if we can make sure there isn’t that gap based on ZIP code, then we’ll create a new city.”

I take a special pleasure in seeing this plan come together. It’s a live demonstration of what MacArthur calls Connected Learning and what I have called Learning 2.0, broadening education, starting with student interest, capturing motivation and enthusiasm, and bringing new educators into students’ lives.

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