CHICAGO — A Chicago-based education nonprofit is aiming to provide students of color with a teaching style tailored to their specific needs, and its CEO just received an international fellowship to support the cause.
Jacob Allen, co-founder and chief executive of pilotED, the education nonprofit focusing on black and Latino students, was selected for the Echoing Green 2016 fellowship, which includes $90,000 of seed funding for two years and access to investors and other entrepreneurs.
Echoing Green, a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs, selected its 33 recipients from a pool of nearly 2,100 applicants in 120 countries, and Allen is the organization's 2016 Black Male Achievement fellow.
Allen said the funding will support the development of pilotED’s training center, training manual for its teachers and community outreach costs ranging from food for events to “keeping the lights on."
The program will educate middle school students according to the Common Core standards as well as prepare them for ACT and SAT testing.
It also will address topics that relate to issues facing students of color that they may not otherwise receive in a standard, public school classroom, including topics such as racial identity, violence prevention, interviewing and admissions preparation, Allen said.
Standard subject matters intersect with more unique lessons in the classroom, like mapping out the number of gangs within students' neighborhoods or conducting a science exercise about the chemical elements of straight blond hair compared with curly black hair.
The result, Allen said, was students’ becoming more interested in what they learned.
“We’re making everyday issues that our students experience a part of the learning experience,” Allen said. “The first thing that happened was that students were engaged more, because they weren’t reading about white blond-hair, blue-eyed individuals. They were actually reading and learning about themselves. No. 2, it turned from ‘I am the problem or the victim’ to ‘I am a part of the solution.’”
The nonprofit, which was founded in 2013, works with students within Alain Locke Charter School and Catalyst Maria High School. So far, the majority of students who have participated in the program are projected to graduate from college, University of Chicago calculations show. Nearly 90 percent of students have had fewer detentions and suspensions.
Darreyel Laster, a seventh-grade literature teacher at Catalyst Maria, has been teaching within pilotED for nearly three years. The program, he says, gives him more leeway over how to tailor his instruction and teaching materials to the needs of his students, 50 percent of whom identify as Hispanic and the other half black.
Rather than sticking to classic novels, Laster assigns his students such books as "In the Time of the Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez or "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros, which offer in-depth perspectives on the Hispanic experience.
Laster said he’s also noticed a change in students’ ability to express themselves. Over time, his students are better able to articulate their opinions on complex topics, he said.
“We read books talking about real-life issues,” Laster said. “It’s very important that we let them know you have a voice. You have experience. You have an opinion. And it’s important to share that, so that we can all evolve and grow.”
The nonprofit aims to have its first charter school opening in fall 2017, but CPS approval for the school is pending, and its location has yet to be determined, Allen said.
The school, if opened, will take on a greater role in the community by offering programming for parents and having parents and community members sit on the board of directors, he added.
“In order for a transformational change to occur within a student’s life, the parents, teachers, and community members need to speaking the same language,” Allen said.
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