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What Might Make Urban Dropout Rates Plummet?

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Topics: Emerging Trends, Future of Learning

This is the second of a five-part blog series on creating equitable and vibrant learning ecosystems for all students, no matter where they live.

Ever Forward Club is a community-based club operating in Oakland, California, that helps young men, particularly underserved and at-risk young men of color, foster emotional maturity and overcome the hyper-masculinity code that can be a barrier to empathy, personal growth, and academic achievement. The club uses conversation, play, and community to support young men’s development by expanding their emotional toolboxes so that they can better handle the challenges of school and life now and into the future.

This is just one signal of change illustrating how education stakeholders are beginning to find new ways of addressing learners’ needs in poor urban neighborhoods. As Jason Swanson, Andrea Saveri, and I explored in our recent paper, “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” learners living in them can face particular challenges in addition to the common challenges described in the opening post of this series:

  • Difficulty accessing surrounding resources
  • Lack of access to essential learning resources, quality teachers, and technology
  • Cultural isolation and the difficulty of dealing with complex or misunderstood social narratives associated with poverty and race
  • Conflicting narratives about what success means and the role of education toward it
  • Significant needs around work, safety, food, and health uncertainty

Looking ahead to 2025, our paper imagines that urban learning crews could provide personalized learning and deep social support to middle and high school aged students in the largest inner cities in the U.S., causing dropout rates to plummet. An Urban Learning Crew League would coordinate crews’ educational programming across city-wide learning venues, integrating visits to locations such as museums, maker spaces, media labs, parks, and science centers with online curriculum and in-person classes to help students achieve individual learning goals. The crew experience would also include a social-emotional curriculum and personal growth activities that were interwoven throughout the day and week, with crew members having several in-person check-ins during the week to reflect on personal challenges. Crew members would engage in emotional intelligence skill-building activities and would use a mood capture application to track and reflect on their emotions throughout the day in support of practicing self-regulation and develop a healthy inner self. Monthly potluck open portfolio celebrations would bring together parents, neighbors, and guardians to see members’ work and help community members understand how best to support the kids.

Such a learning ecosystem would provide niche education experiences and tailor support to small groups of urban youth by leveraging common platforms and using a specialized suite of social media apps.  It would also mobilize learners, parents, and learning agents to come together to reflect on learning and related supports.

This story from the future represents just one way in which ecosystem participants might address the needs of learners in poor urban neighborhoods by helping them access the city’s resources and by providing strong social and emotional support.  Where else do you see possibilities for taking new community-level approaches in to support learners in poor urban neighborhoods?


Interested in learning ecosystems? Read more: