Sunday, September 15, 2013

Arts Education in Chicago - A Collective Effort

I attended a Chicago Arts Partnership meeting on Friday, hosted by Ingenuity, Inc and the Arts Education Department of Chicago Public Schools. Ingenuity, Inc. is led by Paul Sznewajs, who founded Snow City Arts Foundation in the 1990s, which is when we first met.

Much has been written about Collective Impact in the past couple of years. Paul and his group have done much to bring together more than 600 arts education groups in Chicago with a vision that "all Chicago Public School students, from the day they start school until the day they graduate, will receive quality arts education at every grade level"
During Friday's meeting Paul and others provided a history of how arts education organizations have come together in this effort and a vision for the future. One of the resources Inginuity, Inc. has created is an Arts Look portal that maps locations of arts education providers, with layers of information showing providers of different types of arts education.
This network building started many years ago and has reached out to engage many different arts initiatives. It's supported by the Mayor, and has generated a $1 million a year commitment to fund arts education programs in schools. Friday's meeting was a celebration of progress and an announcement of next steps. Very impressive. Well done.

I'm impressed by what Ingenuity, Inc has accomplished because this is much of what the Tutor/Mentor Connection has been attempting to do since being formed in 1993. Our focus has been to help mentor-rich non-school tutoring, mentoring and learning organizations reach k-12 youth in high poverty neighborhoods. Our strategy has been to build a directory of existing programs and a library of information, then a larger on-going public eduction effort that would draw more consistent operating support to existing and emerging organizations. This strategy has been share in on-line maps, essays, graphics, etc. since 1998. It's a strategy that needs many leaders, but can be supported by a few who build knowledge libraries and tools that support collective efforts.

We've also built a map-based directory, launched in a printed version in 1994. In 2004 we launched an interactive, map based tutor/mentor program locator, with layers of information showing different types of non-school tutoring and mentoring programs, and age group they serve. In addition we added demographic and school performance information to the maps so users could see where these programs are most needed. We also added an "ASSETS" section, so businesses, faith groups, hospitals, universities, etc. in the same community areas might connect and work collectively to support these programs.

Beginning in 1994 we invited leaders and supporters of tutor/mentor programs to gather every six months in a leadership and networking conference, and in the 2000's we've invited people to gather in virtual meeting spaces. While Mayor Daley and then State Senator Barack Obama attended the Tutor/Mentor Conference once in the past, we never were able to build the type of support for the Tutor/Mentor Connection that Ingenuity, Inc. has been able to build for arts education groups.

Since launching a web site in 1998 the T/MC has build an extensive library of information, with links to more than 2000 other organizations in Chicago and around the world. Anyone can use this information to support their own efforts to help kids through school and into to careers.

As we move into the 2013-14 school year the Tutor/Mentor Connection is now part of a Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC structure. With so many organizations seeking leadership positions in helping kids get the attention, support and education they need to move through school and into jobs, I see my role as a catalyst, consultant, idea share, and potential partner to any of the other organizations who have been able to obtain better funding and better civic support for their efforts than I have.

We all want the same end results. Finding ways to connect all of the different organizations who are doing this work will take the on-going efforts of many organizations like Ingenuity, Inc., and it will take extraordinary efforts to connect these networks with each other, and to teach leaders, donors and policy makers to use maps to help build community coalitions, and to build on-going revenue streams to support the work of everyone who is involved.

I've created dozens of graphics that compare the collective effort of helping kids to careers to that of building a hotel or tall building. At every stage of construction people with specific talents need to work together so the project can move to the next page. Everyone needs to be paid and everyone needs appropriate skills. Thus, we need to innovate ways to create public involvement and commitment to this effort, in every part of the Chicago region.

To me this is where volunteer based tutoring and mentoring becomes part of the strategy. I got involved in this work almost 40 years ago when I first committed a couple of hours a week to tutor a 4th grade boy. Over time my involvement transformed my understanding and fueled my commitments. If volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs around the Chicago region are recruiting volunteers and keeping them involved, and transforming them into leaders who look at everything that needs to be done, we can mobilize the leadership and on-going support this collective effort will require.

I hope you'll browse other articles I've written, visit the Tutor/Mentor Institute web site, view the graphics on Pinterest and the essays on I'd be happy to be part of your effort, and would gladly mentor other leaders to support these ideas through their own efforts.

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