William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, named Philadelphia in 1681 after the Greek words philo (beloved, dear) and delfo (brother)—hence, the City of Brotherly Love. The newly formed Philadelphia Education Innovation Cluster is aiming to infuse the city’s namesake fraternal spirit into their regional education ecosystem, a network that includes community centers, art organizations, public television, Philadelphia Public Schools (representing 130,000 students and 300 schools), and more.
Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters) are local communities of practice that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and other community stakeholders (including families, local government, and nonprofits) to support innovative teaching and learning in their region. By working together, these partners form a network that is uniquely positioned to design, launch, iterate on, and disseminate breakthrough learning practices and tools. Philadelphia is at the initial stages of this work.
YoungMoo Kim, director of the ExCITe Center at Drexel University, connected with the EdClusters network in 2016 and has begun to use the model as a guide for fostering deep education innovation partnerships within the city. The ExCITe Center is Drexel’s hub for transdisciplinary collaborations, so the ethos of EdClusters aligns with their mission and is especially visible in the Center’s focus on STEAM education. Kim says, “There’s so much knowledge that can be gained from opening up your mind to other areas of study, other disciplines, collaboration with different organizations and people with different backgrounds. It’s a philosophy that resonates very strongly with me and that’s something we’ve tried to apply here in our cluster efforts in Philadelphia.”
Civic engagement is at the foundation of the ExCITe Center’s work, and Kim is constantly brokering partnerships with individual schools, teachers, and community groups; the EdClusters work is a natural extension. The Philadelphia EdCluster work started with the ExCITe Center bringing partners together for both formal events with high-profile speakers and informal networking events. Kim says, “There’s incredible innovation happening in Philadelphia, whether it’s in the public school system, the charter school system, independent schools, parochial schools, or out of school. But those networks never cross over. They hardly ever talk to one another. So providing a forum like a happy hour or a large speaker convening allows those networks to intersect more. And so that’s something that we started and are continuing to develop.”
At present, Philadelphia has the highest rate of poverty of any metropolitan area in the country, and young people experience challenging circumstances within city limits. Within this context, many public, private, and nonprofit organizations in the city seek to create meaningful spaces and programs where students can build their skills to contribute to their larger community. The ExCITe Center has tasked itself with bringing thoughtful leaders together to learn from one another and maximize their impact. In addition to events, they sent out an initial networking survey to the most active attendees to learn their perspectives, needs, desires, and what they can bring to the table to help others.
The Village of Arts and Humanities (often referred to as just “the Village”), located in North Philadelphia, is one of the most active attendees. The Village has served as a space for multi-generational art creation for the last fifty years, hosting resident artists and remaking public parks in part to engage young people and their families and preserve Black heritage. Working alongside artists from the community, young people develop skills in fields as varied as photography, graphic design, 3D modeling and architecture, radio journalism and podcasting, music production and songwriting, fashion design and fabrication, dance, musical performance, and more. The Village is able to do the work it does through partnerships. By partnering with the ExCITe Center, for example, students engage in deep conversations and projects on marketing and branding. In collaboration with Little Giant, a creative firm, students are exposed to professions and the opportunity to exhibit their artwork for three months. In another example, the Village has partnered with the Philadelphia Youth Network to create meaningful summer jobs for teenagers.
— Digital Promise (@DigitalPromise) July 16, 2018
Another community leader, The Workshop School, offers innovative educational experiences for students in grades 9-12 in West Philadelphia. During the school day, students engage in real-world learning through hands-on, project-based challenges and career pathway work. On-site auto shops, digital media labs, and makerspaces give students real-world application for their learning; students can even sell their makerspace products in the online Workshop Industries store Their focus on a design-thinking, multidisciplinary curriculum creates the environment for learning a variety of topics.
At @WorkshopSchool students delve into real-world problems. The #charterschool is highlighted at the @DigitalPromise Education Innovations Clusters conference. @workshopind @DrexelNews https://t.co/IFAr8MiL2N pic.twitter.com/Lv4WaOl1Kd
— Digital Directions (@EdWeekEdTech) July 17, 2018
Additionally, at the School District of Philadelphia headquarters, the PSTV Education Channel gives students the opportunity to explore media production through the medium of a 24-hour TV station, a partnership that was established to bring real-world learning opportunities to students. Partnerships of this kind are a priority to the School District of Philadelphia, according to Superintendent William Hite, who underscores the importance of connecting innovation to improving outcomes for students.
— Kim Smith (@k12kimsmith) July 17, 2018
In speaking to the power and potential of the Philadelphia Education Innovation Cluster, Michael O’Bryan, director of youth and young adult programs at the Village, says, “The power of collaboration is that you don’t have to be an expert in everything. It gives you the ability to be an expert at what you’re expert in while you still get to grow skills and stretch the limits of what your capacity is by being in relationship with someone who has expertise where you don’t.“
Although their EdCluster is new, the City of Brotherly Love knows that leveraging partnerships is a powerful way to provide opportunities to students to improve outcomes. With all of this activity already bubbling in Philadelphia, it’s exciting to think that their Education Innovation Cluster has only just begun.