add.a.lingua co-founders, Lilah Ambrosi and Stacey Vanden Bosch joined NewSchools Venture Fund this month in San Francisco for their annual Summit, so we’re going to try to recap their learning and experience in six questions…because we like a challenge. (If you’re looking for a more topical rundown of the Summit, check out this helpful read from EdSurge.) Here we go.
You both flew out to San Francisco this month for the NewSchools Summit. Could you tell us about the event and what you were doing there?
Stacey: NewSchools Venture Fund is a nonprofit national organization committed to transforming public education. Each year they host an invitation-only gathering for “education innovation thought leaders.” I first heard of NewSchools Venture Fund while listening to the Stanford eCorner podcast series. Each podcast features a guest lecturer from the business, education, or technology world. One particular speaker, Jennifer Carolan, original co-founder of NewSchools Venture Seed Fund, cast a vision for the future of education. Her vision of transformative K-12 experiences for students resonated with both Lilah and me, ultimately drawing us to San Francisco and the Summit.
Lilah: We went out to the NSVF Summit, hoping to be around like-minded professionals, entrepreneurs, educators, and leaders, all dedicated to improving our educational system for ALL students. We were not disappointed! While everyone there had their own unique lens into the ways to improve education, we were all there with the same goal. It was refreshing to know there are so many people out there who believe in the possibilities for ALL students and who aren’t trapped in the “this will never change” mindset.
The summit included sessions covering topics ranging from ed-tech tools for ELL students, to social-emotional learning, to SAT preparation…what content or conversation resonated most with you?
Stacey: Everything…in a strange way; walking into the conference felt like “coming home.” From the high school students who shared their stories throughout the day to the interview with Priscilla Chan—all participants seemed both hopeful and impatient for change. As someone who prefers doing rather than thinking about doing, I appreciated hearing from district leaders who were so committed to change that they willingly waded into the messy ambiguity involved with “trying something new.” Those same leaders shared how the process of change within their systems began with collaboration, or as Dr. Pastor noted, “principled conflict,” with outside experts.
Lilah: The plenaries opened with two current students telling their individual educational journey. Each student that spoke (they all were high school juniors or above) had a more compelling story than the next. They all talked about their struggle with education and all of the people who told them implicitly and/or explicitly that they just would not be able to achieve their dreams or that they would never be educationally successful. That broke my heart. But they also shared with us the story of the one or two educators that changed all of that for them— that supported their dreams and fostered in them a love of learning. The difference that one person can make in the life of a student is so profound, and it reminded me of many teachers I know that make that difference every day.
Stacey, you said that going to the conference was like “coming home.” What did you mean by that?
Stacey: Well, I was trying to express how powerful it was to be surrounded by educators who believe change is necessary and didn’t seem compelled by fear to hang onto the status quo. I think add.a.lingua has been trying to promote change in contexts somewhat resistant to the ‘principled conflict’ the process involves, and, too often, disagreements can become about people rather than ideas. I didn’t sense that tendency at Summit.
I think being raised by parents who embraced people with ideas that challenged our belief system helped me differentiate someone’s personhood from their thoughts. So, how does that relate to change? Well, change becomes more likely if we simply take the personal out of the process. So the NewSchools Summit made me feel as if I were coming home or rather like a fish IN water – not out of it.
Lilah, you were tweeting during a session on ELL students about the need for resources that are contextually appropriate. What had you so fired up there?
Lilah: Yes, this comment was made by J. Roberto Gutierrez, President of Latino Educational Equity Partnerships, and it resonated with me because we hear our schools say the same thing over and over. Students need authentic material with attention to language development, not just material translated from English to Spanish. Additionally, we need material that students can relate to so that they are able to make connections within their learning. It is really all about meeting the students where they are and giving them the tools and skills to reach the bar.
So taking the learning and connections you made, what’s next?
Lilah: We are busy connecting with all of the many people we met at the conference! Not only do we hope to share the vision we have at add.a.lingua, but we seek to understand the goals that others have that attended the summit. While many attendees were familiar with the concept of dual language immersion (DLI) education, we hope to continue to educate our new friends with research-based information about quality DLI.
Stacey: I’m still processing. But, I think both Lilah and I agree that learning all we can from this group of talented changemakers is high priority. Some of our new friends may even be intrigued by our conviction that students need MORE than Google Translate to be successful in a culturally and linguistically diverse world. Believe me, we’d love to have them join our multilingual cause and talk with us about implementing high-quality dual language K-12 educational models.
Last question…for those would-be education innovators out there still in the idea stage—who want to build their business or organization but haven’t yet taken that step—what words of wisdom would you offer to those who are just getting started in ed-tech?
Stacey: Be prepared for the ambiguity and messiness involved with innovation – particularly within such a complex ecosystem as K-16 education. Find district and school leaders who value building solid relationships with outside innovators and are willing to engage “for the long haul.” Dare to make mistakes, learn, and iterate. Commit to transparency. Never compromise excellence–it’s about students–it’s about their future.
Lilah: If you have an idea, make it happen. We need many ideas in this space to improve the educational opportunities for ALL students. Take the first step, connect with other innovators, and stay away from anyone that tells you that you cannot do it.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about how add.a.lingua is promoting a multilingual revolution in K-12 education, drop us a line. We’d love to connect.