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Bridging The Gap - Narrowing The Achievement Gap In Schools With Enrichment Programs

Raman Sivasubramanyam

On Tuesday, January 16, the Social Entrepreneurship Group (SE SIG) of TiE-Boston organized a panel discussion at the Silicon Valley Bank in Newton on enrichment programs to narrow the achievement gap in schools. The panel was moderated by Raman Sivasubramanyam, Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch, also SE SIG Co-Chair and was attended by a capacity crowd.
In his opening comments, Raman Sivasubramanyam lauded the panelists and their organizations for running the after-school programs and enrichment initiatives that make it possible for disadvantaged and at-risk kids to stay in school, stay on track, thrive, and get more out of their education.

Akshaya Patra USA is the US arm of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which runs the world’s largest NGO school lunch program. “By utilizing technologically advanced centralized and decentralized kitchens to provide nutritious school lunches to over 516,000 underprivileged school children, Akshaya Patra is giving those children the opportunity to focus on their studies, and consequently, lift themselves out of poverty,” said Shikha Bhatnagar, Executive Director of Akshaya Patra USA. Akshaya Patra operates in four states across India, and employs local women who help cook and serve meals to children in their villages. www.akshayapatra.org.

“By running five volunteer-based academic mentoring initiatives, Boston Partners in Education (BPE) has supported student advancement and the work of teachers in the Boston Public Schools since 1966. We are the only local school volunteer organization that recruits, trains, and places volunteers from the community to tutor and mentor K-12 students in math and literacy during school hours,” said Pamela Civins, Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education. In academic year 2005-06, 730 BPE volunteers provided over 48,820 volunteer hours in 66 schools, helping 4,350 students develop the skills, self-confidence and motivation to recognize and achieve their full potential. www.bostonpartners.org.

“We use music to enhance achievement,” said Katharine Pell, Vice-Chair of the Conservatory Lab Charter School. “By integrating music with academics, making students musically literate and integrating music performance into the curriculum, the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) gives at-risk inner city elementary school students the opportunity to develop self-confidence and respect for others.” She added that CLCS is committed to disseminating knowledge of the impact of music on learning and the brain garnered through research at the school by Harvard’s Project Zero on making learning visible, Beth Israel’s research on music and brain development, and Tufts studies on the connection between musicality and reading readiness in kindergarteners.  www.conservatorylab.org.

Both Ms. Civins and Ms. Pell acknowledged the contributions of SE SIG Co-Chair Divya Rao as a supporter of their respective organizations. Ms. Pell also observed that although it was their first exposure to Indian music, even the youngest CLCS students effortlessly sang the Carnatic scales along with Ms. Rao at her recent lecture-demonstration on Carnatic music at CLCS.

“We must increase by 300% the number of domestic students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education leading to careers in Massachusetts companies,” said Jim Stanton, Director of the Technology Initiative at Metro South/West REB. To build a diverse workforce and to ensure that female and minority students are qualified for the STEM jobs of the future, they are implementing programs that increase students’ awareness of, interest in, and motivation to pursue STEM studies and careers. In one initiative, professional development externships are arranged at industry leading companies, so STEM school teachers can learn of contemporary industry applications of their curricula.

As the only panelist who has also been a beneficiary of the very enrichment programs he runs today, Artists for Humanity’s (AFH) Program Director Jason Talbot, who was only fourteen when he co-founded AFH sixteen years ago, presented a unique perspective of enrichment programs. AFH engages Boston teens in arts-based entrepreneurship after a 72-hour apprenticeship. Their work is sold to individual and corporate clients. Participants gain a voice through exhibitions, commercial services, and public presentations, and earn the respect and responsibility of paid employment that has high expectations, promotes their economic development, and helps them reach their full potential. www.afhboston.com.

"Education drives economic opportunity more than ever before, family income drives educational outcomes, and school reform alone is not enough," said John Werner, Executive Director of Citizen Schools. "Nearly one in two 12-year-olds returns to an empty house after school. To address this challenge, we use the out-of-school hours (80% of a child’s waking hours) plus a high quality apprenticeship learning model to change life trajectories for low income, middle school children. Apprenticeships leverage more learning time and rigorous learning to help students prepare for success in school, college and life through hands-on, skill-building projects led by Citizen Teachers—volunteers who share their passion and expertise." www.citizenschools.org.

The presentations by the panelists were followed by an engaging Q&A session. Raman ended the discussion by applauding the panelists and the audience with a quote:

“Therefore I have undertaken this work ... not for the sake of speaking with authority about what I know but rather to know these subjects by speaking of them with reverence.” - St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei [City of God].

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