This is a guest post from long-time friend, organizer, and family member of IDEA, Darcy Bedortha. Her writing comes shortly after a recent visit to Puerto Rico for Session B of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series. To read more of Darcy's splendid writing, be sure to see her highly acclaimed piece showcased on Living in Dialogue titled, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale.
It is difficult to capture Puerto Rico in words. I’ve been struggling for a week to do so, wanting to share my experience and yet limited by this language thing... My journey with IDEA began nearly four years ago, in a much different latitude and season, but with the same centering of the heart. This week brought new faces to the table, and found some sadly absent. But life and love and the work move on.
I’m always amazed by the wisdom in the room when IDEA people gather. The presence of these hearts and minds has become a foundation for me, a deeply-rooted refuge I can return to for connection and inspiration when I struggle to make sense of the world. This community grounds me and gives my heart a safe place to rest when seeking shelter from the battlefield of injustice. As I look back over this year with IDEA, and over my own worlds, both professional and personal, the words that stand out are “healing” and “love”. How right that both words also filled the spaces I experienced in Puerto Rico, so thick sometimes I breathed them. I listened to stories of strength, courage and commitment to a vision of self-determination for a people overshadowed for centuries by a series of foreign empires. I saw first-hand the power of love and community in schools, rising against all odds to meet challenges and empower their students to become leaders of social change and justice.
This year has given me an exhausting and exhilarating array of experiences; from heart-warming to heart-breaking it has been a year of growth, change, acceptance and denial... a twelve-month walk-the-talk...
This is a guest post by Jenerra Williams, IDEA National Fellow. Jenerra teaches first and second grade at Mission Hill School and lives in Boston, MA. This blog was first published as a submission to Mission Hill's weekly newsletter which can be found on their website and here.
Isla Del Encanto – The Island of Enchantment. Puerto Rico has enchanted me indeed in many ways. From its landscape that is picture perfect no matter where you look to its food that fed my stomach and my soul. The music and the dance still beat within me and I can still hear the ocean just before I sleep. Lastly, the people... warm smiles, and genuine hugs all to make sure that I felt welcome.
My work with IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America) is what took me to Puerto Rico. I was asked to help facilitate the second in a series of three conferences they are hosting (Learning Breakthrough Series). These conferences bring teams of community/educational organizers from around the country together to talk about and plan how to move their work forward around four areas: practice, policy, strategy and narrative. These organizers/ educators are amazing people. The passion, sincerity and commitment they pour into their work is exemplary. I felt so honored to be among them and so at home. As a part of the conference we got to tour two schools, both in the city of Caguas: Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela (www.nuestraescuela.org). There is not enough room here to tell you about these schools. It would take days! However, I will say this – their work is extraordinary.
Justo Méndez Arámburu, founder of Nuestra Escuela, says that the school is “a community based organization that offers support services – bio, psycho, social, academic – to develop talents and initiatives” and is “founded in love”. Sound familiar? On the tour of both schools, I drew many parallels to MHS – the close knit staff, the strong adult/student relationships, the student led...
Albert is a native son of Mississippi and led the organization of the National Youth Congress for the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and has been an IDEA organizer and fellow for three years.
Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of three sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP member and civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived and died. Evers has been one of Sykes’ guiding lights in doing the work needed to move Mississippi and our nation forward. Becoming a student of the Algebra Project and a mentee of Bob Moses brought Evers into Sykes’ life, and made his sacrifices tangible to the then teenager. Through this experience, Sykes gained much firsthand knowledge and understanding of Black Mississippi’s struggle for justice, equity, and full citizenship.
Over the past decade, Albert has served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Young People’s Project, helped organize the “Finding Our Folk Tour” in response to Hurricane Katrina, and has been active in the development of Independent Television Services’ “The Masculinity Project” sponsored by the Ford Foundation.
IDEA’s new Board President, Kwesi Rollins says, “While leadership transitions can be tricky, the Board couldn’t be more pleased about the possibilities under Albert’s leadership. With Albert playing this new leadership role, the IDEA family of staff members, organizers, national fellows, and supporters is in good hands.”
Sykes officially becomes Executive Director of IDEA on, taking over the role held for the last 4 years by Scott Nine, who remains on the IDEA...
is the deadline to apply!
We're seeking a curious, thoughtful, creative leader who wants to lead a movement building effort to make value aligned connections across the United States and Puerto Rico. This person will lead the strategic and operational efforts of IDEA in pursuing its mission while modeling it values. Does this sound like the right opportunity for you or someone you know?
We have to move beyond this whole notion that this country and older people have put on you. That you are our future. I say I want you to get beyond that because you are more than our future, you are...
IDEA's pilot Learning Breakthrough Series launched November 2013 in Jackson, Mississippi with eight teams of educators and change makers from across the United States and Puerto Rico. The goal? To come together over the course of 18 months in a deep-dive research process to generate knowledge on a specific question:
What connections and approaches to practice, policy, public narrative and strategy support the meaningful and sustained engagement of all young people and communities in education, while honoring the wisdom and differences of varying local contexts?
The structure of the LBS features three in-person Learning Sessions to identify innovations and solutions, alternating with Action Periods when teams return to their sites to put plans into action. The LBS concludes with a Learning Summit where the findings are presented, published, and shared with media and the broad public.
The teams of educators, community leaders, and youth are from Vermont, New York City, New England, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Mississippi, Minnesota, and a national team of education actors. Organizations involved include The Young People's Project, Nuestra Escuela, Coalition for Education Justice, Urban Youth Collaboration, EdVisions Cooperative, Providence Student Union, Boston Youth Organizing Project, and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
The LBS is an outgrowth of our learning over the past two years about collaborative change models pioneered in the health field by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). We had conversations with IHI co-founder Paul Batalden and current IHI Executive Director of Performance Improvement, Robert Lloyd, and realized that the needs IHI saw in the healthcare field are similar to what's needed now in education: many practitioners (in our case teachers and students) are dissatisfied with current policy and practice and want something different and more engaging; powerful models and new ideas are being explored in...
I met Dr. Vincent Harding during my first week with IDEA. I was facilitating a gathering in Detroit that he ignited with his opening remembering of a favorite poem, “We are citizens of country that does not yet exist,” and his adaption for that gathering on education: “We are citizens of an education system that does not yet exist.”
In the middle of the four hour assembly, he changed the conversation by posing the question, “What are the attributes, the qualities, we want for the young people we love to possess?”
And later by leading us in song.
Then, at the end, he called us to be courageous, honest, and generous to one another.
After the assembly, for a just a few moments we spoke. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “we must be like love and iron fused together.”
I’ve yet to meet that challenge, though it has and continues to live as a mantra inside me. I imagine he’s left this and thousands of other mantras in the hearts and minds of those he touched.
Today, as thousands mourn his passing, I wanted to write simply to acknowledge what he set off in my own life and soul.
Dr. Harding, you were and will remain a center of gravity.Thank you for your words, your presence, your song, your courage, your dignity, your humility, and your generosity. May more in the world come to know what you knew and see what you saw. I ask that of myself as in these days of mourning and letting you go. Prayers, love, and strength to your family and all who knew you far better than I.
With much gratitude,
Vincent Harding, 82, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies from New York Times