The IDEA Blog

LBS Session B: Love and Learning, Boricua Style

IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series came together in Puerto Rico in September for Learning Session B. We were fifty educators, organizers, and community leaders across seven teams from Mississippi, Oregon, Vermont, New York City, Minnesota, New England, and Puerto Rico, plus National Fellows who function as LBS Advisors, IDEA Staff, and facilitators. This was the second of four gatherings of the LBS, following on the heels of the first of the three Action Periods.

The LBS, as decribed in prior posts about Session A and the first Action Period, is a deep-dive research and action process designed to generate knowledge and learning around a focus question, which for this LBS is:

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? 

Our challenge over the four days of Session B: to share team progress and challenges, support teams in creating a new plan for the next action period, begin work towards a shared analysis across teams, and ground our work in the culture, history, and reality of the Puerto Rican, or Boricua, nation.  

Our time in Puerto Rico was structured around group learning experiences and conversations alongside team-focused time to reflect and build out local plans of action. Inspired by feedback from Session A and the suggestion by Boricua Team co-Senior Fellow Josué McGrath Rosario, the driver sessions -- time to focus on how change happens in the four drivers of education practice, policy, public narrative, and strategy -- were constructed as opportunities to learn about and engage with ongoing projects and leaders in Puerto Rico. This gave everyone the chance to dive into actual successes and challenges in Puerto Rico, and, in the case of the practice driver, the opportunity to see two powerful schools in action: Diego Vazquez Elementary...

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Posted on Oct 21, 2014 - 11:05 AM by Dana Bennis

Sustainable Schools Project Learns from Puerto Rico

Students at Diego Vazquez School. Photo credit David Loitz (c) 2014(c) David Loitz 2014

This is a guest post by Ryan Morra, community organizer collaborating with a Vermont Team supported by IDEA. Ryan works with Shelburne Farms in Vermont as the Education for Sustainability Partnerships Coordinator and EducatorThis blog was first published on Shelburne Farms' website here.

Laughter, clapping, and salsa music filled the air as students from Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico enthusiastically guided us through their schools and got us to play some of their local games like gallitos and Chequi Morena. These students spoke with passion about what it means to have teachers and school leaders who care deeply about who they are as unique individuals. Hearing their stories and seeing the fruits of their actions – a radically changed local park, a new urban agriculture farm, marches for social justice, and students and teachers excited to come to school each day – underscored the importance of student-centered learning. One of the many messages I am taking home from la Isla del Encanto is that educating for sustainability must put youth in the driver’s seat of the learning process.

How was it that I ended up in Puerto Rico representing Shelburne Farms? Well, for the last several years, Shelburne Farms has been part of a team working to transform education in the Green Mountain State and elsewhere. Our Vermont team is one of many brought together through IDEA, the Institute for Democratic Education in America. The trip was part of IDEA’s two-year Learning Breakthrough Series, where teams from around the United States and Puerto Rico host a five-day summit to learn from each others’ practices and to highlight bright spots in education in the host community. Before the Learning Breakthrough Series, Vermont hosted education innovation tours that brought in teams from Puerto Rico, Mississippi, Minnesota, Oregon, and New York.

(c) Ryan Morra 2014During this Learning Breakthrough...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2014 - 01:36 PM by Shawn Strader

“Healing” and “Love”

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...

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Posted on Oct 13, 2014 - 03:14 PM by Shawn Strader

Isla del Encanto

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 ( 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...

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Posted on Oct 07, 2014 - 03:21 PM by Shawn Strader

Special Announcement: IDEA’s New Executive Director

Special Announcement
Albert Sykes is the new Executive Director of IDEA

Albert Sykes has been named the next Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) and will begin November 1st.

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 November 1, 2014, taking over the role held for the last 4 years by Scott Nine, who remains on the IDEA...

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Posted on Oct 01, 2014 - 10:22 AM by Shawn Strader

Connecting Communities through Video & Online Collaboration

A few weeks back I shared an overview of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series that began last fall and continues through summer 2015 with 8 teams working together on the shared challenge of educational transformation for youth (Check out that article for an overview of how the LBS works).
As a collaborative change project with teams in widely different locations and communities around the United States and Puerto Rico, we've had to think creatively about how to bridge the geographical challenges and provide opportunities for authentic sharing and feedback-giving during the Action Period months between in-person Learning Sessions. The Action Period is a critical time when teams implement the plans they crafted during the Learning Session, and we knew there would be great benefit if LBS participants could provide feedback and support to one another during these months, albeit from a distance.  
While at the first Learning Session in Jackson, Mississippi, we took time together as LBS participants and IDEA staff to brainstorm ideas to overcome these challenges. We were looking beyond the often-unproductive yet typical ideas of large group conference calls or email lists, and no one felt inspired by social sites like a Ning or creating yet another group on Facebook.
                               Shared work at the first Learning Session
What we did come up with was an idea that turned out to be not only productive and a helpful learning experience for teams, but also fun - we called it the Action Period Team Video Sharing Activity. Here’s how it worked:
In April 2014, about 4 months into the Action Period, each team used basic technology - in most cases a smartphone - to record a 5 minute video that shared an update on their team's progress in achieving the plans they devised at the Learning Session, reporting on challenges they've faced, and asking questions they'd like help with from the other teams. They then uploaded their...

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Posted on Jul 10, 2014 - 06:54 AM by Dana Bennis

Last Call for Executive Director Applicants


July 15 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?

Please share this news along with the Job Announcement and Application with your networks and potential candidates you’d like to see in this role.

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Posted on Jul 08, 2014 - 11:02 AM by Shawn Strader

Why Thousands Are Traveling to Mississippi Right Now

A lot of people have been traveling to and paying attention to Mississippi over the last few weeks. 
You’ve probably heard of Brett Favre and Sarah Palin’s visits. But do you know who Mr. Hollis Watkins is? You hear Rick Santorum came for a visit, but have you heard of the Alliance for Educational Justice or the Freedom Side?
With MSNBC as a notable exception, the majority of media attention and noise has been made around the Republican primary and runoff for the U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Thad Cochran and tea party challenger Chris McDaniel.
But thousands of young people and adults have also been traveling here to Mississippi and paying attention to the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the Youth Congress that opens a week of both commemoration and renewed strategizing and action to meet current and future challenges rooted in past struggles.
Irony and contrast are words born for days like today and weeks like this week.
I woke up this morning and found this headline on POLITICO’s site “Mississippi’s revolution may be just starting.”
And the picture and story is so flat, so incomplete, and so wrong.
Though, the headline may be right.
While Mississippi voters head to the polls and politicos foam over the meaning of this primary contest, young men and women will be participating in a political track and organizing track on the 50th Anniversary of events that changed the nation.
Our public awareness needs to include all the sights and sounds in Mississippi including the sights, sounds, and voices at #FreedomSummer and #fsyc14 - the Freedom Summer Youth Congress. 
Here’s some of the words and video from Mr. Hollis Watkins at the opening plenary of Freedom Summer this morning:
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...

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Posted on Jun 24, 2014 - 08:01 AM by Scott Nine

Collaboration Across Geography & Context: IDEA’s Pilot LBS


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...

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Posted on Jun 17, 2014 - 01:18 PM by Dana Bennis

The Challenge: Re-Imagining Learning

The Challenge: Re-Imagining Learning

In the face of critical and complex challenges, we believe that children and young people need to better develop creativity, imaginative problem-solving, teamwork, empathy, and inspiration so they can step into leadership roles in pursuit of purpose.
Play is one of the brain’s favorite ways of learning. It allows us to practice, experiment and test how we might tackle similar challenges in the real world as we develop creative and critical skills along the way. There is also a playfulness in invention and innovation, two things we need more of in a world where solutions must outpace problems. Science proves that. Why not encourage more playful, enthusiastic learning everywhere we can?
The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka are teaming up in an effort to transform the way the world learns and you’re the most important player. IDEA has been nominated as a Network Partner for the Re-Imagine Learning Challenge. Up for the challenge?
Here’s the big incentive: everyone is a winner. As you share your ideas to help us map the landscape of innovation in education, we’ll give you personalized feedback and support to help bring your vision for change – what you’re most passionate about – to life. We’ll also welcome you into a global network of like-minded parents, educators, administrators, and social entrepreneurs—both online and on the ground—who are challenging the conventions of learning because changemaking can’t wait for future generations.
That’s not all: In November, 2014, 10 star Players will be named Champions of learning through play and will receive cash prizes totalling $200,000, as well as technical assistance and in-kind support.
This challenge has been designed to allow everyone to contribute, connect and benefit. If you're designing environments where kids and adults learn through play, whether at home, in a classroom or on a playground, we want to hear about it. So share your ideas and energy wherever you are: submit a...

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Posted on Jun 12, 2014 - 08:48 AM by Shawn Strader

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