“And yet, before much can be accomplished, you need to bring together all the stakeholders in the public school system — families, educators, students, school administrators and the general public —to discuss solutions and find collective responses.”
This understanding led Beck to organize two separate “design-thinking” community workshops for stakeholders of the Alachua County Public Schools District to explore the myriad issues of early learning and ELLs, with a particular focus on the problems of children growing up in poverty.
Wide range of stakeholders
All told, Beck’s three-hour workshops attracted 114 education students, UF College of Education faculty and staff, and representatives of local schools and community organizations. Participating students included those in Beck’s Introduction to Education classes and faculty lecturer Jo Kozuma’s course on second language learning and teaching.
“These workshops were a way to bring the curriculum to life for the college’s students,” Beck said. “They can read in textbooks about issues related to preschool education and bilingual education and they can learn more through their field experiences. But until they are sitting shoulder to shoulder with community experts who are trying to implement real-world solutions they do not have a full sense of the issues.”
Beck made use of her training in “design-thinking” processes to organize the workshops and spark engagement among participants. Attendees broke into groups of interdisciplinary stakeholders and Beck guided them through phases of the design-thinking process, including storytelling, root problem identification, ideation and small-scale experiments.
Community members who attended one or both of the workshops included officials from Alachua County Public Schools, the county library district, literacy groups, women’s advocacy organizations and Southwest Advocacy Group, a nonprofit that works to improve conditions for residents of impoverished neighborhoods in Southwest Gainesville.
By the end of the workshop, each group chose the most viable solution and developed a way to test its effectiveness. A caveat: to limit pie-in-sky, budget-breaking ideas, they needed to take less than an hour and cost $10 or less. Among the solutions: Gather a large group of ELL advocates to attend meetings of the boards of local school districts to learn about its commitment to ELLs and to speak about the need for more culturally enriching experiences for all students.
“It’s more important than ever to find ways to help immigrant and refugee schoolchildren and their families, given the societal climate that increasingly questions their presence in our schools and communities,” Beck said. “Creating a welcoming community cannot rest on the shoulders of educators and schools alone. It demands an interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder coalition committed to upholding the promises of pluralism in all facets of community life.”