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Why I support ExpandED Schools (and why you should, too!)

Soledad O'Brien

Soledad O'Brien is on the Board of Directors at ExpandED Schools.

It’s #GivingTuesday – a nationwide day of philanthropy created as the flip side to last Friday’s shopping frenzy. It’s a great idea, but one that can get lost behind a clever hashtag. The fact is, there is so much need and it is important to recognize that we all have a responsibility to others, and the ability to make a difference. We spoke with Soledad O’Brien to find out what draws her to our mission of closing the learning gap and what influential education experiences look like. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

The key for me is understanding that education is the whole ball game. If you’re trying to move people out of poverty, I can’t think of any other strategy that will be more effective in helping people than focusing on education. When you close the learning gap, you close the achievement gap, which closes the success gap, which closes the wage gap, which helps to alleviate poverty. If you care about education, you have to care about young children and how and when they learn -- period. Kids are learning from the moment they pop out of the womb and if you don’t provide opportunities for enriched learning experiences, they fall farther and farther behind.

When it comes to equity, it’s not enough to just level the playing field. You have to make sure everyone has access to a great education. And it shouldn’t matter if you’re in a rural, urban or suburban school. A just system is one in which no matter where you learn, you do so in a clean, safe building. You have well-trained teachers who are enthusiastic. It means being with peers who are well fed, prepared and eager to learn – not just to advance from grade to grade, but to move forward in order to become successful in life.

The most influential education experiences are the ones that provide opportunities to stretch yourself. I mean really put yourself out there and maybe even fail. That’s what helps you grow and succeed. What I remember from my own childhood, and where I see my kids flourish, are the non-academic experiences. Be in the school play, and be terrible at it! Build a robot. Try out for the math club. Play a sport. You learn so much about yourself – the truly important things. You discover that you have tenacity, that you can bounce back. School is not just about academics. It should offer opportunities to learn about yourself as a human.

This is what draws me to the work of ExpandED Schools. It’s not just about getting a better score on a math test (though studies have shown our schools have improved those scores!) It’s about increasing access to enriched learning experiences – filmmaking, art, debate, salsa dance – in order to create a more joyful, just and equitable education system. It’s about giving kids, in every zip code, the support and structures they need – coaches, teaching artists, tutors – to help them develop into thoughtful, curious and creative adults.

So on this day dedicated to giving of ourselves, please join me in giving to ExpandED Schools. Thank you!

 

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