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A Program True to Fellows’ Paths

By Meital Caplan
October 22, 2018

For Maria Canales and Amy Henning, co-leading the redesign of our curriculum is more than just a job, it’s an opportunity to provide students with the type of support and encouragement they each wish they would have had during their high school careers. Though they wouldn’t change their trajectories, their research has made them wonder what they could have unlocked in themselves sooner had they grown up being asked “What problem do you want to solve?” rather than being pushed towards traditional college and career paths. In devising a new curriculum, Amy and Maria hope to provide Fellows with just that.

In late 2016, we at OneGoal asked, ”If we continue along our current path, will we be in a place to close the degree divide and work towards promoting equity in education within our lifetime?” The answer was no. While our Fellows were enrolling and persisting in college at rates that far surpassed students with similar backgrounds, we still had a steep hill to climb in order to ensure they’d have an equitable opportunity to realize their postsecondary dreams. So our program team embarked on months of internal and external research. Most importantly, we listened to Fellows who had earned their degrees and those who didn’t. We learned that our college graduates often credited their success to noncognitive skills and mindsets: they had purpose and knew how their postsecondary path would help them achieve that purpose. They had built networks of champions. They knew how to self advocate. The reverse was also true for students who didn’t persist on their postsecondary pathways.

Above all else, OneGoal has prided itself on putting Fellows first. And this has never been truer than when we had to face feedback from alumni who candidly shared that the historical OneGoal definition of success – a four-year college degree – was not necessarily the picture of success they held for themselves. One shared, “Every time I spoke to an advisor at school they would ask ‘what do you want to do?’ And I would always say I don’t know what I want to do. And at some point I was just showing up just to show up… After a year or two, I stopped going because I wanted to learn what I wanted to do first, then I would go back.” In other words, we pushed a bachelor’s degree as the ultimate end goal without asking Fellows what they believed their personal success would entail, and this ultimately led to disinvestment and disengagement for many Fellows.

All of this insight led us to conclude that OneGoal Fellows must be offered the opportunity to critically engage with their personal identities, their communities, and the world at large as part of their postsecondary journeys. Conversations with researchers in educational psychology, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP), and Critical Race Theory; collaboration with peer college success organizations; and focus groups with Fellows, Program Directors, and OneGoal staff all informed our organizational shift away from our original program model.

These learning opportunities revealed Culturally Relevant Pedagogy as an orientation to our work that met the needs expressed by our stakeholders, particularly our Fellows and Alumni.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is based on the premise that all students bring valuable knowledge and experiences to their educations, and it strives to build academic excellence and high expectations, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness in both students and teachers. As an approach to teaching and learning, it ensures that students feel seen given that their unique identities, communities, and experiences are acknowledged as assets to support their learning and development. It also positions students as active changemakers in the world through developing sociopolitical consciousness, and furthermore builds their ability to think critically through rigorous academic experiences.

Moving OneGoal’s programming toward a Culturally Relevant program experience means that we are moving from telling Fellows what their postsecondary destination should be toward a model in which we ask students what they most care about, what they want to do, and then help them find a pathway that fits their values, purpose, and aspiration. The result, we believe, will be transformed young people who are in pursuit of their purpose, who can stand firm in who they are and what they offer the world, and who will graduate and go on to achieve their greatest postsecondary aspirations. Additionally, our hope is that through this programmatic shift we are providing healing spaces for everyone who interacts with our program. We hope not only that Fellows benefit, but that our curriculum, training and support prompts self- reflection and self-discovery for all. In fact, we’ve experienced this firsthand.

As two women of color, we both have learned to name the depreciating feelings of imposter syndrome and stereotype threat we held for years, believing ourselves to be alone in this thought. In developing this curriculum we have spent time on our own identities and strengths and have healed through finding the power in words like first-generation, immigrant, Asian American, and Latinx. It is a privilege to be part of this work and we hope that in some way, through the lessons we are creating, we can walk alongside our Fellows as they shine their light and navigate the peaks and valleys that will surely be part of their postsecondary journey.