Last week, the Motivis Learning team flew out to Austin for SXSWedu. We were pretty excited to be at the Expo with a booth, where we met with and talked to educators and thought-leaders from around the world about personalized learning, technology and security, and inspiring students in the face of tumult—both politically and socially, on a global level.
We also had the opportunity to attend a number of inspirational sessions. One of our favorites was the presentation of The Rather Prize, a collaboration between Martin Rather, a Rice University sophomore, and his Grandfather, the inimitable Dan Rather.
A couple of years ago, Martin Rather’s grandmother asked him what he was doing to make a difference in the world. It was then that he realized it was his turn to give back to the communities he grew up in, so he teamed up with his grandfather to establish an annual award to a Texas school that’s actively improving education. As they describe on their website, Texas is 39th in the State Education Report Card, and 47th in SAT testing. To which Dan Rather says, “God did not create Texas to be 47th in anything.”
Last year, the inaugural $10,000 honor went to Dr. Sanford Jeames’ STEP Up Challenge at Austin’s Eastside Memorial High School. The majority of EMHS students are people of color, many are immigrants (or their parents are), and many are from low-income families. And, as Jeames explains, they don’t see many representations of themselves outside of their communities. STEP Up was designed to change that. More specifically, he says, “We want our students to see themselves beyond high school. We want them to see themselves beyond the neighborhood they live in…We have a large segment of our population who don’t leave their neighborhood.”
Now a year into the program, many students are seeing success. Several got up to speak to the crowd at SXSWedu, including those who will be the first in their family to graduate from high school. All of them are preparing to go to college next year.
The program has been so successful, Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership offered to cover an additional $10,000 in implementation costs (that’s on top of the $10,000 cash provided by the Rather Prize) for the 2017 winner.
This year’s winning idea, decided by a public online vote, was from Katie Landaverde, a teacher at Lake Dallas Elementary. The plan is to implement a mentoring program where seniors will lead before-school programs to teach young kids about topics they might be interested in—which is great for the young students, and provides the older students with an opportunity to flex their leadership skills.
We’re looking forward to catching up with the students and teachers this prize has impacted again next year at SXSWedu. In the meantime, we’ll continue to highlight the programs that we think are changing the face of education around the country.