The Grassroots Education Project

The Problem:

  • Students across the country continue to struggle, despite a sustained reform effort
  • Schools are using everything in their toolbox to make improvements, but progress lags
  • Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and always looking for more time in the day
  • Everyone is frustrated with the rate of improvement, especially parents
  • Communities are an untapped resource and can be instrumental in improving outcomes
  • Principals recognize the importance of their communities, but rarely have the resources to engage meaningfully

In response to these facts, we launched the Grassroots Education Project (GEP) in 2009, with Tubman Elementary serving as our first partner school. By engaging community members as partners in education, we hoped to develop a level of shared responsibility for student success. We went door-to-door within the school boundaries looking for supporters that wanted to help Tubman’s students.

The Results:

  • We identified 1,800 supporters, and involved 750 as volunteers at the school
  • Between 2009 and 2012, GEP logged 16,500 volunteer hours, while tutoring 70 students each week
  • Volunteers raised money for hundreds of library books, leveled them, and set up an inventory system so students could take books home to read
  • We renovated the teachers’ lounge, and recruited dozens of community members to help teachers in their classrooms during our days of service
  • Students in our Reading All-Stars program were twice as likely to become proficient in reading as their peers
  • According to analysis by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Tubman Elementary saw the second highest gains in reading proficiency across all DCPS schools during this period

Our Approach:

  • Partner with school leaders able to support an intensive partnership
  • Do not presume to know the needs of a school before talking with the school leaders
  • Implement programs with clear purpose and measurable goals (e.g. boosting measures of attendance, behavior, course performance, literacy)
  • Cultivate community leaders that can mobilize their neighborhoods
  • Build volunteer teams that provide additional support to students and teachers
  • Identify community capacity and leverage resources strategically

Our Goals:

Our vision is to transform the relationship all neighborhood schools have with their surrounding community, developing a sense of shared responsibility leading to direct collective action to improve student outcomes.

  • In each community we empower, recruit and train as many volunteers as the school partnership needs
  • Accelerate the pace at which our students reach proficiency
  • Strengthen communities by uniting residents and local businesses in the common pursuit of ensuring that all neighborhood children are well positioned for success in life
  • Get every member of the community to contribute to the success of their school in some way

To date, this has been an all-volunteer effort. Encouraged by the results we have seen over the past four years, we are in the process of expanding to many more schools across the District of Columbia, to be followed by more cities with under-performing schools. Our yet to be hired staff will be responsible for supporting school partnerships, organizing communities, and building volunteer teams, systematically connecting schools to the people in their communities that are anxious to help.