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Students Advocate for Authentic Learning

As he planned instruction for his high school English classes, Scott Reindl asked himself, “How is this going to help my students prepare for life beyond my classroom? Will they be able to think critically and collaborate effectively? Will my students be able to differentiate themselves in cover letters, resumes, and interviews? Ultimately, that is what we’re doing; we’re giving students the internal resources to navigate the world on their terms,” explained Reindl. Now, as the Program Administrator for Career Education, Reindl brings the pursuit of student voice, empowerment, and agency to 30,000 students in the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD).

The most resounding demonstration of student voice and agency is political action. In 2013, 200 high school students–with 5,000 petitions in hand–went to Anaheim City Hall to appeal for change. They wanted an education that would lay a foundation for a future of their choosing, an education that would capitalize on the resources in their own community to advance their aspirations. Students whose career goals ranged from future naval office to business leader responded to the question: “Does education serve us, or do we serve education?”

“I feel that right now, we are serving education and that’s not the way it should be,” shared aspiring Naval officer, Fabiana Munoz. “Give me the tools I need to succeed in life. Show me how to get to college, pick a career, and come back and contribute to my community,” added aspiring future Anaheim Police Chief, Abel Ardiaz.

Following the student-citizens’ impassioned and articulate pleas for change, Anaheim Mayor, Tom Tait and Anaheim Superintendent, Michael Matsuda partnered with the California State University, Fullerton’s GEAR UP program to launch a model public-private partnership to advance both the needs of young learners and the workforce. Together, they created Anaheim’s Innovative Mentoring Experience (AIME), and since its inception, they’ve created over 9,000 mentoring and internship experiences for students. Funding sponsors the United Way of Orange County and the Disneyland Resort, along with others, have joined the effort and have allowed the program to expand this premiere mentoring and internship program to AUHSD students. In what is surely a model for the nation, AUHSD has transformed their district into a launchpad for a future full of promise and possibility.

Thrively was the right fit for what we’re trying to achieve. All of our students are now taking the Thrively Strengths Assessment, and we’re working together to create virtual work-based learning experiences, or what Thrively calls Business Connections projects, so that every learner in our district has the opportunity to experience real-world problem solving,” explained Reindl.

AUHSD’s commitment to authentic learning is gaining both momentum and attention. This year, Reindl and his team won the prestigious ePrize grant, offered by Chapman University’s Attallah College of Educational Studies, in partnership with the CEO Leadership Alliance of Orange County, which recognized the district’s efforts to prepare the next generation of students for high-growth sectors in the region. Thrively is thrilled to support the successful implementation of this critical work.

Community-Based Organization Responds to Covid Crisis

If you try to park in the lot at the offices of Strengths-Based Community Change (SBCC), don’t expect to find a parking space. SBCC staff and volunteers have commandeered the space to make room for an outdoor classroom. This resourceful team has scrimped, saved, and trimmed to purchase tents, tables, desks, and extension cords to ensure that every child in the community has an opportunity to learn.

In its 45th year of operation, one thing about SBCC remains fixed: an unrelenting drive to adapt to the changing needs of the community. Founded by a trailblazing team of licensed marriage and family counselors, SBCC is now a model for collaborative, community-driven change. Executive Director Colleen Mooney had aspired to be a social worker, and then she discovered SBCC at the Hometown Fair in Manhattan Beach. After a few years of volunteer service, SBCC’s Board of Directors placed Mooney at the helm. She’s been claiming that, while there’s an important place for therapy, healing also happens in families and communities. The evidence? SBCC serves 10,000 families a year in Los Angeles County.

“Community organizing is the cornerstone of our work. As a result, we’ve moved away from offering programs to building community capacity through what we call ‘ventures.’ The three ventures center on community activation, economic vitality, and the capacity to thrive,” explained Mooney. “We are catalyzing a deeper investment in communities through the ventures that we co-create with the residents in the communities we serve,” she added.

“SBCC’s mission is to help residents gain access to power. Access is driven by our belief that every person has gifts and talents and when those are lifted up, families can determine opportunities that make the best use of their talents; they can decide for themselves how to make the best use of their time.” This emphasis on strengths-informed choice is what attracted Mooney to Thrively. The alignment between SBCC and Thrively was clear to Mooney from the start: “Thrively helps young people discover and share their strengths, interests, and aspirations,” said Mooney. “Thrively is a natural fit.”

Thrively Strength Assessment measures students against 23 different strength factors. It also takes an inventory of your students’ career aspirations and their extracurricular interests.

Imagine an entire community where the members value themselves and one another for the internal assets that they bring to the table and where what’s on the table is shared. “When people are on a path to meaningful and values-aligned discovery, they become excited about making a positive impact and the entire community benefits,” emphasized Mooney.

Whether it’s distributing 2,000 grab-and-go meals a day, providing essential self-care products, registering people to vote, or educating children in a safe and welcoming outdoor setting, SBCC and their resident partners are making an impact where it’s needed most. This responsive and flexible approach is supported by the United Way and other values-aligned foundations that believe in the community’s power to drive positive change. Mooney sums up the veracity of this approach: “What we are seeing from residents is that no matter the level of their specific need, they want to help, they want to be of service and give back in whatever way they can. We all feel empowered by these remarkable acts of courage.”

Student agency and student empowerment

Most educators would agree that this is the dual aim of our individual and collective efforts. How then do we move from aspiration to action? If students are to become agentive, we need to create the conditions for their authentic voices to emerge. Authenticity is the outcome of being one’s true self, which results from self-awareness. Students feel safe to express their authentic selves when they believe that they are known and valued. The core resource for transforming our schools into vibrant learning environments brimming with curiosity and creativity is sitting right in front of us: our students. When we value students as partners with us, we unleash limitlessness potential. Recognizing this, the principal at a high school in East Los Angeles posed a question: “What would happen if we empowered our students not just as learners but as learning facilitators? The principal, Dr. Faatiai, at the Engineering and Technology Academy on the Esteban E. Torres High School campus launched a two-day professional development workshop for twenty-five students who would learn how to facilitate their Advisory classes. The students were a heterogeneous group comprised of both student body leadership and those who struggle with self-management. At the end of the workshop, all students were ready to lead an Advisory grounded by an authentic desire to know every student’s strengths and aspirations in the school. passion.jpg Students took Thrively’s Strengths Assessment during the workshop, which was designed for young people to increase self-awareness and surface their top five of twenty-three strengths. After the assessment, students discovered themselves and saw their peers in a new light. The facilitator began to call out each strength and asked students to stand and say, “Like me!” when they heard one of their top five strengths. The facilitator began, “One of my strengths is compassion.” Three students stood up and said, “Like me!” “One of my strengths is creativity!” Five students stood up: “Like me! With each new affirmation, new bonds were formed. team_building-Thrively When the twenty-three strengths were shared, students were asked to reflect. An 11th-grade student said, “It’s pretty hard to tease a kid who has compassion as a strength.” One of the more tentative students in the workshop added: “Individually, our strengths make us awesome, but when we put our strengths together, we’re unstoppable!”