‘Cities of Learning’ Create Opportunities for Youth from All Backgrounds to Prepare for Life and Work in the Digital Age

As the final bell rings at schools across the country this month, six major metro areas are kicking off new initiatives to provide out-of-school learning opportunities to youth from all backgrounds throughout the summer months and beyond.

Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., have joined the rapidly growing Cities of Learningmovement, a new effort to network citywide resources to keep youth ages 4 to 24 engaged in educational and career opportunities when school lets out. Cities are funded by local partners and receive national support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Youth Networkand the Badge Alliance.

“Learning today needs to be powerful and relevant to prepare young people for the demands and opportunities of our times,” said Connie Yowell, director of education at the MacArthur Foundation. “Cities of Learning are stepping up to the challenge with programs that encourage curiosity, develop higher-order thinking skills, and help youth see how they might apply their talents in our increasingly complex and connected world. We call this approach Connected Learning, and we’re excited to see it catching on nationwide.”

Cities of Learning offer free or low-cost opportunities for youth to learn online or participate in programming at parks, libraries, museums and other institutions. Whether through robotics, fashion design, coding competitions or workplace internships, Cities of Learning provide an array of engaging opportunities for young people to explore new interests, develop their talents, and create unique pathways toward college or a career.

Local funding and logistical support for each City of Learning are provided by broad and often unprecedented coalitions, bringing together cross-sector partners such as the mayor’s office, the school district, nonprofits, institutional funders and out-of-school educational providers.

“We create a single portal to a citywide network of learning opportunities, transforming the entire city into a campus of learning,” said Nichole Pinkard, a DePaul University professor and founder of the Digital Youth Network, which provides the platform, training and technical assistance for the Cities of Learning. “For parents and youth, it makes it much easier to find and plug into rich learning opportunities that they may otherwise never have known about or been able to afford. It also brings together an array of people and organizations who are invested in the city’s youth in a new and significant way.”

Chicago launched the Cities of Learning movement in 2013 with a successful summer program that now continues year-round. This summer, Dallas, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh will kick off their Cities of Learning, with Columbus and Washington, D.C., joining the lineup this fall. More cities are planning to launch in 2015.

A key component of the Cities of Learning effort is the awarding of digital badges to showcase the knowledge and skills youth acquire during out-of-school learning. Like badges earned in scouting, digital badges document and celebrate mastery of new skills but with a 21st century twist. Cities of Learning use the secure Open Badges platform to safely award, store and display digital badges.

“Open Badges are an exciting new way to recognize and capture learning wherever it happens — in school, in the community or online,” said Erin Knight, executive director of the Badge Alliance. “Open Badges can safely and efficiently store in-depth and verifiable information about what was learned, what skills were mastered and what competencies were attained. Young people who earn badges can choose to share them with friends and family or with teachers or potential employers in a way that might support future education pathways and career choices.”

Cities of Learning are designed around the principles of Connected Learning, a new approach that builds on the basics, leveraging technology to make learning relevant to the demands and opportunities of the digital age. Connected Learning increases engagement by linking in-school academics to a learner’s out-of-school interests, by fostering supportive networks of peers and mentors, and by creating opportunities for youth to make and produce things in the real world.

For more information about Cities of Learning, including how to find local opportunities, visit www.CitiesofLearning.org.


Local Quotes

Chicago: "Like all great cities Chicago has always had a multitude of scientific, arts, business and civic organizations deeply engaged with the community, especially the city’s youth. By banding together under the City of Learning banner and providing a unified system of badging to recognize participation and achievement, we’ve been able to deepen the city’s and our own understanding of the city as a richly endowed campus where the opportunity and actuality of Connected Learning occurs every day. We couldn’t be more thrilled that our pioneering efforts are being adopted throughout the nation as cities take a new look at their own assets and how to make them more visible and available to youth."

— Elizabeth Swanson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Education to Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Columbus: “The Cities of Learning program is important to Columbus because we believe that the Connected Learning framework is an innovative way to ensure that every child has access to high-quality learning opportunities during out-of-school time. As a collective impact agency, we know that by connecting the learning experiences of young people to the things most important to them we have a better opportunity to sustain what has been learned during the school day. Overall, we are implementing the program because of the innovative way it leverages the good work of existing programs and partnerships across our city."

— Leshaun Carter, project director of school achievement at Learn4Life, a lead Cities of Learning partner

Dallas: “Powerful learning occurs when kids can explore their own interests, on their own time and in hands-on ways. Yet the chance for this out-of-school enrichment isn't available to many of the kids in our city. By sixth grade, kids from middle-income families have benefited from 6,000 more hours of out-of-school enrichment compared to their lower-income peers. Dallas City of Learning provides more kids more ways to explore Dallas and pursue their learning interests while closing this opportunity gap.”

— Gigi Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought, a lead Dallas City of Learning partner

Los Angeles: “Parents and students know that learning happens everywhere and does not stop outside the classroom. During the Los Angeles Summer of Learning, more than 50,000 students will have a tremendous opportunity to create pathways for their own success that can lead to higher learning and more advanced professional choices. We need to give our students a chance to succeed, which is exactly what we aim to accomplish during the Los Angeles Summer of Learning. By issuing digital badges for things students care about, we will make learning interactive and achievable and ensure our students can grow, learn and thrive.”

— John Deasy, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent, a lead Los Angeles City of Learning partner

Pittsburgh:"Through Pittsburgh City of Learning, youth will earn badges for skills and competencies that are relevant to their interests and help them connect to real world opportunities. Across partner organizations from the Pittsburgh Kids+Creativity Network, learning experiences will take youth on new paths of discovery, encourage them to explore the city's rich resources, and find out what they can learn, make, do and ultimately become."

— Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund, a lead Pittsburgh City of Learning partner

Washington, D.C.: “Our nation’s capital is overflowing with learning opportunities for students. Our challenge has always been organizing those opportunities in a way that puts students in the driver’s seat for their own learning. We are excited that Cities of Learning can help us solve this challenge in Washington, D.C."

— Ed Davies, executive director of DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., a lead Washington, D.C. City of Learning partner




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