La Red Mágica (“The
magical web” or “net” in Spanish) is the University-Community Partnership
for Meaningful Education. The Partnership is designed to build an exemplary
after-school program based on principals of voluntary, collaborative, and
informal learning linking K-12 inner-city minority children and adolescents at
the Latin-American Community Center in Wilmington and teacher education students
at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE).
The large majority of the children are from below
poverty level immigrant and minority families: 90% of the children have parents whose incomes at or below 125% of the
federal poverty level. Here
is the demographic data of the LACC children: 85%
Hispanic, 14% African-American, 1% Caucasian. Of the Hispanic, about 1/3 recent
Puerto Rican immigrants, 1/3 Puerto Ricans either not recently immigrated or
born here in continental U.S., and 1/3
other recent immigrants (from Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala). The
general purpose of the initiative is to develop an alternative model for
successful learning outside of (but in support of) school instruction by
designing a nurturing, failure-free, community-based, and safe-to-explore
learning environment for educationally disadvantaged K-12 children.
We are in the first year of developing the project, working with 90 minority elementary school children and 30 undergraduate preservice teachers with the total budget of about $50,000 (seed money for the first year). The primary financial support came from the University of Delaware. We also got support from the Hewlett-Packard foundation, the Ronald McDonald foundation, Spencer foundation, and the California Consortium of the 5th Dimension projects.
initiative is based on 12 years of research and teaching experience of the
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC) at UC San Diego. Researchers at
LCHC designed a program called the Fifth Dimension
that successfully capitalized on computer-based activities during the
after-school hours to promote reading acquisition among minority students who
were failing to read in school (Cole, 1996). This after school program began
twelve years ago in San Diego, and now exists at twenty-one US universities and
three international sites in Mexico, Sweden, and Russia. These programs have
shown positive cognitive, linguistic, academic, and social effects with
participating children (Brown & Cole, 1997). In 1996-1997 in California alone, the program served over 700
K-12 children, and engaged 125 undergraduate students and 25 graduate students.
The La Red Mágica project will contribute
to this after school program by adding our focus on community building via
shared governance and integration of goals of different communities and
organizations involved in the partnership.
Changing structures of family life and work since the 1970s have produced an urgent need for out-of-school care for children (Hayes, Palmer, & Zaslow, 1990). More than just a safe place for children when they are not in school, quality school- and community-based programs can benefit children's cognitive and social development in ways that enhance their achievements in school (Vasquez, Pease-Alvarez, & Shannon, 1994). Because learning does not end when the school bell rings, the hours spent out of school in informal learning environments are crucial for both K-12 children and university students' ongoing cognitive development (Cole, 1994).
The project focuses on several urgent and unmet needs:
school failure of minority, immigrant, and bilingual children and children
from poor families,
changes in families requiring both parents to work which leads to
diminishing opportunities for adult guidance,
interest in informal learning that can promise development of a failure-free
lack of first-hand experience among many student teachers in working with
minority, immigrant, and bilingual children and children from poor families,
lack of familiarity of many student teachers with informal learning that can
foster innovative teaching,
opportunities for undergraduate students to volunteer to work with local
access to expanding technological possibilities in education for both
children and university students,
of functions such as education, research, and community life and
institutions and communities.
Minority and poor children are disproportionally
represented in school failure. Delaware
Department of Education (1997) has published the latest statistics about public
schools demographics and academic performance.
According to these statistics, in the 1995-96 academic year, there were
29.9% African-American, 4.3% Hispanic, and 63.9% Caucasian children.
About one third of the children (34.6%) were from low income families
(public students receiving free or reduced lunch).
The statistics about academic performance show that twice or even three
times as many African-American, Hispanic, and Low-Income children do not meet
state academic expectations in comparison with Caucasian children.
According to the statistics, this disparity holds across years
(1993-1995), grades (from third to tenth), and subject areas (reading, writing,
and math). For example, in 1995,
there were 32% African-American, 31% Hispanic, 35% Low-Income and 10% Caucasian
children who did not meet the state expectations in reading in the fifth grade
(for the tenth grade, the percentages are 45%, 49%, 50%, and 26%
correspondingly). The remarkable
similarity in low academic performance of African-American, Hispanic, and
Low-Income children is striking and suggests that these children as, at least,
twice as many are educationally deprived in comparison with Caucasian (and
presumably middle-class) students. The
gap between the minority/poor children that this project serves and the majority
population may have increasingly negative consequences since the state’s
recent impending implementation of high-stakes, standard-based testing.
Without redesigning education for minority/poor children it is reasonable
to expect even higher rates of retention and, consequently, more drop-outs and
fewer high school graduates among those children.
The program integrates theory and practice. We
believe that authentic education involves making a difference in the world (for
both undergraduate students and children).
The field-based practicum generates concerns and dilemmas about working
with children for the university students. The coursework grounds these concerns
and dilemmas in academic discourse. This academic reflection provides further
guidance for the students in working with children.
During the practicum undergraduate students help
children who are voluntarily engaged in innovative informal K-12 after-school
activities (e.g., computer activities, telecommunication, readings, crafts, and
educational games). Through informal interactions with undergraduates enrolled
in the practicum field-based courses, K-12 youth receive intensive learning
experiences in telecommunication, computer-based math, science, and basic
literacy activities. Undergraduates,
in turn, develop as educators (and scholars) by participating and reflecting on
their own teaching dilemmas, children’s learning, and local communities.
One of the more powerful contrasts in education lies
between the ease and fluid competence gained by participants in informal
learning and the difficulty of using school knowledge in practice outside of
school. One focus of the current project is to explore ways of bringing the
positive qualities of informal settings into schooling.
We observe that the teacher education students learn
to recognize, promote and facilitate children’s successful learning strategies
in the process of building a community of learners with diverse interests and
needs. They will then be in a position to bring these innovative strategies into
their classrooms to avoid traditional school failure for many children. We also
focus on developing leadership skills in preservice teachers and children
through shared ownership of the program and collaborative problem solving.
Outside the context of schooling, after-school
programs afford pedagogical opportunities that promote learning in part by
transcending traditional teacher-student hierarchies. Yet no single institution
can alone meet these challenges. This fact places a new imperative on forging
inter-institutional collaborations. Toward this end, joined by a shared interest
in the social and educational welfare of local youth, the partnership initiative
mobilizes the special resources of community organizations and universities in
after-school programs that mutually benefit all partners.
Historically, universities have pursued top-down and
prescriptive modes of providing tutorial services to K-12 youth and defining
research issues on K-12 academic development. Transforming that model, the
after-school program is driven by and organized around the needs of local
children, as defined by educators, parents, and community professionals who know
them best. The University of Delaware is committed to provide a sustained pool
of undergraduates in an activity that enables schools and community
organizations to serve more children throughout the school week. While community
organizations provide the overhead, the University of Delaware provides
opportunities and activities that support ongoing teacher professional
development, especially in discipline-based instructional technology. While the
resources of the University are organized to serve the needs of local children,
the community organizations provide the University with a rich medium for
research, teaching, and learning.
We plan to conduct research that focus on evaluation
of the program and issues of informal learning. The proposed research will evaluate and document the
transformative learning experiences produced throughout the La
Red Mágica project. Faculty and researchers from a variety of academic
backgrounds bring to this evaluation effort methods of formative and summative
analysis from the disciplines of Education, Anthropology, and Psychology. The
strength of our evaluation plan builds on these diverse approaches to the task
of evaluating and comparing outcomes in the demographically diverse site. We
intend to focus on the following three complimentary sets of issues:
development of strategies to document and evaluate benefits to K-12
children which are appropriate to the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the
after school site with its stress on community building;
the role of informal learning and environment for promoting educational
collection and analysis of data to evaluate the impact of participation
in the La Red Mágica project on undergraduates.
To address these issues, we will combine data from undergraduate field notes and projects with data gathered from controlled comparisons of participating and non-participating children on standardized tests of academic performance. We will interview parents, children, community leaders, undergraduate students and course instructors. We will do videotaped observations of children’s activities. Moreover, undergraduates will themselves conduct analyses of the experiences and progress of specific children in their final papers and projects. We will focus on cognitive, social, and motivational benefits of participation in the project for the children and undergraduate students. We will also ask parents, children, community leaders, undergraduate students, and course instructors what they expect the benefits to be for children and undergraduates.
K., & Cole, M. (1997). Fifth Dimension and 4-H: Complementary Goals and
Strategies. Youth Development Focus, 3 (4), 1-8.
Cole, M. (1996).
Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline.
London, UK: Harvard University Press.
Cole, M. (1994). A conception of culture for a
communication theory of mind. In D. R. Vocate, (Ed), Intrapersonal
communication: Different voices, different minds. LEA's communication
series, pp. 77-98. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Delaware Department of Education (1997). Interim
Assessment Program Highlights. Available
C. D., Palmer, J. L, & Zaslow, M. J. (1990). Who Cares for America's
Children? Child Care Policy for the 1990s. Washington, D.C.: National
O. A., Pease-Alvarez, L., & Shannon, S. M. (1994). Pushing Boundaries:
Language and Culture in a Mexicano Community. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
GAO (July 1994). Hispanic Schooling: Risk Factors For Dropping Out and
Barriers to Resume Education. Washington, DC.
 The name of the project “the 5th Dimension” came from a comment by Russian psychologist Vygotsky that besides the four physical dimensions (i.e., three dimensions of space and one dimension of time) there is the fifth dimension of meaning.