“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” – Maya Angelou
In Alejandro’s classroom, he was stunned by the fact that it took his students until November 28th—83 days into the school year—for their reading levels to catch up to where they had been before the summer. These are his kids the day it happened: Karena, Mya, Saniyah, Carlos, and Travis.
Alejandro began trying to figure out why summer learning loss is unique to low-income communities. Ultimately, this led to the realization that the summer slide is symptomatic of a deeper problem: low-income parents have been left out of the process of educating their kids.
The first pitch
Once he had an understanding of the root cause of the problem, Alejandro began to search for solutions. Nationally, there wasn’t an organization that had cracked the code on how to effectively engage low-income parents. This became Alejandro’s ambition and charge!
Teach For America 20th anniversary summit
Teach For America’s 20th anniversary summit presented an opportunity to pitch an entrepreneurial venture for $5,000 in seed funding. It was the first time Alejandro articulated his idea in public, first calling it “Summer Learning Initiative.” The last line of the pitch would eventually be the seed for the name change to “Springboard Collaborative”: “Let’s change the summer from a barrier into a springboard for our kids…”
Springboard’s pilot served 42 kids at Pan American Charter School, where Alejandro taught. Alejandro asked his then-girlfriend (now wife) Lisa to be the first Site Manager, a position we now call Program Leader. By the end of the pilot, students replaced the typical 3-month regression with a 3.2-month reading gain. Weekly parent workshops averaged 94% attendance. For the first time since November 28th two years prior, the problem finally felt solvable. What’s more, it felt solvable with the people and assets already within school communities.
The original logos
Check out our first logos!
Leap of faith
Alejandro turned down a job offer at McKinsey & Company in order to pursue his dream. He spent his days consulting for Baltimore City Schools in order to keep up with rent. When he got home, Alejandro would put on pajamas as well as a tie, to remind him that his real workday was just beginning. Entrepreneur-mode would regularly extend into the early morning hours.
“Springboard” is born
On the heels of a successful pilot, it was time to turn Summer Learning Initiative into a real organization. However, the name didn’t feel quite right. Here is a message from Alejandro to an early adviser, seeking feedback. You’ll also see the first version of Springboard’s logo, made entirely on PowerPoint:
“In thinking about potential names, the one I like most is: Springboard Collaborative. ‘Springboard’ conveys my vision for what out-of-school time should be and “collaborative” refers to the relationships between parents and teachers in the program. A potential logo I made is below. I was also thinking ‘Springboard Collective’ but I think ‘collaborative’ better captures the nature of the parental component…”
In January of 2012, Springboard was granted 501c3 status by the IRS. We received pro bono legal representation from Dan Gershwin, who was a law student in Penn’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic.
A few courageous Philadelphia funders saw enough potential in Springboard to make seed investments. This included the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation, the Hamilton Foundation, the Fels Fund, and the Patricia Kind Family Foundation.
Shortly thereafter, Alejandro was honored as ‘one of the world’s best emerging social innovators’ by Echoing Green, a leading venture philanthropy firm that selected 20 fellows from 3,500 global applicants.
Expansion to 4 schools
With wind in our sails, Springboard expanded the summer program to 4 school communities. Though we had the opportunity to get bigger faster, our goal was to maximize learning (not size). We selected 4 schools with very different profiles that would help us learn how to replicate outcomes in different contexts.
At one of those schools, Alejandro met Aubrey. She had applied to be the Program Leader, and she seemed too good to be true– she remains Springboard’s only job applicant to have submitted a letter of recommendation from a parent. Upon interviewing her, it was immediately clear to Alejandro that Aubrey was the person he needed to realize Springboard’s vision. This is as true today as it was then.
Growing & growing
We grew Springboard’s summer program to reach 328 kids. We also executed Springboard’s first geographic expansion, across the river to Camden, NJ.
Recognizing that the problem we are tackling is bigger than philanthropy alone can solve, we redefined Springboard’s business model. We began viewing schools as customers and became focused on delivering value that districts are willing to pay for. This model has put Springboard on the path to financial sustainability while improving our service to school partners.
… And growing…
Springboard scaled up enrollment in summer programming to 750 students at 8 sites.
Slinky is born
Chrissy, our COO at the time, contracted with Exponent Partners to build Springboard’s Salesforce-backed performance management system. We called it Slinky (for “Student Learning Information Key”). Though it looks very different today, Slinky is still the system that enables us to make data-driven decisions in real-time.
Coast to Coast
After stretching a toe to Camden, we were ready to take a bigger leap. Springboard expanded to the Bay Area in partnership with Oakland Unified and Education For Change, and with philanthropic investment from the GreenLight Fund, the Rainin Foundation, the Rogers Family Foundation.
Moving beyond the summertime
Recognizing that bottom quartile readers need additional support, Springboard developed an afterschool intervention. Springboard Afterschool trains teachers to differentiate instruction and engage families in order to accelerate struggling readers’ progress during the academic year.
To the capital we go
Having developed and tested a pattern for geographic replication, Springboard expanded to Washington D.C. in partnership with DC Public Schools and with anchor funding from a coalition led by the CityBridge Foundation.
Taking it to the streets
In partnership with Parks & Rec and with support from the Philadelphia Foundation, Springboard began experimenting with programming outside of the school context. The Playstreets pilot program trained ‘block captains’ to conduct pop-up reading workshops in neighborhoods. This experience informed our understanding of licensing and franchising, which are now a part of Springboard’s 5-year vision.
We no longer fit around a table
In 2016, Springboard made 6 full-time hires in three different cities. Videochat and conference calls become a part of our daily work.
A National Board to lead the national charge
Springboard’s startup board members make way for a newly formed national board. Each of these members lends a unique area of expertise or ‘superpower.’ Rick, Nancy, and Sanjeev join Alejandro in steering Springboard toward the next chapter.
Launching three new cities…simultaneously
Springboard successfully launches programming in New York, San Francisco, and San Jose. We’re getting the hang of this!
Having iterated on Afterschool for two years, it is now ready for prime time. We successfully introduce the program in the Bay Area.
From programs to culture change
During Springboard programs, school communities generate outcomes many did not think possible with their own teachers, parents, and students. As the authors of their own success, returning school leaders are asking, “How can I sustain parent-teacher collaboration during the year?” Springboard begins working with district leadership in Phialdelphia to design a blueprint for improving K-3 literacy outcomes by embedding parent-teacher collaboration into daily school and family life.
Envisioning the future
With support from The Management Center and funding from Emerson Collective, Alejandro and Aubrey lead Springboard’s first long-term strategy in planning process. The result is a 5-year vision and strategy. Springboard’s first five years have been productive, and the next five will be groundbreaking. I’m more energized, inspired, and determined than ever before!
Here’s looking at you, 2022!
Though Springboard is off to a good start, we’re dreaming bigger. In 2018, we launched a 5-year strategy that will enable Springboard to make an impact at a much greater scale through technology, franchising, and systems change. Our goal is to catalyze a culture shift in the national education field, making family engagement a matter of course.
Now in your local app store
Based on everything we have learned in person and on paper, we recently launched an app that helps families cultivate and sustain home literacy habits. This product has the potential to scale more quickly than Springboard’s existing programs.
Four years of Afterschool!
Our fourth iteration of Springboard Afterschool generated some of our best-ever outcomes for over double as many students as last year. Students averaged more than a 4-month reading gain in just 2 months of programming, thanks to our incredible teachers, parents, and staff.
A perfect 10!
We had our biggest summer program to date! We launched in Fresno, CA; Wilmington, DE; Norwalk, CT; Baltimore, MD. Between the East and West Coast, we were in 10 different cities and we had our most exciting summer yet. We continued to have our amazing results with an average of 3.1 months of reading growth!
New office(s) and expansion
In 2018, Springboard expanded in personnel and in square footage. We hired nine full-time team members and moved to three new workspaces – a national office three times larger than the one we had moved out of in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; an operations hub in Philadelphia; and an operations hub in Hayward, California.
In our early years, we had a horizontal structure, with people chipping in wherever they could. While we still maintain that collaborative spirit, in 2019 we developed departments led by VPs to provide additional structure and leadership internally.
Keeping the momentum
After our record-breaking summer of 2018, we showed no sign of slowing down. We found ourselves in 3 new cities—Stamford, CT; Stockton, CA; and Salinas, CA—and served a total of 6,980 students.
In 2019, we set our organizational aim: to help 100,000 students reach reading goals and 30,000 read on grade level by December 31, 2022. This goal was deliberately unachievable with our direct service program model. Our intent was to force Springboard to find a pathway for scaling impact exponentially, rather than fixating on incrementally growing our programmatic footprint.
We piloted three new offerings in 2019: Engage, Affiliate, and Independent. These offerings were ultimately sunsetted, but we learned valuable lessons during these pilots that benefit our work to this day. We also realized that innovating on our model is core to our DNA, and we adopted a new core value about learning and continuous improvement to make this explicit.
Internal growth and change
Even during the tumultuous year of 2020, Springboard was able to expand and adapt. After a short pause, we resumed full-time hiring by the middle of the year, expanding our full-time staff numbers to over 50 for the first time in our history. We ended the year with 59 team members on staff.
2020 was a year like no other for all of us. After schools shut down in March, we worked quickly to take our traditional Springboard Summer program virtual while also creating a new, lighter-touch program that fit the current need. Within two months of school closures, we designed Springboard Learning Accelerator, or SLA, complete with a new phonics curriculum and optimized for virtual use. We also provided more access to digital resources, including our home literacy app, resource pages on our website, Facebook Live virtual workshops, and reading tip videos on YouTube and Vimeo.
New partnership opportunities
2020 also saw new partnership opportunities for us. We expanded our traditional school and district partnerships—landing in Los Angeles, CA; Detroit, MI; Cleveland, OH; Charleston, MS; and Manor, TX—and partnered with nonprofits like Teach For America. With Teach For America, we trained 3,000 incoming corps members in family engagement and our FELA methodology as a part of Teach For America’s first ever Virtual Summer Teacher Training and opened programming to thousands of students across the country.
Open-sourcing our methodology
We codified our methodology, which we call Family-Educator Learning Accelerators (or FELAs), and open-sourced it. FELAs are 5-10-week cycles during which teachers and caregivers team up to help kids reach learning goals. They have six essential steps: building a team, finding a starting point, setting a goal, practicing, checking growth, and celebrating.
We launched a website replete with free resources: https://felamethod.org/. This will enable countless educators and families to benefit from these resources, and foster the growth of the FELA method far beyond the bounds of Springboard programming! Ultimately, we envision FELAs as a standard practice across grades and subject areas—as ubiquitous as parent-teacher conferences.