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Askwith Education Forum

'Cradle-To-Career' Success and the 'Vaccine to Poverty'

Hope, advocacy, and hard work took center stage at the final Askwith Education Forum of the semester

The final Askwith Education Forum of the 2023–24 academic year at Harvard Graduate School of Education served as a powerful call for action and hope in academic reform around the United States.

“Cradle-to-Career Pathways Supporting Social and Economic Mobility,” featured the leaders of organizations working to change educational systems to better provide pathways to equity, upward mobility, educational attainment, and civic engagement.

The evening featured “the best panel you could possibly dream of to talk about this,” according to Professor Paul Reville, who served as moderator of the discussion. Guests included Kwame Owusu-Kesse, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, a foundational cradle-to-career organization that’s become a nationwide model for the Federal Promise Neighborhoods program; Russell Booker, CEO of Spartanburg (SC) Academic Movement and an EdRedesign By All Means senior fellow; Cecilia Gutierrez, managing director and portfolio lead for Blue Meridian Partners; and Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone in Minnesota. Reville introduced the group and presented data on the decline in intergenerational mobility and rise in inequitable opportunity in more recent generations of students.

“It’s time to reexamine the theory of the problem,” said Reville, whose EdRedesign Lab proposes “wraparound” support services for students including individualized education plans and embraces learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

HGSE professor Paul Reville
HGSE professor Paul Reville introduces the panel at Askwith Hall.
Photo Credit: Carolina Ruggero

The work of the Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by HGSE alum Geoffrey Canada, Ed.M.’79, came up often as an example of how the cradle-to-career model can succeed. The organization has found success and sparked a growing network of educators advocating for fundamental changes to the educational structure in vulnerable communities around the country.

“We have 20 years of evidence that this works. So now I say that we have the vaccine to poverty,” Owusu-Kesse, a Harvard alum, said on Thursday. “And we have the responsibility to codify these best practices and share them with the field. And also work in partnership with the field because we do not have a monopoly on excellence. And we need to learn from my colleagues and innovate and move this work forward.”

The panelists often reflected on the interconnectivity of their work, which puts forth a bold vision for reform and advocacy that leaders hope is moving more to the center of the conversation about educational reform across the United States.

“What we’re talking about is changing the very trajectory of our country when it comes to [our children]. And not because it is easy,” Samuels said, echoing a quote from President John F. Kennedy about the quest to set foot on the moon.

Askwith Education Forum panelists speak during an Askwith Forum
Kwame Owusu-Kesse (left), Cecilia Gutierrez (center), and Russell Booker (right) speak on stage at Askwith Hall.
Photo Credit: Carolina Ruggero

For Booker, the former superintendent of Spartanburg’s school district who left that position to directly advocate for a cradle-to-career approach, the progress made in recent years has been noticeable.

“I’m just excited at this moment we’re in right now,” Booker said, noting the “ripple effect” he’s seen in other districts he’s interacted with in the role.

A brief question-and-answer session highlighted questions about fundraising and optimism about the future of cradle-to-career advocacy, as well as the Ed School and EdRedesign’s role in moving the work forward.

“I have a lot of hope that an institution of this caliber is focusing on the most promising work to create generational wealth and to love up on all kids, and that is happening here,” said Samuels. “It gives us a lot of cred on the street.”

You can watch the full Askwith event in the video above. 

Askwith Education Forum

Bringing innovators and influential leaders to the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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