When I met the leaders of Thrival Academies and heard about their plan to send Flatlands kids to Thailand for study abroad, I thought it was a great idea, I also was 90% sure it would never happen. I figured that this great idea would die a slow death at the District, one more hopeful corpse in the incinerator, and a growing mountain of ash. Such is the usual tangle with the white box of death.
It was great to meet Thrival students earlier this year, at Frick. And I feel even better to know that plane tickets are bought, plans are made, and the kids are leaving on Friday. There are some great testimonies from students in this EdSource article that provides a more in depth view of the program than I am here. Please take a look.
This is a wonderful opportunity, a transformative one. So why did it take so long, why don’t our Flatland kids get more of these types of opportunities?
The White Box of Death
In my experience, innovation and creativity are usually discouraged and may be punished in working with the average school district. And when they see something they don’t completely understand or haven’t done before, “no” is always easier than “let’s figure it out.”
Often it’s not a real “no,” it’s a series of delays or destabilizing decisions, a death by a thousand bureaucratic cuts, or slow suffocation in a waiting room.
Dr. Death in this case is usually the lawyers, or some obscure risk managers. They hear about kids going to Thailand and have millions of questions, they can question you to death. And they often do.
And there are risks, there are questions, but kids do this all the time in other schools and other districts—so why can’t our kids?
Bad Math at the White Box
There are legitimate risk and benefit questions in new programs. I just think that many of the decision makers really don’t understand the benefits or undervalue them. Many of our children live in very small worlds, I am always surprised how many student have never been to San Francisco when we do field trips there, much less Thailand.
And the world is big.
I have been blessed by travel and living abroad. And it changes you. It will change these young people in enormous ways. But if you don’t really see you in the kids, or those children as your kids, then on the scale of risk versus value, risk wins out.
If you look at it from the kid’s perspective, the value far outweighs risk. Families have already made that calculation by sending their kids, and I guarantee they are thinking harder about it than anyone at the District.
We need to take some more risks for our students, which means really valuing these experiences for them. Thrival is a hopeful sign.
Props to the Partners
When something like this happens it’s a team victory. So to the folks inside OUSD, who fought for this program, thank you.
No, seriously, thank you. I owe you a beer. We all do.
I know some of you had to be there slogging it out, and advocating. These things die on the vine without care, so thank you whoever you are.
And thank you to the founders, I know it has been tough, with a lot of uncertainty, but your grit and perseverance is a model for the kids.
And to the families and kids, thanks for taking a risk and grabbing this opportunity.
And to all the partners, when you look at the list; MetWest, Summit Academy Charter, Rustic Pathways, Big Picture Learning, not to mention the so called philanthropic partners- New schools Venture Fund, Ed78, and the Rogers Foundation. I guess whether they are philanthropic or philanthrocapitalist mostly depends on if folks agree with their funding choices. Probably philanthropic in this case.
It’s a pretty amazing list of public, private, non-profit and district partners that made this happen for our kids. I hope we can keep coming together to make similar things happen for more of them.