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Structuring for scale-up success: Partnerships first

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Structuring for scale-up success: Partnerships first

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the second in a four-blog series: read the first blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Techbridge Girls shares lessons from its 5-year scale-up of STEM programs.

During the last five years, Techbridge Girls’ programs have expanded to serve 10,500 girls because of crucial partnerships with school districts and school administrators in new communities with whom we share a common goal. Like Techbridge Girls, our school partners recognize that opportunities for students from low-income communities to realize their potential as professionals and gain economic leverage will come increasingly from the STEM fields as the 21st century progresses.

In seeking partnerships with specific schools to host our programs, TBG has prioritized identifying diverse schools with a supportive principal and a commitment to STEM education. We exclusively embedded our programs in Title 1-eligible schools to reach girls in the lowest-income communities.

We employed different strategies to form our school partnerships in various regions.  In the Greater Seattle area, for example, we partnered with the Highline Public Schools, planning out school partnerships with the district, who helped contact the schools to be involved. In the Washington D.C. area, our regional leadership individually identified partner schoolschools for us to partner with. We also ensured representation ofthat our programming would serve both public and public charter schools, to reflect the landscape of the school system. Having the longest standing relationships with schools in the Oakland Unified School system in Oakland, Calif., we made the difficult decision to leave some schools when they lost their Title 1 status. We also created new partnerships in each geographic region to institute feeder patterns of schools so that we could serve girls from elementary through high school.

In selecting schools to partner with, we also paid careful attention to how motivated the individual principals of each school were, and whether their vision for their students aligned with our core mission.

One principal exemplified this spirit by sharing, "We should really be preparing our kids here for those tech jobs. There's Boeing here and Microsoft. We're really doing a disservice to our kids if we're not preparing them for that and especially in a high poverty school that's so diverse. I think often our kids don't have access to learning about those types of careers or even think that think possible for them. Our core value here is around equity and closing opportunity gaps, and this is a huge gap. Especially for girls of color, to really see themselves represented in the science and tech industry and then think, 'Oh, I can do that,' is so important and powerful."

Principals also played a critical role in identifying the best partner teachers. They identified educators within their schools who had:

  • positive relationships with students,
  • pedagogical approaches aligned with youth development principles,
  • strong classroom management skills, and
  • knowledge about or interest in STEM. (NOTE: teachers' expertise included science, math, English, and the arts.)

In our original program model, our staff delivered the weekly Techbridge session alongside a partner teacher recruited from each school. These teachers helped our instructors understand the culture of the school, helped recruit girls, conducted outreach to families, and generally acted as liaisons to other teachers and the broader school culture. Partner teachers were vital to maintaining our presence in the school, being accepted by the girls, and sustaining support for our programs when school principals transitioned.

Training and relationship-building led by our staff also played a significant role in engaging educators in our afterschool programs. Evaluation results for partner teachers consistently showed that the support provided by Techbridge staff, such as hands-on training and regular debriefs, were crucial for teachers' co-delivery of the program.

We also cultivated partnerships with local STEM workplaces, which provided career exploration field trips for girls and an avenue for recruiting women to serve as role models in our afterschool programs. In each geographic region, we participated in local STEM networks and took advantage of opportunities to share our evaluation findings and lessons learned. These partners helped us sustain credibility in each region and align our programming to the unique needs of local girls and demographic trends.

We similarly maintained a presence with national STEM networks, such as the National Center for Women in Technology, STEMNext, STEMconnector/Million Women Mentors, and the National Girls Collaborative. The Afterschool Alliance also served as an important partner who enabled our presence at the national policy level with other national youth-serving organizations.

Keeping pace with the changing landscape of STEM providers and policies has strongly informed our strategic decisions on how to scale to new geographic regions and adapt our program models.

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