Connect Academy Leadership Team

Honorable Dr. Sam Blakeslee
Project Director
Founding Director, Institute for Advanced Technology & Public Policy

Christine Robertson
Project Co-Director
Associate Director, Institute for Advanced Technology & Public Policy

Dr. Tanya Flushman
Senior Research Fellow
Professor, School of Education

Dr. Shirley Magnusson
Senior Research Fellow
Professor, School of Education

Dr. Zachary Peterson
Faculty Scholar
Assistant Professor,  Department of Computer Science

Michael Haungs
Faculty Scholar
Professor, Department of Computer Science and Co-Director of Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies program

Project Partner

Gavin Newsom
Institute Advisor
Lieutenant Governor, State of California

Honorable Jack Scott
Institute Advisor
Former Chancellor, California Community Colleges

B. Wayne Hughes Jr.
Institute Advisor
Founder, Serving California

Laura Gomez
Institute Advisor
Latina Immigrant & Technology Entrepreneur

Raul Deju
Institute Advisor
Director, Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership at JFK University & Latino Entrepreneur

Ali Barekat
Institute Advisor
Technologist & Executive Director of Sunday Friends

Father Peter Pabst
Institute Advisor
President of Cristo Rey School

The Problem

There are many exciting technology-driven advancements occurring in the classroom setting. Blended learning, flipped classrooms, and linked learning are examples of educational innovations that are rooted in schools.  Though promising, these new models must overcome institutional resistance and gain acceptance amongst state and district policy makers, school administrators and classroom teachers. They must also be accommodated in state and school budgets for instructional materials.  

The Connect Academy takes a different, though complimentary approach.  The Connect Academy is a tablet-based portal designed to foster and stimulate a learning environment between a child and a parent in the home setting. The Connect Academy will work in the particularly challenging space of English Learning households where Spanish-language parents struggle to help their children be competitive in English-language classrooms.

While transforming California’s 1,043 school districts and 10,296 schools is steeped in policy, budgetary, and political complexity, there is one powerful learning environment where none of these institutional barriers are present: the home.  The Connect Academy regards parents as the most influential teachers in their children’s lives. Researchers continue to identify the lack of parental involvement as a key contributor to student underachievement. Continual interactions with parents form unique bonds that impart foundational values, perceptions, and priorities. 

The Connect Academy seeks to engage children with their parents in a home setting to create a culture of learning.  This early-intervention home-based approach will compliment and support the academic goals of the teacher in the classroom.  Complimenting the innovations and modernizations occurring in the classroom environment, the Connect Academy delivers a new model to support family-centric learning.  

No population of children struggles more earnestly to keep up with the classroom demands than those from Spanish and dual-language households.  Tragically, as early as 3rd grade, 81% of these children are below proficiency in English-Language Arts and 52% are below proficiency in math on state standardized tests. Although most parents are passionate about their children and want them to succeed, this aspiration does not translate into educational outcomes, particularly when parents themselves have low levels of educational attainment leaving them unable to assist their children in an English-based learning process. Students entering school from homes in which parents have low levels of educational attainment, limited English proficiency, and socioeconomic disadvantages are ill equipped to succeed in a 21st century classroom environment. The result is that Hispanics remain among the least educated group in the United States.

Since 2000, the nation has experienced a 3.9 million increase in the number of native-born children of immigrants. This increase in children of immigrants makes it no surprise that immigrant children are the fastest growing segment of the population in America.  While the number of ELL students is increasing, strategies to close the achievement gap have been unsuccessful. English-language learners continue to lag far behind their peers.

The Solution

The Connect Academy project is working with teams of university faculty and students, community leaders, and California elementary school teachers to develop a tablet-based interactive and culturally-appropriate English language learning system to be deployed in a California-based elementary school over a three year pilot.

In addition to STEM-based literacy focused content designed to engage both parent and child, the project is built to support the entire family by teaching basic life skills and providing a resource portal to easily connect families with a range of community-based services.  By delivering instruction geared toward both parents and students, parents will be able to both improve their own educational foundations while directly investing in the educational success of their child.  A system of earning incentives for families, redeemable for local goods and services, rewards parental involvement while helping families provide for their most basic needs.

Educational Content
The literacy-focused content of non-fiction science texts aligns with the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. This inventory of bilingual interactive e-texts will make reading fun and easy, while teaching parents how to effectively guide their child in an engaging learning environment. By delivering instruction geared toward both parents and students, parents will be able to improve their own educational foundations while directly investing in the educational success of their child. Additionally, the Connect Academy system will include an inventory of educational games and activities that reinforce basic math, language, and creative arts.

Wrap Around Family Support
A Community Resource Center displays a suite of apps providing wrap-around support to improve the health and welfare of families.   This bilingual resource portal will include a combination of informational videos and access to a network of community organizations to help families address basic needs such as healthcare, low cost and free children’s dental, food pantries, parenting classes, housing programs, domestic violence shelters, short term financial assistance, immigration services, adult literacy programs, job training and financial literacy programs. Content is being developed in collaboration with nonprofit and local agency community partners.

Earning Program
A system of earning opportunities geared toward the parents redeemable for local goods and services values parental involvement while helping families provide for their most basic needs. Connect Academy parents work hard to invest in their children’s future. The time that they spend teaching and learning with their children takes away from time they would otherwise spend making ends meet. The Connect Academy dignifies and values this work through an innovative Earning program.

As parents spend time reading to their children, participating in family learning activities, and modeling the values of learning, they are also modeling the values of earning, as the entire family earns points redeemable with local community partners such as grocery stores, discount and outlet stores, gas stations, and laundromats. Earning Center accounts are interest bearing which helps families learn and practice important financial management skills.

Parent-Teacher Resources
Just as the Connect Academy focuses on delivering economic and social resources, it is also working to strengthen the parent-teacher partnership. Hispanic parents have significantly lower rates of involvement with their children’s schooling. Reasons include lack of fluency in English, factors associated with poverty such as low level of education, fears due to immigration status, lack of access to reliable transportation, demanding and irregular work schedules.  The Connect Academy is developing an email system that will translate Spanish-English communications between parents and teachers, creating an easy and comfortable way to deliver updates, monitor progress, and provide support.

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