For Learning Pathways Fellows, Creativity Is at the Forefront

“Our world moves fast,” says Dr. Janet Morrison-Lane, the Director of EAGLE Scholars, “and whether it’s the environment or global warming, we’ve got to think creatively about how to solve the problems we’re dealing with.”

That focus on creativity is a key part of EAGLE Scholars, a college-readiness program where youth develop skills, including time management, confidence and public speaking, that will help them excel in school and the workforce. Student-centered and relationship-based, the program is part of the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation, an organization that focuses on helping low-income students reach their full potential. At the end of sixth grade, students are nominated by teachers to join EAGLE Scholars. After an interview process, chosen students join the program and stay through their high school graduation.

EAGLE Scholars’ emphasis on building 21st-century learning skills like creativity made Big Thought’s Learning Pathways Fellowship a perfect fit.

Throughout the three-month fellowship, organizations from across Dallas attend virtual seminars, have access to office hours and work with other groups to learn how to identify, measure and elevate 21st-century learning skills in their students. It’s these skills that make up Big Thought’s Creator Archetype, a framework that outlines the skills, competencies and experiences that equip and empower youth to create their best lives and world. And over the past two years, as the world has dealt with the COVID-19, Morrison-Lane has seen these skills become more important than ever, calling the pandemic “an illustration of why we need creativity.”

Morrison-Lane was especially drawn to Learning Pathway’s emphasis on badging, where students earn badges centered on different skills. “Through this fellowship, I could develop these badges in a way that really aligned with our programming and create a foundation for our programming,” Morrison-Lane says. “This gives us an actual built-out process for this.”

For the interview badge she created, Morrison-Lane designed different steps — from learning about etiquette and attire to writing thank-you notes — that could be completed during the EAGLE Scholars’ weekly meetings.

The badge program also ties into the skills laid out in the Creator Archetype. Morrison-Lane and her team, for example, created a research badge, where eighth-grade students researched high schools while older students researched colleges. The badge fits into the Creator Archetype’s Digital Fluency competency, or the idea that young creators are digital explorers who can effectively navigate and employ both existing and emerging technologies to make judgments, solve problems and bring new ideas to fruition.

“The skills that are being developed when we do whatever it takes to get that badge can be transferrable as [the students] move forward in life,” says Morrison-Lane. “Twenty-first-century learning skills are at the core of everything we do.”

Because students are in the EAGLE Scholars program for an extended period of time, the badges have been created to build on each other. As the students progress through the program, they can badge multiple times in the same area and continue to improve their skills related to a particular competency.

As a result of the fellowship, EAGLE Scholars has integrated the badge system into their program and are using it to build a curriculum. These badges act as milestones that help EAGLE Scholars “as an organization and a program to be able to see what [their] scholars have accomplished.”

For other organizations interested in the Learning Pathways Fellowship, Morrison-Lane highly recommends it — though she does suggest choosing the semester carefully and coming prepared to put in the work. In the future, she hopes to have more of her staff complete the fellowship and fully implement the practices she learned in her programs.

To learn more about the Learning Pathways Project and to participate in the Learning Pathways Fellowship, click here.