For Learning Pathways Fellows, It’s About More Than Academics

“We need to have a holistic approach,” says Mary Miller, CEO and Executive Director of Excellence by Design Education Center. “We are addressing students’ academic, social and emotional, cultural and economic needs.”

Excellence by Design Education Center provides out of school time programming for students in the Dallas area, helping them develop college and career readiness skills. “We focus on providing students with a successful transition between high school and college or high school and career or military,” Mary says.

Instead of only focusing on the academic side of college and career readiness, the organization works to address any needs youth have, noting academics don’t exist in a vacuum — and for a child to be successful, all their needs must be met. The organization emphasizes helping youth develop life skills as well as strengthening character. In addition to the after-school curriculum, the organization works in the community operating a food pantry and Christmas gift-giving program. Excellence by Design Center knows that students’ needs outside of school affect education just as much as academic assistance and intervention.

For Mary, a fellowship with Learning Pathways was the perfect next step for the organization. “What drew me to the fellowship,” she says, “was the idea of the badges.” Learning Pathway’s badging system allows students to receive a badge for each learned skill. It is a system where out of school time providers can identify skill sets that youth have acquired.

“You’re going to have something to show for your work that’s going to be recognized,” Mary explains. “It shows that you have taken a program, developed college and career readiness skills and produced something that shows you can apply that skill.”

The three-month long fellowship focuses on helping organizations gain knowledge and best practices to better recognize, measure and elevate 21st-century learning skills, specifically those described in Big Thought’s Creator Archetype. The Creator Archetype is a concept that organizes key competencies that make up 21st-century learning skills. “The major domains of the Creator Archetype that we focus on are Digital Media and Design Thinking, stated Mary.”

Excellence By Design Education Center integrates concepts outlined in the Creator Archetype throughout its curriculum. For example, all participants create digital portfolios that showcase their best work and skills, including badges. This allows students to develop digital media skills and gets them familiar with certain computer programs. Using this holistic approach and incorporating the Creator Archetype skills into all facets of the program, regardless of specific focus or career goals, allows youth to develop transferable skills.

In addition to helping build out a badging system in the program, Mary explained that the Learning Pathways Fellowship was helpful in navigating the early months of the pandemic and allowed the organization to continue to be a resource for youth. The fellowship also provided professional development courses related to virtual instruction which gave participants insight into the users’ point of view through a  relatable and realistic online learning experience.

Looking to the new year with a goal of bringing the opportunity to even more students, Excellence by Design Center will continue to implement badging. “Having that criteria for success and having the students complete something, and getting them that experiential, hands-on learning is something that the badging program helps with,” she says. “[the students] are going to have something to show for their work that they can put in their portfolio.”

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