VELA Education Fund accelerates education innovation not just through grantmaking but by actively connecting its grantees across a national network. One such connection led to a partnership between two grant recipients, Rock by Rock and Engaged Detroit. The organizations teamed up to pen this guest blog post about their partnership.

Backed by VELA’s grants and national network, Rock by Rock and Engaged Detroit have formed a strong partnership that is meeting the moment for children and families during the pandemic while also engaging in a learning process that is benefiting both organizations.

Rock by Rock is an education company that creates projects-in-a-box. Rock by Rock’s mission is to create easy-to-access learning experiences that sit at the intersection of rigorous learning, real-world connection, and 21st-century character development. The projects take topics such as “Save the Elephants” or “Artificial Intelligence and Inclusive Design” and create a cohesive learning journey full of offline, hands-on activities and a take-action project that empower kids to experience real-world impact.

Rock by Rock was formed because two veteran educators, Sung-Ae Yang and Jeffrey Imrich, believed that the need for hands-on, project-based learning has never been greater. Covid-19 has significantly increased screen time, led to learning loss, and disenfranchised millions of students in traditionally underserved communities. They want to show that solutions can be more than just rote learning online.

Engaged Detroit, led by parent and longtime education advocate Bernita Bradley, offers coaching and community for Detroit-area homeschool families. Families and coaches work collaboratively to elevate the opportunities and learning experiences available for all members.

With its grant, Rock by Rock was able to partner with Engaged Detroit families to systemically pilot its 7-box Changemaker series for both K-2 and 3-5 grades. Kids engage in a real-world, take-action social studies and science project and learn leadership, character, and literacy skills through hands-on activities.

Engaged Detroit’s participating families are receiving the complete 7-box series for free. Parents have really enjoyed the experience and already shared how the projects are making an impact on how they homeschool. They have also provided helpful feedback to improve upon the offerings and suggestions on ways they have customized the experiences themselves.

Hadasha Green, a parent with Engaged Detroit whose children have participated in the project, said, “My children and I talk daily about empathy and how we can show it throughout our day. My son’s favorite activity was making the puppet, and he even used the leftover clay to make ants for the puppet to eat. My son is only three, so instead of writing the story to share we created a fun song. The song included the puppet telling where he lives, what he ate, and what seemed to be his favorite line of the song, ‘We can’t eat them or they will go extinct.’”

Rock by Rock has also started to think about how to better innovate and create a larger ecosystem of support to participants in the pilot and beyond. This includes a Facebook group where pilot participants can share tips with each other and learn from each other along the way. It has been great to see a collaboration between both homeschool parents, pod teachers, and educators of all kinds. Rock by Rock is also in the process of developing a few virtual field trips and workshops that parents have requested as well as distributing an ongoing pilot newsletter with additional tools, resources and advice based upon pilot survey feedback.

This is a promising time for innovation in education, and both Rock by Rock and Engaged Detroit are excited about the possibilities of additional collaborations in the future.

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Learn more about Rock by Rock or Engaged Detroit, or contact VELA with your own innovative learning model.