By Published: April 13, 2020

Place-based partnerships in Lafayette, Colorado

After the school day in Lafayette, kids play, learn and create alongside pre-service and in-service teachers, imagining bright future worlds and engaging in storytelling with multimodal resources. These after-school programs represent just two of many place-based partnerships happening between the CU Boulder School of Education and the community of Lafayette in East Boulder County.  

The School of Education place-based seed grant program was created to foster the development of partnerships that are rooted in one of three regional communities in Colorado. In February, faculty, students, community partners and collaborators gathered on campus to share and learn about Lafayette-based collaborations and discuss educational needs and opportunities for the future. Many of these Lafayette projects are interdisciplinary by design, fostering connections with faculty and students across campus to strengthen the kinds of educational services and partnerships that can be provided. 

School of Education Dean Kathy Schultz started the seed grant program because she believes a central responsibility of universities is to contribute to their local communities. 

“Although faculty in Schools of Education tend to have projects all over the world, it makes sense to me to try to concentrate on communities near the university as a way of making deeper, local contributions,” Schultz said. “When you have a number of people working on projects in the same area, you can deepen that work and have a larger impact as a School of Education. These projects can then inform each other and learn from one another.”

Two Lafayette-based partnerships with history in the community are after-school programs at Alicia Sanchez International Elementary School and Lafayette Elementary School.

EPIC After-School Club

Students and Pre-Service Teachers at EPICServing K-5 students, the EPIC After-School Club at Alicia Sanchez International Elementary School is rooted in the tradition of Fifth Dimension Clubs, an after-school model that pairs pre-service teachers with elementary students to engage in collaborative, intergenerational learning together. Pre-service teachers are concurrently enrolled in the course EDUC 2411 Educational Psychology for Elementary Schools, where they discuss sociocultural theories of learning and put those theories into practice at the club.

After being directed by Susan Jurow, professor of learning sciences and human development, from 2014-19, the program is now led by José Ramón Lizárraga, assistant professor of learning sciences and human development. Lizárraga and Jurow work in a long term partnership with Jovita Schiffer, director of the Dragon Discovery after-school program.

EPIC provides a learning space where pre-service teachers and elementary students from different racial, class and linguistic backgrounds can take on new roles as teachers and learners. Founded on the pillars of equity, side-by-side learning and play, each semester at EPIC is filled with unique projects, whether it be creating superhero narratives, learning computer programming to make glowing lanterns, or exploring, imagining and building a more just future together.

System-level change is possible through long term partnership work like EPIC said Jurow. Through this partnership “we’ve been able to do much more boundary crossing. I’ve joined Sanchez and their administrative team to be part of, for example, the Sanchez Foundation to help them think about funding opportunities, and Jovita [Schiffer] has been able to come to the undergraduate class and help us think about what we could be doing differently.” This cross collaboration helps create institutional transformation and new learning opportunities for children and preservice teachers.

Literacy and Media Lab

Teacher with Student at Literacy and Media LabThe Literacy and Media Lab project at Lafayette Elementary School is a free after-school literacy program designed for elementary school students to learn alongside in-service teachers who are enrolled in the MA in Curriculum & Instruction, Literacy Education program. 

The after-school program was developed by Silvia Noguerón-Liu, assistant professor of literacy studies, and Bridget Dalton, associate professor of literacy studies, in close partnership with Stephanie Jackman, principal at Lafayette Elementary School Principal, and Angel Stobaugh, language arts and humanities director at Boulder Valley School District.

They offer an assessment program in the fall, where in-service teachers work one-on-one with students to support their reading development, and a digital literacy program in the spring where children cultivate skills to tell stories through tactile picture books, stories with sound effects using Makey Makey and more.

The lab is designed to be mutually beneficial for in-service teachers and fourth and fifth graders. “Anytime we, as a school, can partner to help growing teachers continue to learn and then growing teachers are helping our students continue to learn, that is really exciting,” said Jackman.

For in-service teachers, who vary in the amount of time they’ve been in the classroom, the program helps them imagine new possibilities in their teaching practice. “Classroom teachers can get into routines and constraints that sometimes are paralyzing, and teachers sometimes say, ‘well this is what the children who are at this grade level need’ or ‘this is all I can do in this amount of time,’” said Noguerón-Liu. “But when in-service teachers come to this space, they get to know the children, what they're passionate about and what their strengths are. They reimagine the possibilities.” 

Children who participate in the program become multimodal composers, learning with technology in a more purposeful way. “Our research supports that when you open up the communication palate for kids, all kids can create and be successful,” said Dalton. “Parents are excited about the Media Lab because kids get to learn about internet safety, digital citizenship and different ways to use the media,” said Jackman.

Partnering for better research, teaching, and outreach

Partnership work offers a world of possibilities for education and research on teaching and learning that is meaningful for local communities. Partnering requires accountability, trust, communication and close collaboration. 

In the case of EPIC, “it is a partnership that we grew a friendship out of,” said Jurow. “I don't know if that translates to other partnerships but there is a deep commitment to each other as friends and human beings who care about the other person's development as an educator and as a person. There is also a real commitment from our side to the children of Sanchez, and for [Schiffer], to the doctoral students and undergraduates at CU Boulder. We really have become very intertwined in that way as a partnership. It’s a meshing of networks ”

For Dalton, partnership work is satisfying on a personal and emotional level. “You’re connected to a community, you’re working with children, and good things are happening for both the children and for the masters students,” said Dalton, “Everyone says this, but it's true- you can do more together than you can individually.”

If you are developing a place-based partnership in Lafayette, Denver NNE (Montbello) or Northeast Colorado, we invite you to submit a proposal to the 2020 place-based seed grants program. Proposals are due Monday, Apr. 20 at 5 p.m.

View Slideshow of the EPIC After-School Club and the Literacy and Media Lab