Hip Hop + History = Alexander Hamilton: The Musical…*

Hip hop history…*

Back in 2014, I wrote about Pentecostal Pedagogy and the idea that we can increase learner engagement by relating to students — particularly urban students — through modes of communication that they relate to, such as rap. This was at the forefront of my mind earlier this month when I went to see Hamilton: The Musical – a new broadway musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the “making of America”… through hip hop music.


The play was by far one of the best Broadway shows I’ve ever seen. An educational, witty, and fairly accurate portrayal of the beginning of our nation, Hamilton converts what could feel like a very dry topic and put a fresh spin on it, communicating through a fusion of hip hop, jazz, and broadway music that is fun and relatable. The writer Lin-Manual Miranda chose Alexander Hamilton – an immigrant and orphan – as the protagonist of this historical play. He cast himself – a man of color – as Hamilton, and overall the cast is far more diverse than one might expect for a story about a bunch of old white men.  In doing so, he creates a relatable story for many Americans who may have trouble empathizing with the old white men that dominate our history books.

With verses like the one below, he paints the picture of a man born without privilege, who succeeded through hard work and beat the odds to become a founding father of our nation:

The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter.

One of the repeating lines of the play — “I’m just like my country – I’m young, scrappy, and hungry. And I’m not throwin’ away my shot” — speaks to the timeless passion of ambitious youth.

The play uses rap battles for cabinet meetings, succinctly explaining Jefferson and Hamilton’s differing opinions on monetary policy or whether or not to send aid to the French Revolution.

The musical also approaches high-level issues, such as the way in which history is spun by those who live to tell the story. It develops multidimensional characters, such as Aaron Burr, displaying the complexity of politics and “right” and “wrong”.

Hamilton serves as a wonderful example of how to make history approachable and engaging for students. This play could be an excellent Preparation for Future Learning activity that would set the stage for a more traditional classroom discussion about the revolutionary war, our founding fathers, and the subjective nature of history.

While you are waiting to get your hands on tickets to this incredible performance, I’d highly recommend checking out the soundtrack, available on NPR FIRST LISTEN and also available for purchase on iTunes.





unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:





The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!



The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy …*

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

If you draw a series of parallel lines closely together, and then another series across them at an angle, you have the simplest visual example of the dialectical process. Cross-hatching as they call it. You have the first series of line, then you have the second series in opposition to the first. But out of the two you get a series of diamonds.

Now, if you look at these diamonds, remembering that every one has had to be drawn, you are overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the task. The diamonds are like the future we work for. Yet, courage. The first series of lines is there. All we have to do is to cross them.

– John Berger, A Painter of our Times, 1958

In a fascinating article recently published on The Greater Good Science CenterWhen Courage Goes Bad, Jeremy Adam Smith examines Cynthia Pury’s research on courage–how we experience, perceive and attribute it to others. Courage, it turns out, is often used as a currency of power–we attribute it to those who share our goals while withholding it from those whom we perceive as being outside our self-defined groups.

In the article, Adam Smith examines a recent social media post which stated, “As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism, and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery looks like!” The post was accompanied by a picture of toy soldiers and went viral, being shared almost a million times. This is a prime example of how we tend to frame courage as a zero-sum game–by calling Caitlyn Jenner courageous, the author of that social media post felt we were detracting from the ‘real’ courage of American armed forces. The withholding of attributing courage to someone’s actions is very much linked to an absence of empathy for their experience. The good news is that how we frame courage is very much a choice. We can choose to see it as a finite resource and guard it jealously only for our own self-perceived groups, or we can choose to acknowledge the vast plurality of human experiences and understand that ultimately, courage depends on the series of lines we each choose to cross.

. . . *

Pury’s research suggests that courage is something we grant to validate certain goals and withhold to invalidate others. While it might seem as though Jenner and an American soldier could both be courageous, in fact we appear to feel a strong impulse to treat courage like a finite resource that goes to some people but not others. Just as we sometimes withhold empathy or compassion from out-groups, so we will refuse to grant that people can be courageous if we don’t approve of their goals or values.

[ … ] 

Pury’s research has found that courage is more likely to emerge when a person sees a meaningful goal and then believes he or she has the ability to achieve that goal, a product of cognitive appraisal she calls “process courage.”

A man is more likely to run into a burning building to save kittens if he has the training and equipment to do so. A man who runs into the building without those things might be seen as courageous—but not, perhaps, very smart. A third man who has the training and equipment but doesn’t see saving kittens as a worthy goal would simply stand on the sidelines. So whether to take action depends on a person’s goals, as well as evaluations of personal risk and his own ability to achieve the goal.

But how will observers view that private decision? Here’s where things get interesting—and debatable.

Much, argued Pury, depends on whether other people share the goal in question. To the community of people who have transitioned from one sex to the other, Jenner is a hero: an accomplished male athlete who was willing to embrace a new celebrity identity as a woman. In this view, it took personal courage to go public with a very intimate decision—and by doing so, pave the way for others with less social power and wealth to follow the same path. She had the resources to create an image for others to pursue.

The conservative reaction was very different. To conservatives, Jenner’s goal—to raise the visibility of transgendered people—is socially destructive.

To a degree, it’s a problem of empathy and group affiliation. “If it’s your lived life, you know that that transition is really important and you value that goal because you’ve pursued it yourself,” said Pury. You would also know firsthand all the barriers and hostility that Jenner would face. Knowing something about her struggle might make her courageous in your eyes.

But to conservatives, all of that pales in comparison to the goal of maintaining rigid barriers between men and women, a dichotomy on which they say the American family depends. In the pages of the National Review, Doug French framed courage as resistance to the trend Jenner represents.

“By refusing to speak, we contribute to the notion that even conservatives understand that something is wrong—something is shameful—about our own deepest beliefs,” he writes. French (an Iraq veteran) is not willing to attribute courage to Jenner, instead granting it to members of his own self-defined group, people who share his values, experiences, and goals.

Source: When Courage Goes Bad by Jeremy Adam Smith via The Greater Good, published July 16, 2015

{ On “Doing” Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back

{ On "Doing" Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back | rethinked.org

“By encouraging children to examine the world from perspectives other than their own, philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back.” – Giacomo Esposito

I was thrilled to discover the work of The Philosophy Foundation through Giacomo Esposito’s deeply relevant article, Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools. The Philosophy Foundation is a UK based, award winning educational charity raising aspirations and attainment through doing philosophical enquiry in the classroom.

Our aim is to make ‘Reasoning’ the 4th ‘R’ in education – by giving children the tools to help them think critically, creatively, cohesively and autonomously we aim to fill the gaps in education and consequently benefit society as a whole. 

Philosophy can help to shape the way we think and live in the world. Learning to think clearly and creatively helps in many ways – the most obvious being the effect it has upon one’s actions.

At the core of The Philosophy Foundation ‘s work is the belief that thinking is a capacity–a habit of mind–and that thinking well requires learning and practice.

It is the job of our specialist philosophy teachers to identify and draw out from the children philosophical material, and to encourage them to adopt a philosophical attitude. Our aim is to cultivate the habit of thinking and we do not believe that this will come about simply by giving them the opportunity to think. Like anything else it needs to be learnt. So the facilitation should include teaching and guidance. Philosophy is not something that can be learnt by being told a list of propositional facts about what it is, it is best learnt by modelling. In other words, the children will learn how to do philosophy best by seeing it done well on a regular basis by a skilled philosophy teacher.

Head over to The Philosophy Foundation website to learn more about the fantastic work they are doing and check out their many excellent resources to start doing philosophy with the children in your own life.

Below are some highlights from Esposito’s article, first published on The Guardian, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

THINK, LEARN, DO . . . * 

The sessions I run usually begin with a story or short “stimulus” which draws on a traditional philosophical problem, but reframes it to make it more engaging for a younger audience. The story then ends with a question, and a discussion ensues. Throughout the class, I try to take a backseat; I’m there to help draw out the children’s thoughts, but it’s really for them to decide where the discussion goes and, crucially, what they think. In fact, rather than teaching philosophy, a more accurate description of my job is “doing” philosophy with children.

Children can be fantastic at doing philosophy. Their natural disposition to wonder at the world is given free rein during lessons. Recently I was running a session about time travel. In response to the claim that “time is a feeling”, a 10-year-old boy thought hard for about a minute and then said: “Time is different for us than it is for the universe, because 100 years passes in a flash for the universe, but seems a long time to us … so time is a bit like a feeling.”

[ … ]

At its core, philosophy is about thinking and reasoning well. It’s about learning how to be logical, present arguments, and spot bad ones. Yes, this is often done through strange, improbable examples, which can feel removed from – and therefore irrelevant to – the real world (like the tree in the forest). But these exercises in mental gymnastics train the mind to think more clearly and creatively, which benefits all aspects of life.

As well as learning how to naturally construct arguments, the children are also invited to question them – both their classmates and their own. When it seems like there’s a firm, unwavering consensus across the class, I only have to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of an “imaginary disagreer”, before a flurry of hands appears.

. . . *

Source: Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools by Giacomo Esposito via The Guardian, published July 13, 2015

{ Empathy Is a Choice …* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be

{ Empathy Is a Choice ...* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be | rethinked.org

“Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” 

In a recently published article, psychologists Daryl CameronMichael Inzlicht, and William A. Cunningham dispute the notion that empathy is a limited commodity, making the much more compelling argument that empathy is a choice.

We believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.

The co-authors highlight several studies which show that the absence of empathy is linked to extrinsic and context-specific factors. By disproving the idea that our failures of empathy are linked to inherent limits in our capacity for the emotion, these studies offer an inspiring and compelling case for choosing to empathize.

. . . * 

Two decades ago, the psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues conducted a study that showed that if people expected their empathy to cost them significant money or time, they would avoid situations that they believed would trigger it. More recently, one of us, Daryl Cameron, along with the psychologist Keith Payne, conducted an experiment to see if similar motivational factors could explain why we seem more empathetic to single victims than to large numbers of them.

Participants in this study read about either one or eight child refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. Half of the participants were led to expect that they would be asked to make a donation to the refugee or refugees, whereas the other half were not. When there was no financial cost involved in feeling empathy, people felt more empathy for the eight children than for the one child, reversing the usual bias. If insensitivity to mass suffering stemmed from an intrinsic limit to empathy, such financial factors shouldn’t have made a difference.

. . . *

Some kinds of people seem generally less likely to feel empathy for others — for instance, powerful people. An experiment conducted by one of us, Michael Inzlicht, along with the researchers Jeremy Hogeveen and Sukhvinder Obhi, found that even people temporarily assigned to high-power roles showed brain activity consistent with lower empathy.

But such experimental manipulations surely cannot change a person’s underlying empathic capacity; something else must be to blame. And other research suggests that the blame lies with a simple change in motivation: People with a higher sense of power exhibit less empathy because they have less incentive to interact with others.

. . . *

Likewise, in another recent study, the psychologists Karina Schumann, Jamil Zaki and Carol S. Dweck found that when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded, it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.

C H O O S E   E M P A T H Y   . . . *

Source: Empathy Is Actually a Choice via New York Times, published July 10, 2015

“We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humor & potential.” – Dominic Randolph on Rethinking Schools …*

Here are some excerpts from Dominic’s If I Were Secretary of State for Education post, which is a series of 41 articles written by leading international educationalists about what they would do if they were Secretary of State for Education in the UK. The articles were commissioned by the Sunday Times Festival of Education and Summerhouse Education, and sponsored by Pearson. Read them all at IfIwereSoSforEducation.tumblr.com.


I would tackle what I think are the three principal issues that plague educational systems in the UK and in much of the world: how we undervalue the work of teachers, how we undervalue the task of educating our young people and how vitally important it is, and how we undervalue the crucial necessity for supporting lifelong learning so that people have the opportunity to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Therefore, I would concentrate on vigorously reframing the place of schools in our culture by making schools the most exciting place to be in any given community, making them the core of communities.

. . . *

Schools would be places that would inspire and normalize intellectual development but also the development of character and good ethical decision-making. They would be places that are truly human and, rather than reducing people industrially to summative scores or grades, would encourage ongoing formative development of the full range of their capacities. They would be preventative care health centers. Schools would become the community resource center. People attending schools would develop their potential and grow. They would focus on the delta of their development in an ongoing way rather than measuring it statically at certain points.

. . . *

Making schools positive, productive and cool places at the heart of each community would be the aim. We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humour and potential. Starting a movement to change this reality and bring learning to the centre of what we are about could be a great dream for us all to have.

Read Dominic’s full post here.

imagine, reframe & rethink …

{ Exciting New Course For Educators …* } Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning

{ Exciting New Course For Educators ...* } Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman Randolph

Exciting new (and free) learning opportunity for educators and knowmads coming up later this summer: Coursera’s Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning online course. The course starts July 22 and runs through September 3, 2015.

Tinkering activities provide a powerful way to inspire students’ interest, engagement, and understanding in science. The Tinkering Fundamentals course will help educators and enthusiasts develop a practice of tinkering and making. This course will focus on key design elements of high-quality, science-rich tinkering activities, effective facilitation strategies and environmental organization.

This is a hands-on workshop, so you will need to obtain or purchase course materials as soon as possible. Pre-bundled materials kits will be available from the Exploratorium online store after June 1, or you can start gathering your own things using our recommended materials list.

Head over to Coursera to register for the course and check out the syllabus.

learn, tinker & rethink …*

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco …*

Dear rethinkers,

An apology is in order as we’ve gone rather silent on the blog these past two weeks! We’re back to our regular posting schedule and you can look forward to our daily posts. To jazz up our apology, thought I’d share a “lost and found” poem I’ve made from assembled graffiti spotted around San Francisco. Excuse the dubious image quality, all photographs were snapped on the go with my aging and tired phone.

Enjoy & rethink …* 

Kill your TV and read


Ask questions


Comfort kills

Travel this young moment in pursuit of magic

Create a glory ride

Expect a miracle


I hope

Love can outlast everything

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph


A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

. . .

Dedicated to Grateful Greg & Pierre, whoever and wherever you are, and rethinkers …* everywhere

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

“I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.” – Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder …*

"I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism." -Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder ...* |rethinked.org

I may be a bit biased here but I could not be any more excited to share Dominic’s interview today. Dominic Randolph is the Headmaster of the Riverdale Country School, where he has been prototyping various ways to rethink what it means to learn to and for change–notably by exploring the intersections of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology with education. He is the co-founder of our team and, on a more personal note, my father and one of my very best friends. Connect with Dominic on Twitter @daar17.

What was the last experiment you ran? 

Changing spaces where I work. Finding small “in-between” spaces to work with my computer. Changing work spaces all the time. Not being in a fixed spot.


What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?

Life is fear and finding ways to embrace fear. I believe that we all have a “Woody Allen voice” in our heads constantly narrating our anxieties. I think you achieve things by listening to the voice indeed, but basically ignoring it. Things tend to turn out most of the time quite well, but the little voice assumes the worst. Acting positively and confidentially mitigates the voice’s affect on one’s decisions. And yet, without the voice, the fear, life would not be as amusing nor would one do anything really. It is the comparison between the status quo of the “little worried voice” and taking action that makes you feel a sense of achievement.


What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.


What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade

Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” is one of the most provocative, elegant and most difficult to employ idea that I have come across in the last decade. The other one would be “design thinking” that I read in Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and on Tim Brown’s blog “Design Thinking”. The concepts of human-centered design, prototyping and divergent thought as elements of design thinking have changed my life.


Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?

I often think that the most transformational moments are not the most groundbreaking or the most striking. They are small moments that lead to change. The most transformational moments in my life were dinner debates with my aunt, mother and brother while growing up and meeting, Kris, my future wife, and Elsa, my future daughter, at a small gallery in Sarlat, France.



Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life leads to living a good life.



Empathize with others–really try to put yourself in their shoes and listen well. Also, draw your thoughts out on a regular basis. Drawing is deeply human.



How can I be my better future self? What legacy will I choose to leave on this earth?



Movies: Withnail and I by Bruce Robinson, En Sus Ojos by Juan Jose Campanella, Mifune’s Last Song by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, Naked by Mike Leigh

Books: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Le Citte Invisibili by Italo Calvino, Distant Relations by Carlos Fuentes, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Any short story by Alice Munro, La Peau du Chagrin by Balzac…

Music: GoldbergVariations played by Glenn Gould, Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones, Every Breaking Wave by U2, Ink by Coldplay, Heysatan by Sigur Ros, Wait it Out by Imogen Heap, Afterlife by Arcade Fire, Bien Avant by Benjamin Biolay, 400 Lux by Lorde, Creep by Radiohead…

Images: Morandi still lives, Piranesi etchings, Cartier-Bresson photographs, Cindy Sherman portraits, Klein blue paintings, Henry Moore sculptures…


. . .

Mentor a child, change her life…*

Mentor a child…*

About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine from college made a Facebook post that deeply affected me. This man was currently attending a prestigious business school, had already worked a few years at a prestigious financial firm, and graduated with me from a top liberal arts school. His post was a picture of himself and his mentor from the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization that creates relationships that transform children’s lives. In the post, he credited his mentor for helping him obtain the life he has today. I was so moved that I immediately started googling “mentoring in NYC,” determined to make the kind of impact that his mentor did.

In a nation-wide study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, researchers found that children who were randomly assigned to the program versus those not yet in the program were more confident about school performance, had better relationships with their families, and were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

(source: bbs.org)

With results like that, it seems like creating one-to-one partnerships could be one powerful solution for improving educational outcomes for low-SES students.

My Mentoring Experience…*

I’m not completely new to the mentoring game. In college, I led a small female-oriented mentoring group called Ophelia’s Girls that worked in group sessions with middle school and high school students in a nearby very rural town. We provided a safe space for students to talk and aimed to serve as role models for these girls who – statistically speaking – were likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

As a 20-something, I was now hoping to have more of a one-on-one relationship where I could potentially make a greater impact on one girls’ life. I ultimately chose to participate in iMentor, a school-based mentoring program where matches email once per week and see one another at least one time each month. iMentor’s mission is to build  “mentoring relationships that empower students from low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.” Students participate in iMentor through their high schools, where they have iMentor class once a week and stay after school for events that generally revolve around college preparedness and goal-setting.

One year ago, I signed up for a three-year match in the College Transition Program with a student that I would mentor from 11th grade through her first year of college. I was matched with Madina*, a girl living in Brooklyn who had just moved from Uzbekistan a few years ago. Over the past 10 months, we have slowly built a relationship, navigating a strong language barrier and a myriad of cultural differences. Madina speaks 3 languages fluently but still has a lot of trouble communicating in English. She juggles working a night job with her schoolwork and helps her parents take care of her younger sister. She knows she wants to go to college, but she lacks a tremendous amount of cultural capital around what college is and what different occupations entail. Together, we struggle to stay openminded about each other’s customs and cultures; she is from a conservative Muslim background, and I am a fairly liberal Jew.

When I first signed up for the program, I was prepared to help change somebody’s life. What I didn’t expect was how much she would change mine. I never fully understood the barriers immigrant students face every day. I also have been blown away by her kindness and generosity – she got me a birthday present and has cooked her favorite foods for me to try. It has been challenging to get her to open up, but as she has I have been fascinated by her life and world. It is unbelievable how vastly different our lives are, and I learn something new from her every day.

The Power of Mentoring…*

I’m not the only one thinking about how important mentoring is for low-SES students. In Michael Benko’s TEDxOU talk, he also speaks to the power of having a person investing in your life at a young age. Currently, there is a 1:500 ratio of guidance counselors to students in our school system. Benko’s idea is to give everyone their own success counselor, matching college students with high school students online.

In Lori Hunt’s TEDxCCS talk, she talks about the power of mentoring. She first talks about her struggles in the beginning of college, failing courses at a 4-year college she was not academically prepared for. Lori actually does not advocate for a particular program, but instead talks about informal mentors – the types of mentorships that occur organically. Her work study advisor became her mentor, helping her find the tools to make the right decision. She, like my friend from college, credits her with changing her life.


There are many avenues to mentoring. The bottom line is that these experiences are challenging at times but immensely life-changing on both sides of the match. If you are not already, I’d urge you to get involved in a mentoringship – it will open your eyes and could help change the trajectory of someone’s life.



*Name and some facts changed to protect her privacy.

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