‘Cities of Learning’: Businesses, Organizations, Agencies and Nonprofits Join Forces in Major Metros to Connect Learning to Real-World Opportunities

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Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. Offer Young People 21st Century Skills This Summer

Teenagers learn to record audio documentaries in a Saturday Light Brigade Radio workshop, part of Pittsburgh City of Learning. Photo courtesy Sprout Fund

Cities of Learning make it easy for young people to find and participate in engaging learning activities throughout the summer.

Four large cities across the U.S. are joining forces this summer as Cities of Learning in an emerging national effort designed to provide opportunities that equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. are leading this push to make learning relevant, accessible and hands-on by bringing together a city’s organizations and businesses to prepare young people for success in work and life.

With school closing for summer across the country, the four Cities of Learning are moving into high gear with innovative summer programming involving libraries, museums, parks, nonprofits and businesses, as well as online offerings. Pittsburgh City of Learning kicks off on Sunday, June 7, at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Summer Reading Extravaganza. Dallas City of Learning recently ushered in its 2015 initiative with the theme, “Learning in Uncommon Spaces.”

Using technology and creativity, Cities of Learning addresses pressing needs, including:
●    Increasing workforce preparedness through skills development, internships and mentoring to promote career success and close skills gaps
●    Preventing summer learning loss
●    Closing the widening gap in learning opportunities
●    Valuing all learning, in and out of school, especially in the connected age, where learning can happen anytime and anywhere, and where the demand for learning never stops

“Cities of Learning make it easy for young people to find and participate in engaging learning activities throughout the summer,” said Connie Yowell, director of education at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which is providing national support for Cities of Learning. “Each local City of Learning creates a network of free and low-cost activities and links young people to new opportunities. This citywide learning infrastructure also unites an array of people and organizations that are invested in the city’s youth in new and significant ways.”

Cities of Learning are funded by local partners and receive national support from the MacArthur Foundation, Digital Youth Network and the Connected Learning Alliance. Funding and logistical support for each City of Learning is provided by a broad and often unprecedented partnership of local agencies, organizations and businesses.

Of particular benefit are business partners that provide mentors, workforce development and internship opportunities. Best Buy began a partnership in Chicago last year and this year expanded to Dallas to extend high-tech learning opportunities to more young people.

“We are excited about our partnership,” said Susan Bass Roberts, senior director of Best Buy Community Relations. “Because of various events, contests and competitions, Chicago students have been exposed to 3D printing, computer programming with LEGO Robotics, digital music making and much more. We’re proud to provide youth access to these 21st-century technology skills for future education and career success.”

Whether it’s robotics, fashion design, coding competitions, science challenges or workplace internships, Cities of Learning provide a wide range of exciting opportunities for young people to learn together with peers and mentors and test real-world applications of their knowledge and skills. Cities of Learning are founded on the principles of connected learning, a learning approach that builds on the basics and leverages technology to make learning especially relevant to the digital age.

“Young people participating in Pittsburgh City of Learning programs have an incredible opportunity to connect their summer learning with real world-opportunities for employment and empowerment,” said Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund, the nonprofit organization leading Pittsburgh City of Learning. “They’re getting the hands-on experience and developing the relevant skills they’ll need to thrive in the 21st-century workforce.”

“By connecting programs with passions, Dallas City of Learning gives Dallas youth the opportunity to learn in more powerful, relevant and exciting ways,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “This initiative uses the resources of the entire city — from parents and schools to cultural institutions and corporations — in order to broaden access to high-quality educational programming so that all of our young people can continue learning.”

Cities of Learning also are embracing a new way to recognize and credential learning wherever it happens: digital badges. Like letter grades earned in school, digital badges signify mastery of a skill. But digital badges store layers of in-depth information that can be accessed and shared online, allowing Cities of Learning participants to share their learning achievements with teachers and potential employers, as well as family and friends.

This year, Cities of Learning are using linked sets of badges called “playlists” to encourage youth to pursue skill mastery. Playlists highlight the array of skills needed to become a “pro” in a particular topic area — such as storytelling or coding — and inspire youth to fulfill the requirements at a variety of brick-and-mortar and online learning institutions.

“Digital badges are an exciting new way to recognize and capture learning wherever it happens — in school, in the community or online,” said Nichole Pinkard, a DePaul University professor and founder of the Digital Youth Network, which provides the platform, training and technical assistance for Cities of Learning. “Badges can safely and efficiently store in-depth and verifiable information about what was learned, what skills were mastered and what competencies were attained. Young people who earn badges can choose to share them with friends and family or with teachers or potential employers in a way that might support future education pathways and career choices.”

Launched in Chicago in 2013, Cities of Learning began to spread nationwide last year. In 2014, 108,000 young people ages 4 to 24 participated in Cities of Learning, earning 160,000 digital badges. Scores of organizations, agencies and businesses have expressed interest in supporting Cities of Learning and at least 25 cities have expressed interest in becoming a City of Learning.

Cities of Learning is an outgrowth of a decade-long, $150 million investment by the MacArthur Foundation to better understand how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and engage in civic life, and to redesign learning for the realities and opportunities of the connected age.

For more information about Cities of Learning, visit http://www.CitiesofLearning.org.

Media Contact
Leigh Ranck

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