Remake Learning: A Catalyst for Family Engagement
This post by Gregg Behr, co-chair of Remake Learning and executive director of the Grable Foundation, highlights parent engagement as a catalyst for development.
Fifty years ago, when Pittsburgh’s hometown hero, Fred Rogers, walked through his famous front door for the first time, he became more than America’s neighbor. He became, depending on whom you ask, a teacher, a source of comfort, a mentor. Nearly everyone who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood felt a personal connection to him, and Rogers became television’s most beloved host. Here in Pittsburgh, a statue of Rogers watches over his real-life neighborhood. At the Fred Rogers Archive in Latrobe, 30 years’ worth of fan mail fills the shelves. And Morgan Neville’s recent film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, is now the top-grossing biographical documentary of all time.
Clearly, Rogers did something vital for the millions of viewers who grew up with him. But despite his unparalleled success, he recognized that he alone could never meet children’s every need. As wonderful as the Neighborhood was, he wrote, “what parents give their children will always be more important than what television gives them.”
Indeed, what parents give their children might be more important than just about anything. Given the website on which this blog appears, I won’t go into the research; the Global Family Research Project does the topic of family engagement far greater justice than I could.
But with a new year fast approaching, I’d like to tell you about one of the largest family engagement events in the world—one that’s been highlighted everywhere from Forbes to the World Economic Forum. We launched it in Pittsburgh three years ago, and now it’s popping up across America for the first time.
Each May, Remake Learning Days—a multi-day festival billed as “the world’s largest open house for the future of teaching and learning”—shines a spotlight on the Pittsburgh region’s most innovative educators, learning spaces, and students. Comprising several hundred events held in schools, libraries, maker spaces, museums, and other sites, the festival regularly draws tens of thousands of families, giving parents and kids the opportunity to learn alongside one another in exciting, hands-on settings. (Think South by Southwest, but for kids and families.) In an old theater, for example, they might build robotic replicas of their favorite movie characters. In a community center, they might learn poetry and dance during workshops led by local hip-hop artists. Or they might attend the largest science fair in the world. At each event, attendees glimpse what learning can look like at its best—learning that’s engaging, relevant, and designed to help young people thrive in a time of rapid societal and technological change.
Even families who don’t attend might get such a glimpse. Before, during, and after each festival, a full-on marketing blitz spreads the word about Remake Learning Days: Banners hang from the city’s bridges. Residents see newspaper inserts, bus-stop signs, blog posts, and op-eds. Even a few celebrities have taken up the cause, and dozens of news outlets descend on the festival each year.
Why do we do all this? Certainly, it helps drive attendance: last year’s festival alone drew more than 20,000 families. And we do it, also, because learners and educators deserve to be celebrated widely. But more than anything, we do it to reach families, caregivers, and kids like these:
There’s a lot to love about this video, but toward the end, parent Alex Lackner sums up the festival’s goal: “Do we have these robots at home?” he asks. “No. Are we aware of all the educational tools that are being used today? No . . . [but] when you’re here, you say, ‘Oh, gosh. Yeah, we have to do more of this.’”
It’s this realization, multiplied tens of thousands of times over, that will ultimately change the game for Pittsburgh’s kids. Keeping up with children’s learning can be a difficult task for any parent—most of us don’t have time to research every available learning opportunity or to check out what educators are doing across town. And in a segregated region like Pittsburgh, it’s easy for families to see opportunities and learning spaces beyond their communities and think, That’s not for us.
Remake Learning Days breaks these barriers down. Its events can be sorted and searched by topic, geographic area, and age group, among other areas of interest. Is your daughter interested in robotics? She can choose from technology events all over the region. Is your son into the arts? We have a whole theme day set aside for him. Interested in a little bit of everything? The festival spans maker learning, science, outdoor learning, and everything in between. With its inclusive, community-driven design and special focus on underserved neighborhoods, the programming sends a simple message to every parent: You are welcome here. Come see what we can do for your child.
In that sense, Remake Learning Days is a catalyst—a series of events that not only expose parents to the future of teaching and learning but also create new advocates who will look for, develop, and demand the best possible learning opportunities for their kids and communities.
Now that catalyst is spreading. During this year’s Remake Learning Days, Pittsburgh hosted delegations from such cities as Chicago and Raleigh-Durham, as these and other places plan to launch similar festivals of their own in 2019. As interest grows among cities and regions nationwide, we’ve released an online toolkit to help them get started. Containing a planning guide, marketing materials, templates, and other resources, the toolkit can help communities all over the country showcase their strengths and bring even more parents onboard.
Fred Rogers knew that what children get from teachers, mentors, and technology is important, but what they get from their families is essential. Like Rogers himself, Remake Learning Days brings it all together, showing parents what’s possible, why it matters, and what it looks like to give every child the best we’re able to give.
Gregg Behr is co-chair of Remake Learning and executive director of the Grable Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @GreggBehr