Post 4: Lessons from 826 National’s Leadership

My internship at 826 National has reinforced my passion for education equity and my ultimate goal of working in education law, working toward education equity for our most under-resourced students. As I move forward in my professional career, one of the things I will take away from this experience is the incredible leadership I have seen in my office. As I approach my last few weeks, here are a few of the leadership qualities I will take with me to my future workplaces:

Building a Vision
When I first started at 826 National, the intern cohort participated in a visioning activity. The exercise was modeled after one that the 826 National board members did a few years ago, about what they wanted the 826 network to look like in ten years. The process begins by writing, in present-tense, about that ideal future state. Then you work backwards to determine the steps necessary to make that vision happen. In the nonprofit world, a vision is hugely important in maintaining and growing an organization. A clear vision (the desired future position of the organization) informs a strong mission statement (the objectives and the approach to those objectives), both of which make up the backbone of an organization’s operations. A leader’s ability to spearhead the building of a vision, both on a small and large scale, help guide a team toward a common future goal. To be quite honest, when I first started at 826, I saw visioning as a pretty cheesy, time-consuming activity. But this summer, I have seen how visioning can motivate and inspire staff, and how working backwards from a vision can actually streamline projects. Now that I have learned the steps myself, refining my approach to vision-building is a skill I can take with me long after I leave 826.

Connecting Even the Small Tasks to the Mission
826 National has also shown me that having a strong vision and mission in place is just the beginning. An effective nonprofit is careful to tie each task to the mission, and to communicate that connection to the staff. Doing so gives purpose to the work being done and improves team morale. This seems small, but a leader without this skill is not executing their job to its fullest extent. 

Visioning can lead to tremendous growth, like when the 826 Network reached more than 32,000 students!

Acknowledging the Value of Your Team
This one might also seem small, but it has been one of the biggest lessons for me at 826. This summer, my main responsibilities have revolved around the annual Staff Development Conference (SDC), during which 826 staff from all over the country come together to discuss best practices and ensure that every chapter is ready to put their best foot forward in the coming school year. It’s a huge event, and 826 National is responsible for its planning and execution. Crucial to the success of SDC has been my supervisor’s commitment to recognize the vital role, however small, that every person plays in making SDC what it is. This summer, I have watched my supervisor take time to thank every person for their contribution to SDC throughout the process, not just after it was over. Showing her genuine appreciation for the support team makes every person feel energized and willing to do the work, because she makes it clear that their work matters. This leadership trait is a big deal to me because of how easy it is! A simple “thank you” can make a world of difference in team-oriented projects, which, as an aspiring lawyer, I am sure to see many of.

Using Interns Strategically!
Every college intern knows that internships can sometimes feel a little hit-or-miss. Sometimes you land an incredible internship that gives you genuinely valuable skills for the future, and other times it feels like you spent your entire internship photocopying documents. The leadership team at 826 National has done an incredible job making sure interns have the tools we need to learn as much as we can this summer, but also that our skills are being utilized to do meaningful work for 826. Part of that is listening to what interns are interested in with regular check-ins, but another part of it is connecting our work to the mission. Since we are only here for a short time, knowing how our work matters in the long run is extremely motivational. This experience has given me concrete examples of how maximize the use of interns, even when their turnover rates can be a bit discouraging. As a leader, figuring out what skills your interns bring to the table lightens your load while still ensuring that your interns are truly growing during their experience.

I look forward to utilizing these skill for many years to come, as I enter the workforce and maybe even lead a team myself one day!

-KR ‘19

Post 3: Growth and Development (and Cartoon Network!) at 826 National

“There’s a place in my mind where ideas can grow into sprouts that turn into trees.”
– Renee, Grade 7, 826 NYC

All the work 826 National does serves to support the regional chapters in the work that they do. Together, the 826 network can best achieve their social justice mission: to work toward more equitable education opportunities for all students, regardless of circumstance. At the national level where I am interning, progress is focused in two areas: growth of existing chapters and development of new chapters.

Growth: For chapters that are well-established, 826 National is constantly collaborating with them to improve and enhance the great work that is already being done. Sometimes, that can be as simple as facilitating monthly department check-ins across chapters so that everyone working in a similar capacity can touch base about what is working and what they might need ideas about. Sometimes, progress involves facilitating exciting partnerships with companies like Cartoon Network! Recently, 826 National and Cartoon Network collaborated to launch the Inclusion Storytelling Project, which encourages youth to share stories about kindness and empathy in an effort to work toward a bully-free world. Each 826 chapter is taking part, adding their own local twist.

Third grader Aakhirah suggests beignets receive their own monument!

826 New Orleans, for example, linked the project to Confederate monuments that were removed from the city at the end of 2017. Third graders at a local school wrote a book filled with their own  suggestions about what should replace those monuments, which was published by 826 National. Buzzfeed recently picked up on it, after some of the images from the book when viral on Twitter!

Development: Speaking of 826 New Orleans, another way that 826 National works toward progress is by working with groups looking to establish their own 826 chapter. Until recently, 826 New Orleans was actually a chapter in development, which involves a process that can take up to two years. Sites apply for the chapter development process and, if selected, undergo a series of phases to create an organization that matches the 826 model. Once they become a full-fledged chapter, they have access to all the resources that the national office has to offer. Though it can be a time-consuming process, all of the steps involved lead up to a new regional site, which enables us to vastly increase the number of students we reach each year!

In order for the 826 National office to adequately support its chapters, we need to be sure that we are operating in the most efficient, effective way. This means that we are also doing work internally to make changes that aid our ultimate mission. In the short time I have been at the office, staff have come together several times to talk about ways they can improve their own work. These conversations involve both self-reflection and feedback from chapters about how the national office can better support them. I admire 826 National’s strong commitment to being the best version of itself, and I am learning a ton about how to use effective reflection practices for actual change. It’s a skill that I can take with me to my future workplaces–to ensure that my work is always aligned with the mission.

–Katie Reinhold, ’19

Post 2: Fighting Education Inequity with 826 National

As an Education Studies major, so much of what I learn in my classes is reflected in the work 826 National does. Education inequality takes many forms, and 826 National has taken a writing-centered approach to improving overall education outcomes for their students.

The Ed Studies department loves to talk about “gaps”. In particular, we frequently discuss both the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. At their core, these terms refer to the ways inequality and inequity manifest themselves in our education systems. The achievement gap refers to the unequal distribution of educational results — test scores, general grades, ultimate level of education — between groups. The opportunity gap is the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities — access to experienced teachers, rigorous coursework, safe environments — that create the achievement gap. From a social justice perspective, these inequities in education serve as the foundation for so many other social injustices, from the effects of the school-to-prison-pipeline to cycles of poverty.

There is much debate about the best ways to approach closing these gaps, but I’m going to focus on the strategies 826 National has incorporated into their work. As a primarily writing-centered program, they focus on creating curriculum that is challenging AND engaging for students who often do not see themselves or their cultures reflected in traditionally white, eurocentric lesson plans. When educational opportunities are actually engaging students, the learning comes far more naturally.

Image credit to Afterschool Alliance

One of the many inequities facing students actually happens outside the classroom. After school opportunities like extracurriculars and tutoring are typically only available for those who can afford them. This after school time is important for long-term in-school achievement, and many kids are pushed out of school because there is simply no safe, engaging space for them after school closes. For this reason, 826 programming is free. Free access to fun, safe, research-based tutoring and workshops for students in underserved communities helps ensure that these young people are not left behind as more affluent students head to their private tutoring sessions.

Additionally, research shows that individualized student attention enhances student outcomes. In the media, we hear about this as the need for smaller class sizes. And while low student-teacher ratios is a goal we should certainly be working toward, 826 National recognizes that right now this is not possible, especially in urban school settings (where it is arguably needed the most). Instead, 826 chapters commit to low student-volunteer ratios in their after school programs and workshops. Even if a student is one of thirty-five in the classroom all day, at their local 826 center they work with a volunteer in groups of one or two students per volunteer. This individualized attention in the afternoon re-engages a student in their work and gives them the time and resources they need to succeed in school.

Access to resources, individualized attention and help, and the right to explore one’s creativity are the cornerstones of success for 826 National’s students. Understanding these principles is essential for the work I do at the National office. My tasks involve working with the local chapters to provide the support and the resources they need to adequately engage students. So while I am not working directly with these students myself, I would not be able to properly work with other chapters without an understanding of the educational barriers that our students face nationwide.

-Katie Reinhold, ’19

Post 1: Learning the Ropes at 826 National

“I open doors
and live out my parents’ dreams
I am what education is supposed to be.”
–Marlin, age 11, 826 Valencia

Hi! I’m Katie Reinhold, and this summer I’m a Programs Intern at 826 National.

826 National is a nonprofit that supports and provides resources to a network of 8 (soon to be 10!) regional chapters. These chapters provide young students in under-resourced communities with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with individualized attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. As an Education Studies major, I was drawn to this internship because I admire 826 National’s commitment to closing the achievement gap.

While 826 is certainly not the only organization working to solve this social injustice, the aspect I love most about 826’s work is their unique approach to education equity. Among other programs, each chapter provides free After-School Tutoring for young students, and every tutoring center is disguised behind an imaginative store front. In San Francisco, students traverse the Pirate Supply Store. In Chicago, they visit the Secret Agent Supply Co. In Boston, the Bigfoot Research Institute. These are operating storefronts, and all proceeds help support the organization’s work. But the real benefit of these storefronts is that they help eliminate the stigma of tutoring. Instead, students enter a world of limitless creativity, where students and volunteers spend afternoons tackling homework and exploring creative writing projects.

So how does 826 National support these chapters? Well, my department in particular helps promote staff development across the network and supports developing chapters. This summer, many of my responsibilities revolve around the annual Staff Development Conference (SDC). In late June, more than 100 staff members from all over the country will come together to explore how they can continue to improve practices. Currently, I am helping prepare materials before the big event in a few weeks. Once the SDC is over, I will help compile a toolkit that reflects what the network has discussed, created, or asked for additional support on. This will be distributed to chapters as a valuable resource for the coming year.

Last year, 826 National also launched a 826 Digital, a pay-what-you-wish online platform that provides adaptable writing curriculums and resources for educators. The goal is that 826 Digital will have a broader student reach than current chapters can, so that we can captivate young writers everywhere, not just in places where a chapter currently exists. This summer, I will be working to expand the resources available on that platform so that educators of all ages have a dearth of high-quality, low-cost resources at their fingertips.

Throughout the summer, I look forward to gaining knowledge about how a national nonprofit supports its network. To date, my experience in the nonprofit world has always involved direct engagement with the target community, so I am excited to explore the more behind-the-scenes end of this work, and hopefully figure out if I can see myself working in this capacity in the future!

-Katie Reinhold, ‘19