It all started with an email.
When the NationSwell Council weekly newsletter spotlighted Alejandro Gac-Artigas‘s work leading Springboard Collaborative, an organization dedicated to closing the child literacy gap, fellow Council member Sue Schwartzman knew she had to meet him. She suspected he might be in attendance at an upcoming NationSwell Council (NSC) event for solutions in education, and sure enough, there he was.
Sue was so impressed and intrigued by Alejandro’s work that she shared it with her philanthropy clients for Schwartzman Advising, the consulting firm she leads. The pitch worked; her clients invested $500,000 in Springboard to help close the child literacy gap in under-resourced communities.
NationSwell spoke to Alejandro and Sue to learn more about this amazing moment of impact, and to discover what’s possible thanks to the investment.
NationSwell: Thank you for chatting with us, Sue and Alejandro! And congrats on this amazing news. Alejandro, Springboard Collaborative is doing important work to close the child literacy gap in under-resourced communities. Can you share what inspired you to start it, and what’s innovative about the model?
Alejandro Gac-Artigas: I’m half Chilean and half Puerto Rican. My parents emigrated to the US to escape political prosecution, and so that my sister and I could have better educational opportunities. Growing up in a home with little money but lots of love taught me that parents’ love for their children is the single greatest and most underutilized natural resource in education. I took that perspective with me to Harvard, and when I graduated, I joined Teach for America and became a first grade teacher in North [Philadelphia].
Teaching in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, I saw myself in my students. I saw my parents in their parents. I realized that students were only in my classroom for 25% of their waking hours. If I didn’t find a way to bring parents into the instructional process, I was never going to close the achievement gap, let alone the opportunity gap. So I founded Springboard Collective eight years ago with the vision of closing the literacy gap by bridging the gap between home and school. We do that by coaching teachers and low income parents to help their kids read on grade level.
NS: And how did you get involved in this organization, Sue?
Sue Schwartzman: I help people who are new to the world of philanthropy understand who they are, what they care about and what they want to do about it. One of my clients last year focused in on literacy, and I was doing a deep-dive into the field to help him best invest his philanthropic dollars. I’m also a former teacher, and I’ve done a landscape survey of what’s out there in literacy. The fact that this is new is amazing to me, but Alejandro has hit on something that no one else has. Parents are an untapped resource — and he knows how to get to them.
AGA: I appreciate that. When people look at Springboard, they say parent engagement is innovative — but parents’ love for their children is biological, not innovative. That parents care for their children is just a product of millions of years of evolution, and the fact that we’re not drawing from that bottomless well is a real missed opportunity.
SS: It’s also important to note that I couldn’t have introduced Alejandro and his work to my client if he didn’t have the traction and data that clients are now hoping for. This model is working, he can show it and it’s amazing!
NationSwell: How did NationSwell help support this partnership and impact?
SS: I would not have learned about Alejandro’s work if it were not for NationSwell. You keep me on the cutting edge of what’s new and innovative in the social impact field. I am always seeking cutting edge information and ideas to challenge and share with my clients in a wide array of philanthropic interest areas and the NationSwell Council has been a connector to big thinkers and creators in many of the spaces my clients have interest in. I am grateful for this curated network!
AGA: Were it not for NationSwell, I would not have been able to connect directly with Sue and certainly not with her clients. As a young entrepreneur of color, access can be a real barrier — access to resources, social networks, professional networks — and having a group that can serve as an intermediary and open doors that otherwise don’t necessarily open on their own is tremendously valuable. There’s something different about being a member of a shared community. It’s beyond transactional and creates a different kind of a dialogue. You get further faster if you have this community there for you.
NationSwell: Wonderful! What’s next for Springboard? How might this $500,000 support the future of the organization?
AGA: Last year we decided to set a goal that is deliberately unachievable with our current program model in order to force ourselves to innovate and find more scalable ways of doing our work. That goal is to help 100,000 kids reach reading goals and 30,000 students read on grade level by December 31, 2022. These new resources will help us bring that to life in five ways.
- To help support our existing summer and after-school programs, which have already doubled students’ annual reading progress.
- To launch a franchising model where we train others to use our playbook, and run programs independently and affordably.
- To build a roadmap that helps districts best engage parents in literacy all year round — in the school day, the school year, the school culture — and not just in the summer and after school.
- To create an a la carte menu of our products and services which have the greatest potential to drive impact, like licensing our workshop curriculum or launching an app to help families develop healthy reading habits at home.
- To popularize our methodology in an unbranded way, to catalyze a culture shift and make parent engagement the new normal.
NationSwell is always trying to learn more about how we’ve supported our Council members in their efforts to make the world a better place. If we helped you, we’d love to hear more about it. Let us know.