Springfield wins nationwide digital learning contest and grant

Springfield is one eight cities nationwide — all more than three times its size — to win a grant that will expand digital learning opportunities for local teens over the summer and beyond.

The LRNG City Challenge recognizes that learning doesn’t just happen in school and seeks to give students fun, interactive ways to quantify the skills they learn over the summer just by pursuing their passions, said Kim Fish, director of communications and collective impact for Springfield City School District.

The district will get a $30,000 grant to oversee and market the program to local teens.

LRNG, created by nonprofit Collective Shift, has amassed a network of learning experiences nationwide that have digital badges attached to them. By being named a LRNG city, an unlimited number of Springfield area students will have access to try out challenges and projects at their own pace, on their own time, and earn badges.

Chicago’s City of Learning portal has badges students can earn by learning to create podcasts, exploring the city’s cultural sites or practicing poetry and script writing. Springfield’s program will utilize some of the badges created in other cities, but will also seek to partner with local organizations to create local badges.

The trick is getting the badges to mean something once students collect them, Fish said.

Part of the district’s marketing will be to local organizations and businesses so that they understand what the badges mean and can honor them down the road.

“We want them to recognize the validity of the skills the badge represents,” she said.

For example, if a student earned a video production badge, the hope is that companies would recognize that and chose that student for opportunities, like hiring them to film a video.

Mustafa Haleem, a sophomore at the Global Impact STEM Academy with an interest in computer engineering, said he’d like potential employers to be able to assess his credentials beyond his academic resume.

“If an employer could see my skills … if they could see how I spend my time outside the classroom,” it would be beneficial, he said.

Other students who currently utilize the YOUmedia lab and Make: Springfield space at the Greater Springfield CareerConnectED Center said they like the idea of being able to quantify what they learn during their independent studies and earn opportunities.

“Since I’ve been coming here I’ve learned something almost every time,” said Jahcory Dixon, a sophomore at Springfield High School. He and others liked the idea of getting recognition for the passions they are pursuing on their own time.

Springfield joins Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., which have already worked as established LRNG cities. The other LRNG City Challenge winners announced this month were San Diego, San Jose and West Sacramento, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Philadelphia.

Fish said having Columbus as another LRNG city nearby may open up opportunities to partner.

The district is already partnering with the local OSU Extension office to give students the chance to run a community garden this summer and then learn cooking skills with the food they grow.

A four-day photography camp is also planned that will incorporate earning badges, said Rene Stratton, YOUmedia programming coordinator.

For more information about LRNG, visit lrng.org and follow @WeAreLRNG on Twitter.

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