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CLX Celebrates Launch and Releases New Research at Debut Event

It was a celebration nine years in the making.

On October 29, more than 250 members of Chicago’s youth-serving community gathered at Google to celebrate the launch of our new nonprofit, the Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX).

CLX is an educational start-up with a nine-year track record of advancing equity in connected learning. We serve as a hub for the growing community of educators and youth-focused organizations who are working to ensure all youth have access to the tools, opportunities, and benefits of 21st Century learning.

The event’s featured speaker, Julia Stasch, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, traced CLX’s origins back to 2006. The MacArthur Foundation had recently wrapped up a decade-long, multi-million dollar investment in public education reform that resulted in little change. Motivated by this experience, the foundation pivoted to a radically different philanthropic approach.

“We did not create a theory of change,” Stasch said. “Instead, we asked a set of questions about how digital media was changing the way young people learned and what that could mean for education – starting not with the institution, but with the learner.”

MacArthur’s $200 million investment sparked a new decade of research and learning and a number of groundbreaking initiatives aimed at remaking learning for the digital age. Two of the initiatives, the Hive Chicago Learning Network and Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning, have combined to form CLX.

CLX Executive Director Maria Hibbs explained that CLX’s mission is “to inspire and support digital-age learners and leaders to close Chicago’s opportunity gap.” CLX does this by building a peer network for professional learning; making grants to support innovative new practices in connected learning; and advocating for practices, systems, and policies that remake learning and promote equity.

Although CLX is a new organization, it is not new to this work: over the past nine years, the Hive Fund made over $7 million in grants to support connected learning in Chicago.

The event highlighted the work of nine CLX grant recipients and partners: Adler Planetarium, Chicago Architecture Center, YOUmedia at Chicago Public Library, Contexture Media Network, Google, Nerdy Media, True Star Media, Sweet Water Foundation, and Yollocalli Arts Reach. Youth participants and program leaders were onsite explaining how podcasting, 3D printing, scientific research, marketing internships, a real-world design competition, and more are helping young people learn new skills and gain relevant, hands-on experience in areas that interest them.

CLX Program Officer Sana Jafri announced an exciting new initiative: Remake Learning Days, a four-day learning festival for Chicago youth and families. On May 16-19, over 100 events featuring learning activities such as vertical gardening, 3D printing, and podcasting will take place throughout the city of Chicago. CLX partners are invited to join this innovative effort by hosting an activity, especially in areas of the city where access to connected learning is most lacking.

The event also debuted a first-of-its-kind research report on the use of digital media tools and technologies in out-of-school programs in Chicago. The report, Engaging Youth in a Connected World, researched and written by University of Chicago’s Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago STEM Education, identified 175 Chicago organizations providing more than 1,000 programs that use digital media learning tools and technologies to accomplish key program goals such as youth empowerment, leadership, and civic engagement. The programs identified are located throughout Chicago, with many on the South, West, and Southwest Sides. Almost half have predominantly African-American enrollment.

In an audience discussion with report author Jeanne Century and program panelists Darius Ballinger (Founder, Chasing23) and Lisa Kim (Director of Marketing and Communications, Mikva Challenge), three key findings seemed to resonate strongly:

1) The idea that digital tools and technology themselves are not the ends, but rather the means to youth learning and enrichment;

2) The importance of involving youth and keeping youth voice front-and-center in designing and executing programs for young people; and

3) The importance of investing in the adult program leaders and mentors who serve as critical guides and supports for youth learners.

Engaging Youth in a Connected World is the first-ever attempt to understand and document the use of digital learning tools in informal settings across any city in the United States, said Century. In addition to serving as a model for other cities, the report provides important baseline information that will help Chicago understand whether we are making progress in creating greater equity of access to digital learning for all youth.

“We were thrilled to celebrate the launch of CLX, the incredible work of our partners, and the release of groundbreaking new research with so many of our friends and supporters on October 29,” said Hibbs. “Thank you to Google for hosting the event and to our major supporters: the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, and the Mozilla Foundation.

Individuals and organizations are invited to sign up to join CLX. Joining is free and gives you membership in a diverse community of learning professionals as well as access to the latest updates on CLX funding opportunities.

Mark your calendar on May 16-19 for Remake Learning Days, a three-day learning festival for Chicago youth and families! Contact Sana Jafri to discuss hosting a learning activity.

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