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From the Vault: A Chat with Sam Dyson

  • Savannah Brown

2020 marks 10 years.

To look back on the rich history of Hive Chicago, which evolved into the Chicago Learning Exchange, we called upon Sam Dyson, who has been a leader in reimagining learning over the past decade in Chicago and beyond.

Sam worked for the Mozilla Foundation as Director of the Hive Chicago Learning Network, which grew from a core of about two dozen youth-serving organizations into a peer professional learning community of more than 150 organizational members focused on innovation and equity in education. In 2018, Sam and Maria Hibbs co-founded the Chicago Learning Exchange to create a connected community where all learning counts. CLX combined the network and the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning at The Chicago Community Trust.

Now a Civic Science Fellow at the Rita Allen Foundation, Sam briefed us on Hive’s early years, its growth, and its journey to become CLX, sharing his deep perspectives as an innovator, former high-school physics teacher, and educational administrator with Chicago Public Schools and the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community.

Sam began our conversation by thanking the community for not only keeping the mission and practice of CLX alive, but also for the love, acceptance, and inclusion he felt when he joined Hive Chicago as interim director in 2013.

The spirit early on was communal and scrappy, he recalled: “There has always been a very strong ideal toward supporting young people and a passionate desire to support the educators who are working directly with those young people.”

The organizations that made up the Hive at the time leaned heavily on Meetups to mobilize this passion. Much like today, they used time together to share out and learn what was going on in other programs and across the city. And, much like today, opportunities for collaboration presented themselves organically.

CLX isn’t “a social club where people just like each other,” said Sam. “It's people who do like each other, but who also are learning from each other, and who are making their work, their service to young people, stronger and stronger.”

The transition from Hive Chicago to CLX started in 2017 when the Mozilla Foundation shifted its strategic priorities and long-term funding was no longer available to support Hive. Establishing CLX in 2018 was a means to sustaining and growing the network.

With the transition came a new list of goals. The “first [was] to make sure that this community remained strong and supported, because [of the] ongoing need to connect out-of-school time educators who are serving teens in Chicago.” We can see this need playing out even more now during the current pandemic. Secondly, the CLX team wanted to see growth beyond simply maintaining Hive’s existing activities, while keeping educational equity front and center. This has led to new partnerships and collaborations on initiatives such as CSforCHI, ongoing computer science pathway work with other organizations throughout the city, and innovative pilot programs, such as Energizing Opportunities, which aims to create pathways to careers in the energy industry.

Sam noted that a third priority was to better define CLX’s “special sauce.” “How can it be a resource and an offering to the city?” he asked. CLX has since reached all corners of Chicago, with Remake Learning Days CHI, a city-wide festival for engaging, hands-on learning, as a prime example.

Reflecting on the current challenges facing educators and youth due to the pandemic, Sam acknowledged that times may be difficult, but the work is more important than ever. He wants “to give a word of encouragement, because times are hard, the work is important and resources are limited […] I imagine that people will need all the encouragement that they can get in terms of [...] continuing the work and finding support for it.”