October 3, 2023

Transcend Launches Community-Based Design Resources to Help Communities Reimagine Learning for the Twenty-First Century

Transcend is proud to launch a suite of free resources to help system, school, and classroom leaders implement a student-forward, community-based design in their education environments. Community-based design is a local process where young people, educators, administrators, caregivers, and experts come together to collaboratively design better learning experiences and outcomes. “Transform Learning with Community-Based Design” provides a step-by-step roadmap to an empowering process that brings together the true participants of a school (students) and important stakeholders (system and school leaders, caregivers, and community leaders) to collaborate on a shared vision.

The boldness of community-based design is that students help to lead the work. This isn’t just another strategic planning process. Students’ voices matter and they are at the center of the process; this just doesn’t happen in school improvement generally.

Dr. Lynn Moody, former superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools

A majority of Americans believe that schools should rethink how we educate students and create new ways to teach and learn. The 100-year-old industrial design of same-age, standardized progression in schools is neither effective nor equitable. Educators and students alike have been particularly vocal in their frustration with the lack of significant changes to schooling after the pandemic, the most disruptive event to education in our lifetimes. Now, with ample energy, ideas, and community desire, a growing number of communities are envisioning a new future for schooling.

“The calls for change are coming from every direction, including— most importantly—from students themselves,” says Jenee Henry-Wood, chief learning officer at Transcend. “Young people want learning that is relevant and engaging, and supports their mental well-being. So how do we go about changing such an entrenched model? At Transcend, we’ve learned that making big and long-lasting changes in the design of schools requires working together as a community.”

The traditional methods of improving schools often involve discrete projects or interventions, such as introducing a new way to teach reading or providing additional tutors during different parts of the day. These approaches to school improvement assume that the current model of school is the best one available and that by working harder and implementing initiatives more effectively, we will achieve the desired outcomes. Community-based design is different from other school improvement initiatives because it takes a comprehensive approach, helping a community redefine the overall purpose, outcomes, and learning experiences of school for young people and educators.

Schools across the country are already seeing success with community-based design. Van Ness Elementary School in DCPS used the process to launch their Whole Child Model, which is rooted in the understanding that children’s academic success is inextricably linked to their overall well-being. Brooklyn STEAM Center, an endeavor between the New York City Department of Education and Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, used community-based design to create tangible pathways to economic mobility for predominantly Black and LatinX 11th and 12th graders across numerous school communities.

“Children, families, and educators came together to create an inclusive community that provides authentic experiences and engages the whole child,” says Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, founding principal at Van Ness Elementary School. 

“Community-based design is such a unique process because it involves students from ideation to implementation,” says Dr. Tamara Willis, superintendent of Susquehanna Township School District. “They are at the table coming up with new ideas and they are at the back-end of the process giving feedback.” 

Community-based design offers a pathway to transforming learning environments and opportunities. Transcend’s suite of free resources features tools to help system, school and classroom leaders engage one of the most important features of the community-based design journey: understanding the experiences of young people in their schools and classrooms. 

Transcend will be sharing more about how communities can envision and create learning environments where every student thrives in an upcoming book authored by Jenee Henry Wood (also author of “Transform Learning with Community-Based Design”) and Transcend co-CEOs Aylon Samouha and Jeff Wetzler. To be published by Wiley Jossey-Bass, the book will amplify the impact of Transcend partners and share what the organization has learned about cultivating the conditions necessary for deep and sustained innovation.

Transcend is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates nationally.