Why We Give – Springboard to Learning

Because giving is at the very heart of Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, we felt it was important to share stories about those who are impacted most by the generosity of our members.

This month we highlight Springboard to Learning, a nonprofit whose programs ignite a passion for learning and develop a child’s ability to think, create, collaborate and communicate. We hope you enjoy the piece, and are inspired by these real life impact stories.

Not long ago, Robin was just an average second grader, sitting in a St. Louis public school classroom, wide-eyed and fascinated by a Springboard to Learning program on Uganda.

Already inspired by what she was learning in the program, she was delighted to receive a special basket representing the East African nation. The basket meant so much to her that she saved it and even took it with her to college.

Now, Robin is a senior project manager at Washington University School of Medicine. She travels the globe, and credits that elementary school Springboard to Learning program with being the spark that ignited her interest in learning more about the world.

“She said the program opened her eyes to other cultures,” said Cathy Hartmann, executive director of Springboard to Learning. “Robin said, ‘I could not get that kind of enrichment from the curriculum at the St. Louis public school I attended.’ When we hear that kind of thing, it’s very exciting for us.”

Springboard, a 2016 SOS grantee, believes that meaningful, memorable learning experiences transform a child’s worldview.

Stories like Robin’s mean their programs are working – and having a powerful, lasting impact.

Springboard works to develop a child’s abilities to think, create, collaborate and communicate by offering educational programs to schools throughout the St. Louis region.

“We take our programs and implement them in the school in a way that gets the kids excited about learning in a different style because we know that not every kid learns in the same way,” Hartmann said.
Springboard to Learning was founded in 1965, but was merged in 2006 with Young Audiences of St. Louis.
The organization partners with school districts throughout the St. Louis region, including St. Louis Public School District, Hazelwood School District and many in St. Louis County and the surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois. They work with public, private, independent and charter schools, with an emphasis on those schools that are under-resourced.

“We have two models for our programs,” Hartmann said. “In our primary model, we recruit individuals – teaching partners – who have their own program that they have created and engage them to take their program and implement it in a classroom, meeting a special need that the school has.”

For example, during Black History Month, a theater troupe might present a historical performance highlighting important achievements of African-Americans.
“We have people who do programs that ignite the kids’ interest in learning,” Hartmann said.
James Ramsey, a Boeing engineer, speaks to a group of students through a Springboard program.

Over the years, Springboard has developed an impressive list of teaching partners and programs – so many that they publish a catalog of programs so educators and schools can choose those that best suit their needs.

Springboard offers programs in several formats, including residencies, 45-60 minute classes in eight to 10 sessions; a one-time performance of a 45-60 minute non-participatory program for a large assembly; and workshops, a one-time program for one classroom.
Springboard’s second program model – their Signature Programs – are offered only as residencies.
“We feel that we can have more of an impact when we have more exposure to the kids and they can engage with us over more than just a one-hour session,” Hartmann said. “We do see greater outcomes in terms of learning.”
Signature Programs are created through a partnership with the University of Missouri-St. Louis through the The Dr. Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker Endowed Professorship for Education in Collaboration with Springboard to Learning. Instead of relying on teaching partners, these programs are designed specifically for Springboard by the UMSL professor and her graduate students.
“They help us to design and implement programs that are proprietary to Springboard,” Hartmann said. “With this model, we train multiple individuals who can implement a Signature Program, so it increases the availability of the program and assures us continuity.”

There are currently nine Signature Programs, including student favorites like the Art of Baseball and MusicMaker.

The $20,050 grant from SOS funded another popular Signature Program called IdeaBuilder.
“IdeaBuilder is a STEM-based program where the students identify a real world problem and create a prototype solution to that problem using rudimentary items like paper clips or pipe cleaners,” Hartmann said.
One of the goals for a STEM-based program like IdeaBuilder is to reach African-American female students because statistics show few African-American women go on to work in those fields.
“We set out to reach 600 area kids, and just half way through the year, we’ve reached 661 area kids,” said Jonathan Webb, program facilitator for Springboard to Learning. “We’ve implemented Idea Builder in 31 classrooms in 12 different area schools – those with the greatest financial need. The goal was to reach African-American female students and we’ve been successful in doing that.”
For their part, the students are embracing the Signature Programs.
One eighth grade girl identified the problem in her world as “too much drama.” She invented and designed a prototype of her solution – “drama-flee earrings.”
Her earrings were meant to whisper words of encouragement in the wearer’s ear when they felt down or discouraged.
“I was most amazed that an eighth-grader could have that kind of insight,” Hartmann said. “She realized that the kinds of things you face like that will always be part of her life. She thought that if earrings could whisper words of encouragement it could give her strength. I find that incredibly fascinating.”

Another student, a fourth-grader, designed a dollhouse for her IdeaBuilder class. When it kept collapsing, she addressed the problem, decided to change her plans, and created a collapsible dollhouse instead.

It is those kinds of lessons – adaptability, ingenuity and critical thinking – that are hard to teach in an average classroom curriculum.

What’s more, the kids are having fun and getting excited about learning, Hartmann says.

“Teachers are always in need of new and creative strategies for making learning engaging,” Hartmann said. “Kids that are under resourced may not have access to creative in-school or after-school activities and programs. I think we fill that gap; we give kids these kinds of opportunities that they may not have access to.”

The Springboard programs wouldn’t be possible without support from organizations like SOS.
“We are very grateful for your support,” Hartmann said. “If we don’t have the funding, we’re not able to do the programming. For us as a small nonprofit, you’re not the icing on the cake – you are the cake.”

Story by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative for Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.