To be able to further understand the barriers limiting kids from playing lacrosse we conducted interviews with stakeholders who have experience in this field or experience in very similar programs that can be directly applicable to our group. Based on the information we obtained from these stakeholders we were able to re analyze our original ideas and re work them in order to more realistically address the issue of dropout rates through the use of sports. We ultimately decide that the best solution was to partner with an already existing team in an already existing school within Denver Public Schools.
Stakeholder interviews were used to gain valuable information about the barriers that often get in the way of kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds getting involved in after school programs. Throughout all of our interviews the financial aspect as well as the transportation aspect seem to be reoccurring themes. We were able to contact Effley Brook from the University of Denver who gave us insight into a similar program he was a part of involving hockey which also has extremely high equipment costs. He acknowledged that sports were a great vehicle to address educational issues. However, he did state that he found it was better to start at a younger age and that’s why the hockey program was implemented in elementary school rather than high school. This gave us valuable information because we realized that starting a sport later in life Is more difficult and so this could translate to high school students being much more hesitant to try new sports. We were able to capture this feeling that we may have to overcome in our empathy map as one of the things our potential players could be thinking to themselves.
We also spoke to Beth Harbinson who works for Children’s Scholarship Fund in Baltimore. She was able to give us very good insight into the kids her program helps out and understand the financial barriers that ultimately prevent kids from going to school, from transportations costs to public schools not engaging students properly. These were issues within public schools that we needed to be cognizant and be able to avoid while moving forward with our program. All of the specific questions and answers asked to our stakeholder can be found below under the Define section.
After the interviews were conducted and all of the new information that had been gathered was analyzed we had to redefine our problem. With Denver Public Schools graduation rates declining, they have now fallen 18% behind the national average. We aimed to use sports in order to increase student’s engagement in school, and a commitment to education. It became clear to us that kids’ dropout or do not graduate because they do not see an opportunity that is better than the life they can get selling drugs or engaging in other activities outside of school to get money quickly. They often do not see college as a realistic option, and the long path from elementary school, to college to getting a job does not feel worth it. They feel they can use that time better outside of school and often the household they come from has a culture of not completing school. These were all things we had to think about in designing a solution that was not only feasible but also effective in tackling the issues leading to declining dropout rates.
Three possible solutions were discussed within our group. From the possibility of a completely new startup program to partnering with existing entities. We had to consider all of the new information we had gained as well in designing solutions. We understood kids are more hesitant to pick up sports later in life because it is harder, but our group wanted to address high school dropout rates, so we stuck with high schoolers as the target for out program. We considered the time and transportation issues that were brought up and decided that a program directly after school which was able to use the school’s transportation still was necessary. The idea of designing an entirely new team for a school seemed unrealistic so we decided we would partner with an existing lacrosse team from a high school within DPS. This was our final solution. It will allow us to minimize the financial responsibility of finding field space, transportation, coaches, league fees, and other costs associated with a team. We would have access to already existing infrastructure that our program could benefit and grow. We would be able to reach the population of the high school and get more kids involved in lacrosse that were maybe financially restricted before. The goal would be to get these kids to become more academically engaged to continue to participate in the sport, and ultimately find success in school reducing dropout rates In the long run.
In order to create the most effective solution, our group first needed to empathize. By talking to key stake holders and putting ourselves into the shoes of the people that our program was supposed help, we were able to come up with a solution that will best address high school drop out rates. After empathizing, we had to identify the needs of our stakeholders. We knew that equipment cost is the biggest barrier to kids of lower socio-economic backgrounds getting into lacrosse. With sticks costing well over $100, it’s no shock that lacrosse has largely been a sport for the well off. In addition, these students have parents whose job schedule doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility. Our program had to be within the the normal after school hours and take place at the school. These parents do not have the time or the gas money to drive their kids to practice late at night. Lastly, these children need the motivation and the tools to help them succeed in the real world after graduation. One of the main reasons students drop out is because they think that the opportunities they have on the streets are better than the opportunities education can afford them. By offering tutoring and mentorship programs our students will have resources to push them to succeed. More importantly, they will have a coach and teammates in their corner.
Empathy Maps were a tool that our group used to gain further insight into the needs of our stakeholders.
- Effley Brooks: Carson Gregg
- Can you tell us about how you conducted your research?
- Effley Brooks helped create a program that partnered with a charter elementary school in downtown Denver to give students access to hockey. With high equipment costs and limited rink time, students of low socioeconomic backgrounds often don’t have the opportunity to play hockey.
- What did you find?
- It is better to start younger. That is why they created this program in elementary school instead of high school.
- Why do you think sports is a good vehicle to address educational issues?
- Yes, absolutely. It teaches invaluable lessons in teamwork, motivation, overcoming challenges, and many other key life skills.
- What are your next steps?
- This program is in the past.
- Do you have any contacts from your research that you think could help us?
- His contacts were through an outreach program through the NHL. NHL is specific to hockey so they wouldn’t offer funding to lacrosse programs. NHL rep did not get back to our emails.
- Maddy Stevenson / City Lax Representative: Dylan Keeney
- Why did you choose lacrosse as sport to center this program around?
- Lacrosse was the sport of choice because it was near and dear to our founder and his family. They saw an under served market and wanted to do something about it.
- What types of academic guidance do you give to your athletes?
- We offer educational guidance and other enrichment activities such as hikes and other outdoor adventures.
- Have you partnered with local public schools and or struggling neighborhoods?
- No CityLax is a private organization.
- How do you find funding for City Lax?
- We are funded by donations and rely on volunteers. If you cannot afford to pay for the program, CityLax will cover the costs for you.
Beth Harbinson- Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore: Laura Milleker
- In your opinion why do you think a lot of kids in inner cities drop out of school?
- Poverty and the fact that a high percentage are NOT academically prepared.
- And in looking at our program of sending kids K - 8th grade to the private school their family thinks is best, we see our graduates go on to graduate from high school at a rate of 97%. I think this is because they are prepared for high school academically.
- So bottom line is that in study after study, poor kids drop out. And thinking about the reality of their lives (poor, over 50% from single parent households) if you can make money working the streets vs. the LONG trajectory of school, college, job.....what do you do? In many instances, taking the easier path ESPECIALLY if the culture of your home is NOT high school graduation and on to something else.
- So my answer is that public schools in inner cities are sending TONS of kids through the system who are not academically prepared.
- What obstacles do a lot of low income children and families have when it comes to getting to school?
- Transportation - in Baltimore for example, you can take a bus for free to public school but NOT to a private school
- Why do you think the issue of elevated school drop-out rates exist?
- Poverty and public schools doing a poor job of engaging students.
- Why do you think kids drop out of school?
- They do not see an opportunity there that they think will provide them with a life that is better than what they have. Selling drugs or earning money quickly is an alluring option versus graduating from high school and going on to a poor earning job. Many do not see college as a realistic option for them.
- Do you think the parents or the kids are more responsible for them dropping out of school?
- Parents who are engaged and set expectations for their children have children who graduate. We have one parent with a daughter in Medical School and a son on the streets. The son was kicked out of the house at 16 when he started to sell drugs. Although the parent is aghast at this situation, she shared with me that she had to set the example for her other children of what would be tolerated. The other two are successfully completing Middle and High School now.
Amanda Novak Assistant Principal: Eliza Hacke
- What do you think is currently wrong in public school systems?
- I think there are multiple challenges in the public school system right now. On a larger scale, I believe that the fundamental purpose of education has shifted, but the structure of education has not shifted alongside the purpose. Some obstacles that create challenges for education include: lack of funding, inherent inequity in the system, lack of mental health supports, lack of teacher retention, test-driven environments.
- Why are students dropping-out or not graduating?
- Generally, and in my opinion, students drop out because other environmental factors are offering these students a sense of belonging that school cannot. Students who drop out struggle academically, socially, behaviorally, or they are offered more attractive opportunities outside of school structures. When I worked in an urban setting, plenty of students dropped out because gangs were fulfilling a great need in their lives (family, protection, financial). Some students also dropped out because they needed to work to provide for their family (again, financial). Some students dropped out because they were not successful academically and despite lots of structures supports, felt too disenfranchised to continue.
- What do you think is going well in public school systems?
- Perhaps this is because my focus is on Whole Child Education and Social Emotional Learning, but I do believe that the increased attention and focus on social and emotional skill building is a positive shift for the education system.
- What are your thoughts on after school programs?
- After school programs are always positive, effective, protective factors. As an Activities Director and a Varsity level coach, I have witnessed first hand the power of after school programs. In my previous response about students dropping out, I noted that outside environmental factors (like gangs, drugs, risk factors in general) can pull students out of school. After school programs allow students to engage in meaningful activities within a safe, loving environment instead of potentially engaging in risky behavior which potentially leads to behavioral and academic challenges. Quick story, I had a student once that came to me and shared he was up for OG in his gang. He didn't want to be a part of it- he wanted to "get out" but you can't just leave a gang without repercussions. I invited him to run track on my team as a safe alternative to the gang activities, and he became a state level competitor. He depended on after school opportunities and he eventually left his gang in a safe way. I also believe that after school programs have a unique ability to invite students to leverage their passions - an ability that not all traditional schools can do within normal school hours.
- Do you think finances come into play regarding drop-out rates?
- YES! Yes, I sure. I think schools, especially in Colorado, are funded in a severely inequitable way. Schools that are underfunded often see more drop outs than schools who have adequate funding.
After conducting these interviews and creating an empathy map, our group was best prepared to come up with a problem statement.
Denver high school graduation rates have decreased in the last year; putting them 18% behind the national graduation rate. We took this information and then created a problem statement: How can we create a program that best helps students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds naviagate the financial barriers preventing them from playing sports, in order to improve their academic succcess? By partnering with lacrosse teams at DPS high schools we can increase student engagement and motivation and encourage students to graduate in 4 years.
There are a few criteria that our solution has to meet in order to assure that our solution fully meets the needs of our stakeholders.
- Fully Funded for Underserved Students
- Cost cannot be a barrier for our program. If a student cannot afford the equipment, equipment will be provided for them.
- Our program is designed to be after school for two reasons. Firstly, by keeping students at school longer they will be less likely to engage in suspicious activities such as gangs or drugs. By staying away from these dangerous lifestyles, their chances of staying in school to graduate is greatly increased. Secondly, if it is right after school they will be more likely to stay an attend, as opposed to if it was at night and they couldn’t fine a ride.
- Mentorship Aspect
- If the students are willingly giving their time to participate, we need to give back to them as well. By offering mentorship programs, we can invest back into our players. These connections can help players decide their next steps upon graduating from high school.
These are three criteria that our group knows we need to meet in order to come up with a solution. After doing our own research and conducting stakeholder interviews, we have established that all current solutions to combating high school drop out rates, that use sports, either don’t have these things or could further expand them to better their solution.
Using a unique model, the goal of our project is to create a support system through athletics to ultimately tackle the problem of dropout rates within the Denver Metro area. The idea that good ideas to solve this problem came from asking good questions was used in the brainstorming process. This ideation leads to devising numerous solutions for the problem of dropout rates in the Denver Metro area.
Solution 1: Create
The first solution is the creation of a school-based non-profit organization that would focus on the lives of these at risk students through academic support, mentoring, leadership training, counseling, and lacrosse instruction. The goal in this solution is to give students support while pushing them to raise their own expectations of themselves on the field and translate that into the classroom to eventually decrease dropout rates. Using lacrosse our program on the field builds confidence, teamwork, and drive that these at risk students need to lead to success off the field. This solution is based off the Harlem Lacrosse Program which has been successful in their mission in five different cities, reaching at risk youth.
Solution 2: After School Sports
The second solution is to partner with the Denver Public School system to create an additional after school sports program within public schools. This solution provides a structured platform in a focused and controlled environment to teach students values to motivate them in the classroom. The idea is to use a portion of government school funding to invest in structured student school incentive. The use of volunteering teachers and other staff members will reduce cost and add an additional level of buy-in. This furthered encouragement gives students a reason to attend school, therefore decreasing dropout rates in the Denver metro area.
Solution 3: Preexisting Team
The third solution is to again partner with the Denver Public School system, but to take that one step further and declaratively join an already existing lacrosse team. This solution allows for our program to use preexisting school infrastructure and add to that program. The idea is to use our funding to make the cost of gear and fees almost zero. By decreasing cost of joining the team, we permit students who previously were unable to join a part of the team, creating an inclusive environment. The solution provides a more focused manifesto in which the addition of support systems, mentoring, and instruction build students up and teach principal values. The success and inclusivity on the field will render in the classroom and finally decrease dropout rates.
Solution 4: Entreprenuership
The fourth solution is to create our own after school program company which includes a variety of school related activities to reach a broader spectrum of at risk students. Included in this program will be mentoring, tutoring, as well as exciting student focused activities. By using other actions such as theatre productions, music, technology, and science happenings to produce a structured environment for students we continue their learning processes and increase overall motivation. This idea allows for a fresh start and to not be attached to any other existing programs for a private entrepreneurship.
Prototyping allowed our team to stop discussing and start doing. It turned our ideas into functional solutions for the problem of dropout rates in the Denver Metro area. Our prototyping process included a storyboard, where we put our thoughts to paper in order to draw it out. We created a storyboard prototype to logistically lay out the main W’s: Who, What, Where, and Why. This forced our group to ask the important questions that pertained to gear funding, program funding, instructors, volunteers, time, space, and the transportation aspects. We were able to then explore different budgets with multiple changing variables to narrow our solutions.
Our two finalized solutions are based off of Solution 2: After School Sports and Solution 3: Preexisting Team. In the prototyping process we determined that Solution 1: Create, would not match our mission. The immense costs, including startup costs of completely starting a program infrastructure with gear, and paid employees is not a realistic approach as we once thought it would be. Through prototyping and laying out different variables to include in final budgets we determined our program would be most successful to piggy-back off and create a partnership with the Denver Public School system. This enables fewer costs by using the infrastructure already in place. Another aspect that this partnership enables is access to teachers. The program needs teachers to teach and motivate students. The funding for teacher participation would then be allowed to come from the government school budget. This decreases mentorship costs, thus tolerating more funds to be allocated to variables such as time, space, and transportation.
Throughout the prototyping process, our solution changed with exploration and inspiration of ideas. However, the most useful aspect that was gained through the process was empathy. Prototyping provided a deeper understanding of our problem and why it is still a problem. Each group member’s knowledge and buy-in towards the solution grew immensely from this process.
User Testing Feedback Map
Our team is partnering with Denver public schools to help embellish already existing sports teams to get more funding and also integrate a mentorship program. Since these inner city schools already have lacrosse teams, often they are under-funded and have sparse participation, being that lacrosse is an expensive sport. By partnering with those school teams and then being able to fund them, we can get higher participation and adjacently we hope to gain more involvement with teachers and students and raise overall motivation and will to be in school. Our criteria we want to stick to is incorporating a mentorship program, having the practice times be directly after school, and for the program to be completely free for the students with equipment costs covered for them. We meet all of this criteria with our solution. The mentorship will be built by incorporating teachers from those Denver public schools into some caching or mentoring positions on these teams so that simultaneously these kids will be learning values of commitment, dedication, and teamwork from the sport while learning other life lessons from their mentors. At the same time, we hope that these teachers involved will also get more invested in these kids’ education. Another thing we heard from our stakeholders is that a lot of these families have time commitments later in the night and a change in their schedule might mean that they are unable to participate in these sports, so we figured the best solution would be having the practice times be directly after school. Lastly, as we had mentioned, we are planning on connecting with surrounding universities for help donating overflow equipment as well as implementing regular fundraisers that the kids will be participating in not only for giving them more responsibilities, but for also putting it in their hands to fund their own equipment.
Sources and Resources:
For Solution Design, we did not use any new sources. We relied on stakeholder interviews, empathy maps, and storyboard prototypes to come up with our detailed solution pertaining to dropout rates in the Denver Metro area.