We have an opportunity to redefine education

Posted 4/6/23

By Michael Broschart, Executive Director, Teach For America Rhode Island and Lee Lewis, President, Junior Achievement of Rhode Island

Coming out of the pandemic, we find ourselves at a turning …

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We have an opportunity to redefine education


By Michael Broschart, Executive Director, Teach For America Rhode Island and Lee Lewis, President, Junior Achievement of Rhode Island

Coming out of the pandemic, we find ourselves at a turning point in education--one we think is full of opportunity. 

The messages we generally hear about the state of education are quite bleak. The education system was already under immense pressure before the pandemic and wasn’t designed to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed; the past three years have only exacerbated those stressors and inequities, with a disproportionate effect on students in low-income communities. Last year, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (RIAAP) and the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychology (RICCAP) declared a state of emergency around child and adolescent mental health, seeing a “dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits” for young people. While the exodus of educators in Providence has not been as drastic as other areas, Providence Public Schools continues to lose more educators than it attracts. Graduation rates in Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket are 10% lower than the state average, and that number jumps to 15% lower for multilingual learners in the four core cities. 

These challenges have been sobering. And yet, we are persisting with optimism for the future. We feel confident doing that because we believe deeply in every student in Rhode Island, and in the power of the Rhode Island community to invest in and ensure the next generation of Rhode Island leaders are being equipped with the education they need and deserve. This is a defining moment for our education system. We must work with students to address the immediate challenges in front of us while imagining what is possible for the future. This work must ensure that all students are receiving an education that prepares them to engage and lead in the 21st century workforce.

As the world becomes increasingly complex and globalized, the importance of education has become more apparent than ever before. We do not know what kind of future our kids will inherit or what jobs will exist when today’s first-graders graduate high school in 2034. But we know that the current education system, rife with inequity and lacking innovation, is not preparing every child with the skills needed to engage with our rapidly-changing world. Education plays a vital role in workforce development, and K-12 education is the foundation upon which future careers are built. Rhode Island’s students cannot be left behind. 

Short, long term needs

 When we talk about the future of education in Rhode Island, we see immediate and long-term needs. First: we need to continue to get excellent leaders into our classrooms. Teach For America Rhode Island has set an ambitious goal that, in partnership as members of the Rhode Island community, by 2030 twice as many students in Providence County are reaching key educational milestones indicating they are on a path to economic mobility and college and career readiness. We’re working to achieve this goal by recruiting and supporting a cohort of diverse teachers--many who grew up here in Rhode Island, and others who bring important perspectives from communities across the country--training them to teach in hard-to-fill positions, and building and maintaining critical community and school partnerships to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our services to Rhode Island’s urban school communities.

Next is to ensure that our current students are learning transferable skills and gaining access to opportunity. Junior Achievement is the largest organization working to equip young people with the knowledge and skills necessary for their economic success, future planning, and smart academic and economic decisions. Our programs focus on work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy in order to help young people develop the skill set and mindset to build thriving communities over the long-term. We encourage you to get involved through the JA in a Day program, where you can help lead a classroom for the day and help teach these critical skills to our community's young people. 

This week, Teach For America Rhode Island and Junior Achievement of Rhode Island are hosting Rhode Island Education Awareness Week, a week of events designed to engage our local community in critical issues associated with education. During this week, Junior Achievement and Teach For America Rhode Island will be collaborating on a series of events, including a proclamation ceremony at the State House, Congressional Leaders Day with Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, and Junior Achievement Job Shadow Day for Rhode Island leaders & Teach For America classrooms. Additionally, at the 9th annual Junior Achievement Leaders Day at George J. West Elementary School in Providence, local leaders will be guest teaching about career readiness in classrooms. These opportunities will connect political and business leaders with students in the Providence Public Schools District, helping to foster deeper connections between RI’s education system and our local community. 

Oftentimes, education is seen as the purview of students, families, educators, and school administrators. But we’d like to call on the greater Rhode Island business community to support the ongoing efforts to ensure that students in Rhode Island have access to the educational opportunities they need to thrive. We encourage you to reach out to us at Junior Achievement and Teach For America to see how you can get involved in the broader conversation around how to support a connected and thriving educational community. 

We see this moment as an opportunity to start building the education system our students deserve: one that allows every child to learn, lead, and thrive. 

opportunity, education


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