Theory of Change is a process that non-profits use to analyze their impact. It is a complex idea that includes target populations, indicators, outcomes, and mission. If approached thoughtfully, it is a useful tool for taking stock of where you are as an organization and get feedback from your community about their needs and how well they are being addressed.
This can be a painful process if an organization discovers they have strayed from their original mission, thereby limiting the effectiveness of their core programs. It can also highlight the “bright spots,” the things that have led to success. Sometimes, as in our case, it turns out to be a little bit of both.
The Operation Exodus Theory of Change has resulted in some good news, and a need for some key changes. We have embarked on a newly refined mission, raising up Latino leaders from a very early age by giving them high quality educational and enrichment experiences kindergarten through fifth grade. We’re shifting our focus in the middle and high school groups, creating more opportunities to spend with mentors in a club-like setting.
The new k to 5 logic model targets kids from the four most challenged public schools in our district. These schools serve an inordinate amount of English Language Learners, and their populations are living at the very lowest income levels, most at or below poverty. Through an intense focus on English Language Arts, math and enrichment curriculum, we expect to see student growth in many key areas.
While Exodus is addressing academic concerns with the same rigor we always have, we have now identified a “secret ingredient” that has helped our students succeed in the past. Turns out, the mentoring and family oriented culture we’ve always had leads to the development of critical “soft skills” such as resilience, patience, self-control, and optimism; all attributes more important than intelligence when it comes to educational achievement.
With a strong mentoring structure already in place, Exodus is perfectly positioned to deliver intentional mentoring experiences during the week that will allow students to develop non-cognitive social and emotional character traits known to lead to improved school performance.
This September we incorporated “Caring Circles” into both the after-school and Saturday programs. Exodus kids are getting time to process and share what’s going on in their lives, and in their schools in a “safe” space, guided by caring adults. By creating this “community” feeling, they can build meaningful relationships with positive adult role models.
In the beginning, Program Coordinator Vianeli had no idea, of course, how the Caring Circles might go. Some kids struggle with putting themselves out there to a group of peers, for fear of being laughed at or ostracized. However, the initiative has taken off far beyond what we could have hoped for. The middle school group has really come together as a class to listen and support each other. And, in the younger grades, the results have also been amazing.
Research has found that non-cognitive skills, such as resilience, patience, self-control, and optimism are important, perhaps even more important than intelligence, when it comes to educational achievement.
Tutors in the K through 5 programs were discussing Jamie. He is a new student this year and is having trouble fitting in. He was spending far too much time alone, even at the park. Pedro, one of our young tutors, volunteered to be more intentional about playing with Jamie one-on-one during park time. Noticing he was a fast runner, Pedro began encouraging him about his speed. Later, the tutors chose words of affirmation for Jamie during assembly time. This targeted strategy had an immediate impact. Recently Jamie was seen going up to someone with a big smile, saying, “Hey, I’m here. I’m Jamie, you should get to know me!”
This is a wonderful reminder of the power our words have to encourage others, and the importance of kind actions. The Exodus mission is to instill these concepts in our students so that it can leak over into other aspects of their lives. We expect to see improved self-esteem, better grades and behavior, and better relationships with family members at home. And ultimately we’d love to see some of our students emerge as leaders in the community.
Our mission is help kids like Jamie grow in confidence, feel more hopeful, and do better in school—a win, win, win.