CharterFolk Contributors Christopher King and Janay Barnes – Character Development Is Not Fixed and We Can Measure Our Growth, While We Build It

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Christopher King, Founder and CEO, WAM Academy and Janay Barnes, Marketing and Creative Partner, WAM Academy.

Christopher King and Janay Barnes

I provide bios for each below.

Meet Christopher King, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, professor, and WAM Academy’s (WAM) Founder and CEO who is revolutionizing mentorship.

Combining his passion for social impact with more than a decade of experience in education and technology, he created WAM in 2016. WAM is an educational technology company that uses interactive stories from mentors to improve learning outcomes and character growth for students of color.

Prior to establishing WAM, he was a respected teacher in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; a contract manager for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign in Virginia; and an education consultant in several states.

Christopher has been recognized as an innovator by Black Enterprise, Village Capital, and the National Institute of Health, and has been featured in Rolling Out and On The Ryse magazines, as well as CourseArc, an online learning platform.

Christopher is proud to serve as a role model for youth and believes that mentoring “provides answers to the questions you didn’t know to ask, connecting mentors’ experiences with what students are going through, and equipping them with the right tools to approach any situation.”

He is on a mission to close the 16 million missing mentor gap with WAM Academy, which has an impact that includes increased classroom time, decreased substance abuse, and lower suspension rates.

Christopher’s vision to push innovation and improve the lives of diverse communities does not end with WAM. After earning his MBA from Howard University and penning a book about early-stage founders from his beloved HBCU, he decided to give back to his alma mater by serving as Adjunct Faculty at Howard University’s School of Business, teaching business problem-solving to first-year students. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from the University at Albany and a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public Affairs.

In addition to these transformational endeavors, he is an advisor to numerous startups and has served on the boards of DC area nonprofits.

What’s in a word? A description that evokes raw emotion. A moving call to action. Something that piques the curiosity of the reader. Words are certified copywriter Janay Barnes’ life.

Crafting culturally relevant messaging that engages with customers, shares a unique tale, and produces results is where she finds purpose.

From her first foray into public writing as a social justice blogger, to heavy on the jargon technical writing, to the copywriting work she does today as the owner of The Glistening Pen, a copywriting agency that focuses on assisting marginalized communities, there’s nothing Janay enjoys more than putting words together in a way that promotes change and helps further progressive companies’ missions. Companies like WAM Academy.

Janay likes to remind people that we all have a story to tell, and it deserves to be told. Sometimes you just need a little help expressing it.

When she isn’t bringing stories to life, you can find her scrolling through her favorite social media, exploring new restaurants, or spending time with her family.

Character Development Is Not Fixed and We Can Measure Our Growth, While We Build It

Imagine a world where education transcends traditional boundaries, where learning is not just about acquiring knowledge but about shaping character and nurturing emotional intelligence. At WAM Academy, we are turning this vision into reality. Our journey is one of constant innovation, guided by the belief that character development is an ever-evolving process, enriched by the power of storytelling and emotional connection.

The Current Landscape: The Rise of SEL in Education

In the realm of education, the introduction and rise of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) tools signify a paradigm shift. Gone are the days when education was solely about academic achievements. Today, it encompasses a broader spectrum, recognizing the crucial role of emotional and social development in a student’s life. SEL tools, which include a diverse array of practices like mindfulness exercises, emotional intelligence workshops, and collaborative learning activities, are becoming more prevalent in classrooms around the globe.

The impact of these tools is profound and far-reaching. For instance, schools implementing SEL programs report notable improvements in student behavior, increased engagement in the classroom, and better academic performance. A study by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) found that students participating in SEL programs showed an 11% point gain in academic achievements.

However, the benefits extend beyond grades and test scores. SEL fosters essential life skills such as empathy, resilience, and effective communication. These skills are necessary for students to navigate their academic careers and their personal and future professional lives. In a world where emotional intelligence is increasingly recognized as a key driver of success, SEL’s rising prominence in education is both timely and essential.

The transformative power of SEL is evident. Educators and parents witness its impact daily – students who once struggled with communication are now expressing themselves confidently; young minds grappling with emotional challenges are now demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. These changes are supported by robust research and data, signaling a new era in education where emotional and social development is given the same priority as academic learning.

The Vision Ahead: Elevating Character Development

As we stand at the cusp of a new era in education, our vision at WAM Academy is clear and compelling: a future where SEL and character development aren’t just part of the curriculum, but are its heartbeat. In this envisioned world, education transcends traditional academics; it becomes a holistic journey that fosters intellectual growth and emotional, social, and ethical development. This is a future where SEL is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of learning, creating an environment where students not only learn about history and mathematics but also about empathy, resilience, and self-awareness.

In this future, advancements in SEL methodologies and technologies play a pivotal role. Imagine classrooms equipped with AI-powered tools that provide personalized emotional and social skills training. These advanced systems could analyze individual students’ responses and behaviors, offering tailored feedback and exercises to develop their emotional intelligence. Virtual reality scenarios could offer immersive experiences for students to practice empathy and conflict resolution in a multitude of simulated social settings, preparing them for real-world interactions.

Another significant advancement lies in the incorporation of gamification into SEL. Interactive, game-based learning platforms could make the development of emotional and social skills engaging and relatable, especially for younger students. By completing challenges and missions, students would learn SEL concepts and how to apply them in varied contexts, thus reinforcing their learning.

Furthermore, data analytics and machine learning could be used to track and analyze students’ progress in SEL. Educators could use these insights to customize their teaching approaches and provide targeted support where needed. This data-driven approach would ensure that SEL isn’t a one-size-fits-all module but a deeply personalized learning journey for each student.

Community and parental involvement in SEL would also see a transformation. With digital platforms and mobile apps, parents and community members could participate in and reinforce the SEL initiatives being taught at school, making SEL a collaborative effort that extends beyond the classroom.

The role of mentorship becomes increasingly integral to SEL, serving as a vital bridge to the next chapter of our journey. As we look ahead, a greater emphasis on soft skills such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and adaptability is anticipated, becoming essential currencies in the workplace. Our evolving curriculum at WAM Academy, enriched by a diverse and expanding mentorship network, is tailored to meet these emerging demands. We are dedicated to ensuring that our learners are both job-ready and life-ready, equipped with a wide range of soft skills honed through the invaluable mentorship experience.

The Role of Virtual Mentorship

In the evolving landscape of modern education, where the focus on SEL is paramount, digital mentorship emerges as a transformative force, expanding the scope and impact of traditional mentorship models. Through digital platforms, mentorship transcends geographical boundaries, enabling connections that were once impossible. Students from remote or underserved areas now have access to a global network of mentors, each bringing unique insights, experiences, and cultural perspectives.

This global network enriches the learning experience, exposing students to diverse worldviews and professional expertise. It fosters academic growth along with cultural understanding and empathy. Digital mentorship platforms facilitate real-time communication and collaboration, offering students personalized guidance and support. They provide a space for students to explore their interests, face challenges, and celebrate achievements with mentors who, though miles apart, are just a click away.

Moreover, these digital platforms are equipped with tools for tracking progress, facilitating interactive learning experiences, and providing resources that cater to the specific needs of each student. This personalized approach ensures that every student benefits maximally from their mentorship experience.

The power of digital mentorship lies in its ability to connect, inspire, and educate students on a global scale, preparing them for a world that is increasingly interconnected and digitally driven.

Data-Backed Success

Let’s look at the numbers. When examining the impact of mentorship programs, the data speaks volumes. Research from mentoring.org indicates that students engaged in these programs are significantly more likely to pursue higher education, with a 55% increased likelihood of college enrollment. Their civic engagement is also notable, as they are 78% more likely to participate in regular volunteering.

In our own assessments at WAM Academy, the impact of virtual mentorship is evident in key behavioral changes. We’ve observed a 20% reduction in suspension rates, reflecting improved behavior and engagement in the school environment. Furthermore, a 40% decrease in the likelihood of students skipping class or being truant indicates enhanced commitment to their education. Most significantly, there’s a 60% decrease in the likelihood of students engaging in substance abuse, underscoring the positive influence of mentorship on their overall well-being and decision-making. These results show the transformative power of mentorship in shaping the lives and futures of our students.

Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles to Growth

As we endeavor to integrate SEL more broadly, we confront several significant challenges. Firstly, limited resources in many educational settings hinder the ability to implement comprehensive SEL programs. This issue is often more acute in underfunded schools that serve high-need communities. Secondly, societal misconceptions persist regarding the importance of emotional intelligence compared to traditional academic learning, leading to undervaluation of SEL’s benefits. Finally, a notable gap exists in providing educators with comprehensive training in SEL methodologies.

To overcome these obstacles, a multifaceted approach is needed. Advocacy for increased funding, particularly in underserved areas, is crucial. Simultaneously, broad-based educational campaigns can help shift societal perceptions about the value of emotional intelligence. Additionally, investing in robust professional development programs for educators can equip them with the necessary tools and knowledge to effectively implement SEL in their classrooms. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can pave the way for a more emotionally intelligent, resilient, and socially aware generation of learners.

Charting the Path Forward

To bring this vision to life, we need a collaborative approach. It involves partnerships between educational institutions, technology innovators, and the community. It requires ongoing research and development in SEL tools and methodologies. Most importantly, it calls for the involvement of every stakeholder in the educational process – educators, parents, and the community at large.