I usually write about research when the number-crunching is done and findings are ready to share with the world. It’s rare for me to observe a project being rolled out at the beginning.
FAST was developed by Lynn McDonald more than two decades ago. It goal is to remove the barriers to student achievement by improving relationships within families, and between families and schools. FAST has received funding from many sources, has located its research home at WCER, and has been proven effective by a number of agencies. It now operates in 46 states and 13 countries.
The FAST program has been administered in Philadelphia for some time, under the leadership of a nonprofit organization called Turning Points for Children. Now it’s being scaled up in Philadelphia with support from a $15 million grant from the US Department of Education. The project will last five years, involve 60 schools, and improve the cultural capital of hundreds of families. Program effectiveness will be measured by staff from the American Institutes for Research.
Everyone I met was there to work together to improve student success. Each had unique skills and resources to contribute and each organization had a distinct mission but and shared overlapping interests
In two day-long meetings we were able to nail down agreement in three major areas: How to best implement the project among the dozens of schools, how to best evaluate the project’s effectiveness, and how to best disseminate the importance of the work.
During the second day of meetings we had to scurry several blocks over to city hall for a press conference to announce the collaboration and explain its goals of boosting student achievement. Held in a gigantic, palatial room, the press conference featured the superintendent of schools, a spokesperson from the mayor’s office, and representatives from our collaborating organizations. Journalists from print media and TV filled the aisle. Parents who participate in the FAST program created their own cheering section.
The two-day schedule was packed, so there was no time to take advantage of the city’s many museums, theaters, and concert halls. I did manage to visit one used-book store. Temperatures there were in the low 30s, a welcome break from Madison’s single digits.
I return home knowing people from several organizations. I hope to meet with them again.