RBF_3_06_History and Evolution of Partnership between The Robert Bowne Foundation and the Center for Educational Options

The partnership between the Robert Bowne Foundation (RBF) and the Center for Educational Options (CEO) had its start in January 2000, when the RBF first supported both the family component and the teen component of CEO’s Transformative Literacy Project. The project wove together multiple aspects of literacy work, including:

  • Graduate reading courses for public school teachers at the City College of New York (CCNY);
  • CCNY graduate students training and supervising public high school students to work with children;
  • Provision of one-on-one tutoring for local elementary school students; and
  • Establishment of family literacy programming.

From the start, RBF staff recognized the considerable potential of the Transformative Literacy Project to provide youth practitioners with professional development that was engaging, viable, and to the point. Building on the practice of Dianne Kangisser, first RBF Executive Director, to urge prospective grantees to visit identified exemplary programs, the RBF began recommending that practitioners observe CEO’s unusual combination of teacher training and direct services for children, teens, and families. At the same time, CEO practitioner Suzanne Marten was similarly impressed by the deep, on-the-ground grasp of literacy as well as the generous, insightful support that RBF staff offered its grantee programs:

I have a clear recollection of [Program Officer] Anne [Lawrence]’s support visit. I was amazed that she went to sit with and talk to the kids. She was genuinely interested in what the kids and the families had to say about their work. She sat down and asked them the same kinds of questions I would ask [about] what they were doing. I thought, 'Wow! She trusts us to do what we do well and she cares about the work the kids and families are doing, which she found out about by talking with them and asking them. Not by imposing an instrument to find out what they learned.’

The RBF funded CEO in 2003 to conduct a pilot Action Research Seminar, after bringing Marten together with other afterschool providers to discuss the possibility of joint work in support of afterschool programs. The seminar aimed to help youth practitioners investigate their own questions about practice. Subsequently, Marten led Action Research Seminars for afterschool providers for five years, working closely with Pamela Little, Bowne’s library development consultant. RBF Executive Director Lena Townsend, in her award letter for the 2003-2004 seminar, wrote:

Suzanne [Marten], it has been clear from participants’ comments that the Action Research Seminar for After School Providers has had a profound effect (I’m not exaggerating) on the thinking and practice of participants. It sounds as if it truly has been a transformative experience for them as well as for Pam [Little].

Since 2006, Suzanne Marten and Anne Lawrence have co-facilitated RBF Networking Meetings for Out-of-School-Time (OST) program staff. Such meetings serve as a forum for OST youth practitioners to share best practices, ideas, concerns, challenges, and questions.

In 2010, Marten became the technical assistance provider for the RBF’s Julia Palmer Library Development grantees, offering a combination of in-person support and online virtual seminars. During RBF’s final four years (2011-2012 through 2014-2015), Lawrence and Marten worked together to co-develop and co-lead year-long seminars on library development and literacy support involving practitioners from a dozen programs over the years.

Marten believes that the effectiveness of RBF’s partnerships with professional development providers is rooted in a shared set of core beliefs, which she enunciated in a July 2011 interview:

  • Literacy is a right for everybody.
  • Literacy happens in community.
  • People learn best by doing, when they are engaged in inquiry, whether they are children or adults.
  • Literacy is happening all the time throughout the day and throughout our lives, not just at school for academic purposes.  
  • Learning takes place over time.  It is not a one-shot deal for kids or adults.
  • Kids learn best by doing and coming back to things over and over again over time.

After many years of close collaboration, Anne Lawrence and Suzanne Marten enjoy a deep partnership grounded in a shared effort:  providing practical, usable, and stimulating professional supports to the OST practitioner community. Moreover, they each identify evolving needs of programs and practitioners through their own ongoing practice of inquiry. Thus, they track topics that arise during Lawrence’s annual support visits to program sites, monitor turn-out for and engagement in the Networking meetings, survey participants' interests and issues, note demand for CEO consulting services, and frequently converse with individual practitioners. As a result, they are able to design professional development activities that meet identified interests and needs as well as evaluate participants' responses and results in an ongoing way.

In 2016, after the close of the RBF, a new phase in the joint work of Lawrence and Marten has begun. RBF awarded a Legacy Grant to CEO to continue its literacy work with and professional development support of OST programs. Anne Lawrence joined the CEO staff, and Lawrence and Marten will continue to co-facilitate several Bowne-created efforts, including the Networking Meetings and the Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support Project. In addition, they will create and deliver new professional development activities to enhance programs' ability to build the literacy skills and engagement of children and youth.