We were uniquely positioned to make adaptations to our YPI program guidelines, in order to make it easier to implement in a virtual and/or in-person-but-pandemic-adjusted environment. Many of these changes involved adding flexibility in ways that accounted for the changing context, while maintaining our commitment to centering student voice, support for local charities, and partnerships with teachers.
This includes providing flexibility around the percentage of participating students. A core principle of YPI has been that the program must be offered to every student across a grade level as part of a mandatory course. This is in order to be inclusive of all students, and to ensure everyone in the grade has the opportunity to participate, and be supported by their regular classroom teacher through the experiential learning process (I.e. YPI is not an extracurricular club, nor an exclusive project only for students with access to it). While YPI’s commitment to inclusion has not changed, we recognized that many schools might be unable to run YPI for 100% of their students across the grade level during the pandemic due to challenges associated with remote and blended learning. We did not want to disqualify schools from participating in YPI especially as they were supporting their students through many significant challenges. As such, we adjusted the suggested minimum requirement for a school to participate in YPI from 100% of their classes/students across one grade level to 50%. We made this change for 2020/2021 school year and have maintained it into the 2021/2022 year. For those schools unable to reach a minimum of 50% of students across the grade level, we continue to let teachers know that we are still open to their school participating and invite them into further conversation around how we might make it work.
We also added flexibility around students having the option of working independently on their YPI research project if pandemic-related circumstances posed a challenge for students to work together in teams (as they’ve done throughout the history of our program). In the same vein, we suggested that teachers invite their students to submit differentiated learning products (I.e. as an alternative to YPI’s standard “10-minute team presentation”), in acknowledgement of the variable circumstances that the students were dealing with. Beyond the pandemic context, this particular adaptation also supports our commitments to equity and inclusion in that students can create a final research product that is tailored to their strengths and learning styles (e.g. a micro website, a piece of art with an artist statement, a short video, a monologue or play, spoken word poetry, a blog, a comprehensive series of social media posts, etc.).
Part of adapting well is being aware of and responsive to the consequences of those adaptations. For example, in the initial months of implementing differentiated learning products, a few teachers communicated that comparing differentiated projects for the purpose of the grant may pose a challenge. To support them, we adapted our judging rubric which is now based on only the essential elements required to communicate for grant purposes, and can be applied to differentiated projects.
Teachers also shared with us that the virtual launch workshops we piloted in 2020 – where members of YPI’s program team lead a virtual session with participating classes to introduce the YPI curriculum and its key elements – were quite energizing for and welcomed by the students. To meet the resulting demand for the launch workshops in 2021, we are now offering a pre-recorded version, as well as limited “live” virtual workshops. In order to remain equitable in our selection, priority spots for live workshops are given to brand new schools, new YPI teachers, and for teachers who have not received a live workshop for their class in the past year.
- Make conscious shifts away from models of relating that are based on transaction (“I choose to be in relationship with you because I’m getting something of equal value in return”) and/or (“I choose to be in relationship with you because it makes me feel good about myself to help you”) SO THAT we can work toward building relationships that center reciprocity rooted in our inherent interdependence (“I choose to be relationship with you because I understand how our lives, livelihoods, and liberation are deeply and intricately intertwined”).
- Allocate time, resources, and energy towards understanding how our fellow collaborators are impacted by massive and/or ongoing shifts within the sectors we work in, SO THAT we can adapt in ways that not only guarantee our survival, but also support their survival and flourishing in an altered landscape.
- Understand where and how we are uniquely positioned to make adaptations in a crisis SO THAT we can leverage our power to support our collaborators to repair and rebuild, while upholding our commitment to cultivating equity, justice, anti-racism, and anti-oppression in all aspects of our work.
- Take time to pinpoint the ways in which we are experiencing strain, tension, and/or pressure as an organization and the sources of that strain, SO THAT we can take steps to relieve this pressure at its roots rather than downloading it onto our collaborators.
- Keep abreast of the consequences of the adaptations that we as an organization make SO THAT we can be accountable and responsive to both the intended and unintended impacts of our actions.
- Adopt an approach to funding (including fundraising and grantmaking) that prioritizes the needs of our organization while also accounting for the most pressing needs within the sectors we work in SO THAT we can respond to changes in funding priorities.