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Sharon A. Ponder-Ballard, an English teacher at Englewood STEM High School, reflects on the power of empathy and experience.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

Recently, I joined my students on field experience in West Loop Chicago at Brooklyn Boulders. I thought: what a great opportunity for my students to experience empathy in an authentic team-building way. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. What I wasn’t prepared for was how modeling empathy was going to impact my own experience.

Englewood STEM High School students develop their teamwork skills at Brooklyn Boulders. All photos from Christina Noel Photography.

I’m sure you’ve met…

As we enter Embarc’s 10th year, we wanted to share some of the most important things we’ve learned about creating transformative experiences to shape mindsets and outcomes. These ideas have guided our students success and are deeply shaping how teachers, schools and the city think about education.

  1. What makes a meaningful experience. You don’t have to travel across the world — a meaningful experience can come from anywhere. What’s most important is that each experience begins with setting an intention, incorporates hands-on action, and includes multiple points of reflection throughout the experience. With some thoughtful design, a powerful experience could…

As we come together this holiday season, we know how important it is to have strong relationships with the people around your table, your community and the people you love. We also know we may not always agree with those we care about. At Embarc, we believe in the power of belonging and building relationships across all sorts of boundaries.

Embarc students share a meal at Green Street Meats. Photo: Christina Nöel Photography.

As part of our family, we want to share with you some tools you can use to catalyze conversation and deepen your relationships.

Our students use these questions to share stories and experiences with the thousands of people they meet…

Dear Embarc Family,

We’re coming back home.

We started in Englewood at Harper High 10 years ago. Though Harper and four other neighboring schools in the community are closing, a new school is opening in its place: Englewood STEM High School, where every single student gets Embarc.

Through our partnership with CPS and IMC, every student and teacher in the school will learn beyond the classroom once a month. In just this first year, Englewood STEM will provide 3,600 learning experiences for its 450 inaugural freshman students. Eventually, the school will provide more than 11,200 experiences for its full population…


Embarc is a non-profit organization fighting to break the cycles of poverty by providing innovative cultural experiences to high school students from Chicago’s

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