How a Community of Makers Helped a Nonprofit’s Efforts to Close the K-12 Education Gap
In4All, a nonprofit who works in communities with underserved children, shares how a community of makers helped solve their operational challenges.
Horace Mann, the first great advocate of public education in America, once called education the “great equalizer of the conditions of men.” What he meant by that was, there is no more effective means to prosperity — or vehicle out of poverty — than a quality education.
This is as true today as it was in the 1800’s, when Mann was a US Senator fighting for universal public schooling. But access to a quality education has never been universal in America. That disparity of access remains stubborn. In fact, it’s growing, as indicated by America’s academic achievement gap; a recent study by Stanford University found the achievement gap on standardized tests between wealthy and poor students is 30 to 40 percent wider today than it was a quarter-century ago.
Few are more familiar with this fact than Krystal Ngene, Community & Corporate Engagement Manager for In4All, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon that endeavors to expand professional and educational opportunities for historically underserved students.
“What makes me proud about working at In4All,” Krystal told us recently, over Zoom, “is our focus on the students and their narratives, as well as the attention we pay to equity and diversity inclusion. The majority of our students are persons of color and folks navigating poverty. We take an intentional approach to addressing these long standing educational issues, based most around access.”
Krystal and her team are on the front lines of what might be America’s most important battle, which is the battle for nothing less than a better and more equitable future for all of America’s children.
“Our mission,” Krystal reiterated. “Is to close the K-12 educational gaps in Oregon.”
“The majority of our students are persons of color and folks navigating poverty. We take an intentional approach to addressing these long standing educational issues, based most around access.”
Specifically, In4All works to deliver hands-on programming, mentorship, and learning experiences to students — at no additional costs — during the school day. Krystal is in charge of securing and strengthening corporate and community partners to help In4All increase the scale with which they’re able to serve students — last year In4All engaged 4,000 students and 28 schools in 8 school districts across Oregon — as well as better manage the technological complexity that comes with those kinds of numbers.
That effort comes with inherent challenges. To conduct their work, In4All relies on volunteers — some 400 each year — along with an array of software applications, which they use to find necessary student information, communicate with businesses, and connect those businesses with schools. But after the pandemic hit in spring of 2020, Krystal found herself held back by the technological limitations and roadblocks that trying to use all these apps in tandem created.
“Technological and operational barriers were beginning to cause real problems,” Krystal said. “We had so many different applications, as well as programs that didn’t really integrate with each other. Our team experienced a lot of turmoil trying to figure out how to use these systems symbiotically. What we saw was that we were looking in so many different places that sometimes we couldn’t find what we needed at the drop of a hat. And so we needed to find a way to integrate and consolidate all of those applications.”
Another problem for Krystal was that software services that are capable of facilitating the kind of integrations her team needed are prohibitively expensive.
Plus, she didn’t just need help integrating her technology stack, but automating elements of her team’s operations, so as to better orchestrate people and data across their systems.
“We were losing countless hours that we could have utilized in the classroom, working alongside our students, or working alongside our volunteers to continue our programming within the virtual classroom,” she said.
Then Krystal received an email from AdaptivOps, the community of makers run by Tonkean. We were seeing if Krystal would be interested in participating in Changemakers 2020, a week-long hackathon-style event designed to connect non-profit organizations with highly skilled operations professionals, both from Tonkean and the larger operations community. Krystal replied that she was interested, and we matched her up with a maker.
Results came quickly.
“Working with our makers allowed us to better identify which tools in our tech stack we really needed, as well as better differentiate responsibilities and use cases inside each system. And now we actually have this really awesome operational system that we’re using to acquire quick snapshots of who our volunteers are, who our teachers are, who our partners are, as well as what project is happening at any point in time, when is it happening, etc.,” Krystal said. “We understood how we could operate with so much more purpose. We were so thrilled.”
More specifically, In4All completely redesigned where and how they captured organizational and programmatic data — funneling it into one place, as opposed into varying systems — and left Changemakers equipped to use their new database to more easily generate and process intake forms, location mapping, contacts, calendars, programs and projects.
“In4All came away with a game changing tool that has already saved us countless hours,” Krystal said. “We’re completely confident that this event and the framework and dedication of Tonkean and the makers has created a solution that is, by far, the most impactful and capacity-building thing we have done.”
Speaking of the week in which she worked with her makers, Krystal paused.
“I’m smiling because I’m thinking about the experience,” Krystal said. “It was so beautiful and the fact that we had all of these different people that we didn’t know coming together to help, and we bonded almost like we were a team. That was really amazing. And the improvements we made to our operations, and the increased impact we’re seeing in our programs with our students today, as well as our volunteers and other community partners — it would not have been possible without Changemakers.”
Krystal reiterated the importance of now being able to dedicate more time to the elements of In4All’s work that matter most, which are those that move the needle for students, and serve ultimately to better their educational outcomes.
“Changemakers and the solutions we built through it have given us more time to interact with our volunteers and to engage with students and teachers in the classroom. Our staff can dedicate more time now to things that matter that would have been spent trying to find documents and information. We can conduct more classroom visits. That’s what I love. Going inside classrooms where you see the laughter, the smiles, that moment in the student’s eyes where you can a light bulb has just popped on.”
“The improvements we made to our operations, and the increased impact we’re seeing in our programs with our students today, as well as our volunteers and other community partners — it would not have been possible without Changemakers.”
Educational inequality is not a problem that one nonprofit can solve on its own. Nor is delivering on education’s promise to equalize outcomes something that can be done quickly. But we get the sense that what it will ultimately require is empowering more educators with the bandwidth to create more lightbulb moments for students. And that in a nutshell is why we started Changemakers: to help talented, engaged people solve big problems; to help more people with the ambition and ability to solve big problems leverage technology in order to do so.
Krystal, at the end of our call, suggested there were no shortage of people like her for us to partner with. “I think if more nonprofits knew about Changemakers, what you guys are doing,” she said. “They would love to participate.”
We very much hope she’s right.