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Crosstown High: Our invitation to you

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

Today’s post — our last in this series — is certainly our longest, but we hope ties together all we have shared over the past twelve days about the vision for where Crosstown High is heading. But that vision is still developing, and we want our community to continue to shape it. Please read through to our invitation at the end.

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Photo: Joanna Zhang

Crosstown High (XTH) is being designed to help Memphians answer three core questions:

What are the essentials for a thriving community? How do you repair a city fractured by injustice and inequality? And what does it mean to reimagine education for a changing world?

These are also the driving questions of Crosstown Concourse, an ambitious redevelopment of one million square feet of abandoned warehouse space into a regenerative waystation of artistic expression, experiential education and holistic wellness — and the ecosystem in which our school will be situated.

But what should a school in such a place actually look like, and feel like, and do?

We believe there is only one possible set of answers.

Amidst a civic experiment that is designed to dissolve access barriers and be inclusive to all, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a public space that is designed to promote openness, interconnection, and unbounded exchange, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a latticework of porous edges that are designed to allow for the free flow of everyday life and human activity, Crosstown High must do the same.

A school like ours must be a home base more than a school.

A school like ours must be oriented outward, not inward.

The learning that happens there must be action-oriented, not abstract.

The space in which this all occurs must be dynamic, not fixed.

In short, just as Crosstown Concourse is daring to reimagine what it means to come together in a community of living, Crosstown High must reimagine what it means to come together in a community of learning.

Photo: Ginger Spickler

Photo: Ginger Spickler

SPATIALLY, this will manifest in a floor plan that is agile and adaptable, welcoming and porous, and collaborative and interdisciplinary.

STRUCTURALLY, this will manifest in our adoption of a longer school year and day as learning bleeds out of the traditional academic calendar and into every facet of a student’s life. However, increased time “in school” will not feel burdensome, as there will be greater flexibility in how time is utilized by both teachers and young people, and in active and sustained partnerships with our fellow Concourse tenants, whose workplaces will provide rich and real-world learning opportunities for our students.

CULTURALLY, this will manifest in our commitment to recruit a student body that is reflective of our city, and that allows us to embody the mantra of the entire Concourse: Better Together. 

PEDAGOGICALLY this will manifest in our adoption of competency-based progressions for students in each subject area, and in our commitment to have all students demonstrate mastery of higher-order thinking skills via project-based and portfolio assessments of their learning.

The research urging us in this direction, across a range of fields, is clear. “Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”

The Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning sounded a similar note in their 1999 report, How People Learn. “Learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others – especially their local community.” And Case Western’s James Zull concurred in his book, The Art of Changing the Brain. “Learning depends on experience,” he wrote, “but it also requires reflection, developing abstractions, and active testing of our abstractions . . . So we might say that our best chance to help another person learn is to find out what they want, what they care about.”

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

But it isn’t just the research that drives us in this direction — it’s the voices of hundreds of Memphians echoing the same refrain. Students are crying out for education that actively engages them. Parents are clear on the type of education that brings their children joy — or disengagement. Educators who are already testing these theories in their classrooms say that it just plain works. And employers are demanding workers who can solve some of the toughest challenges in our city and world.

This sort of comprehensive approach to school (re)design, we believe, is what it means to be better together.

An invitation: What is your response to this vision? What about it excites you? What scares or worries you? What ideas do you have? How do you want to contribute? Please share your answers to any or all of these questions here.

Here are a couple of can’t-miss elements of our XQ application from previous posts:

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school's design drivers

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school’s design drivers

Better Together: The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.

Better Together – The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Wonder, by design

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will you make the most of conventional and unconventional spaces to realize your school model?

Through our partnership with WONDER, By Design, we have come to believe that we cannot recalibrate the mindsets we bring to the learning process unless we recalibrate the spaces in which learning unfolds as well. We recognize that whereas schools of the past needed to be predictable runways through a set curriculum and set of experiences, schools of the future need to be equally purposeful — and less precise. We believe our unique design will make that possible.

Architect Trung Le presents his first designs to the Crosstown High board in May.

Architect Trung Le, of WONDER, By Design, presents his first floorplans to the Crosstown High board in May.

Crosstown High is designed more as a basecamp than an all-encompassing container. Instead of doing the simple math that figures out how many classrooms you need in order to evenly distribute young people across a fixed number of spaces, we have designed the school to be agile, adaptable, and highly reconfigurable. What this means in practice is that instead of students moving between subject-specific classrooms, they will be anchored in different home bases, and working in smaller teams to ask questions and prototype solutions to pressing problems facing Memphis and the larger world. And it means that instead of a series of similarly sized, one-size-fits-all classrooms, XTH will have a range of spaces that have been designed intentionally for different learning modes, scales and levels of intimacy.

Second, Crosstown Collaboratory (XTC), which will serve not only as the ground-floor entrance to XTH but also as a kind of research and design lab, will be set up as a more public-facing variation of XTH. The mission of XTC is to ensure that our school’s approach to teaching and learning spreads beyond the walls of the Concourse.

Finally, because of our location in Crosstown Concourse, our students will have numerous other spaces to take advantage of, from the Church Health Center’s fitness center and lap pool, to the various offices and artistic spaces of fellow tenants, to the studios of the Concourse’s artists-in-residence. Taken together, we believe this will provide our students with a truly unique platform for reflection, discovery and finding what they love.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

XTH Design Schematics: A first look at where the design of Crosstown High is heading.

XTH Design Schematics: A first look at where the design of Crosstown High is heading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Time for a change

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

How will you use time as an asset to enable rigorous student learning? How will you organize the school day and calendar?

At Crosstown High, we believe we can’t transform school until we transform the way we think about time and its relationship to learning. Consequently, we will establish a highly personalized learning environment for our students, flexible periods of the school day for self-directed and team-based work, and significant amounts of time for students to spend outside our walls and embedded in real-life work and collaboration.

XTH will provide 190 days of instruction during the regular school year, 10 more than traditional public schools. Our school will open early for breakfast, though learning time will begin later than other local high schools to sync with adolescents’ natural sleep rhythms. Some students may choose to take advantage of the Church Health Center’s fitness center inside the Concourse before jumping into their full day. Our school day will be longer than that of the typical public school to give our students more individualized support and guidance – academically, socially, and emotionally.

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Photo: Joanna Zhang

Four mornings per week, students will either participate in our All-School Community Meeting or Advisory. Students will then go to a Humanities or Math/Science block. Teams of teachers will co-teach for the entire 110-minute block or separate students out into specific subject areas for smaller portions. Our physical environment will be highly adaptable and reconfigurable so that our teachers and learners can create the environment they need for any given moment.

One daily learning block will consist of Personalized Learning Time, which will be supervised by instructors or tutors. At the end of the day, everyone will go to Advisory. The advisor’s goals will be to a) make a deep, personal connection with the student and family, b) be the main point of contact for the student and family throughout their time at the school, and c) ensure that the student stays on a college-ready trajectory.

Our students will also participate in in-depth, elective “ConCourses,” which will be run in collaboration with Concourse partners, community organizations, and local businesses. Students — and other Crosstown Concourse community members — will have the opportunity to explore an area of passion and gain real world experience, often with experts in the field.

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

All hands on deck

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will you staff your school? How will you bring together traditional educators, non-traditional educators, and other adults to provide a full array of exciting, rigorous learning experiences for your students?

Bertram Williams, a youth developer with Cloud 901 at the Memphis Library (Photo: Joanna Zhang)

(Photo: Joanna Zhang)

Because XTH will be housed amidst a bustling ecosystem of organizations and industry leaders, our students will be given ample opportunities to learn from a wide range of adults. That sort of approach – in which students are expected to spend significant amounts of time engaged in real-life work – requires something different from the teachers we hire and the partners we work with. Our approach to questions of talent and training, therefore, must include a plan for both.

CROSSTOWN TEACHERS – In our search for teachers to round out our inaugural staff, we will be looking for individuals with a strong sense of themselves, a deep love of (and belief in) the power and promise of young Memphians, and a demonstrated capacity to teach children from a wide range of backgrounds, with a wide range of strengths, needs and abilities, and via a wide array of engagement and instruction strategies.

We will establish an evaluation system for our staff that is designed first and foremost to help teachers improve the quality of their professional practice via shared, strategic inquiry into what is and isn’t working for young people in their classrooms. Our schedule will allow for sustained, regular interactions between adults.

Finally, because a core component of our work at Crosstown will also involve mentoring and advising, an essential part of our talent and training must be equipping our staff to identify and meet the social and emotional needs of their students. We plan to consult several schools who have worked for years on perfecting the role of advisory in a healthy school culture – particularly the Big Picture Learning network and City Neighbors School in Baltimore.

CROSSTOWN PARTNERS – We will construct a framework for adult mentorship and guidance that shapes how every willing adult in the Concourse approaches their interactions with Crosstown students. This training will precede any organization’s work with our students, and allow us to both ensure a high level of quality control across each student’s learning experiences, and build a deeper level of understanding across the Concourse about the developmental needs and abilities of young people. Crosstown partners will serve as mentors, project advisors, guest instructors, and ultimately, colleagues of XTH students.

YOUTH DEVELOPERS – Finally, beyond the walls of Crosstown Concourse, local youth development organizations such as BRIDGES, Cloud 901 and story booth will serve as models to help create our curriculum and culture. These groups have had tremendous success helping Memphis youth develop their voice. We will collaborate with these partners to bring the very best of their programs to our school so that students don’t have to wait until school is out to experience deep engagement and work that is meaningful to them.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

Youth Developers of Memphis: We will learn from some of the most effective people working with young people in Memphis.

Youth Developers of Memphis: We will learn from some of the most effective youth development organizations in the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Young voices at Crosstown’s heart

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will your school support and enable students to form positive identities as continuous learners, build complex skills, and contribute as members of their communities?

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Photo: Joanna Zhang

Young voices are at the heart of Crosstown High. Almost 200 Memphis teenagers have contributed to the mission, purpose, and values of XTH, and they have given concrete ideas for how we can cultivate student agency and engagement:

-Begin each school year with a week-long Kick Off Retreat, in which students and staff are on equal standing. Relationships and trust will be built through fun, interactive exercises; a “living social contract” will be developed; aspirations for the year will be discussed; and a piece of art will be created that expresses our school’s core values.

-Elect youth and adult “School Culture Team” representatives. Representatives will serve as liaisons within XTH to help find solutions to conflicts and support the implementation of the social contract, values, and mission.

-Establish a culture of ongoing reflection and dialogue. Review our social contract daily and update it as new ideas and needs arise in our community.

-Utilize a centrally-located community bulletin board. Students and adults are invited to give input concerning life at XTH, share any new ideas or concerns they may have, and celebrate our successes.

-Designate time each week for peer-to-peer instruction and support.

-Assess and celebrate students’ growing competencies. Use engagement tools like digital badges and public presentations of research and projects.

-Allow students time to rest and socialize in order to foster healthy relationships and mental well-being.

An attachment to our XQ application:

Student Journeys - Two students, two paths through XTH. An infinite number of incredible learning experiences.

Student Journeys – Two students, two paths through XTH. An infinite number of incredible learning experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Better together

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: What partners will be part of the ongoing work of the school? Explain how partners will work together to design and plan the school, and how your partnership will support student learning, engagement, development, and connection to post-secondary success.

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Artist’s rendering of the Crosstown Art Gallery — one of the many spaces where Crosstown High students will learn.

Many schools that apply for the XQ Challenge will have incredible partners. Few, though, will quite literally be surrounded by them. On the floors above and below Crosstown High, professionals in health and wellness, arts, education, technology, philanthropy and civic engagement will be immersed in challenging work at Crosstown Concourse. Christian Brothers University, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will each have a significant presence in this vertical urban village.

More striking than the proximity of these high-quality partners is their dedication to our students. From the beginning, youth have been a key part of the vision for this historic structure’s remarkable renaissance. The Church Health Center has designed its fitness center and pool to be shared with the school. The artists-in-residence at Crosstown Arts, a multidisciplinary contemporary art center, were selected partly for their willingness to mentor students.

All of these partners are interested in the growth of the entire family, based on our shared belief that a child’s well being is impacted beyond the school walls. Healthcare, cooking classes, learning gardens, art shows, and tech education are just a few areas in which these partners can engage the family.

Beyond the walls of Crosstown Concourse, local youth development organizations such as BRIDGES and Facing History and Ourselves have committed to help develop our curriculum and culture. Both groups have deep experience helping Memphis youth find and use their voice to promote understanding of differences and create change in their schools, communities and world.

One of the attachments to our XQ application:

Better Together - The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.

Better Together – The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together. (video)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

How will they learn?

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ Application Question: How will you enable and demonstrate student-centered, standards-based learning at your school?

Through the implementation of two unique features, XTH can begin to replace the separation and scarcity experienced by many of our students with meaningful opportunities to discover and contribute. Christian Brothers University is already committed as a vital partner in developing this innovative learning environment.

PERSONALIZED LEARNING PLAN

The Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) is at the core of a student’s learning process. Intentional conversations between students and advisors not only build crucial relationships, but are themselves learning experiences that help students identify abilities, aspirations, and challenges. Students will develop the capacity to set goals, build teams, manage projects, and collaborate. The ultimate goal of the PLP is for each student to take ownership of his or her learning.

At Crosstown, a teacher’s most vital role is as a PLP advisor. She provides support by interpreting and developing strategies for meeting Tennessee Academic Standards within the scope of students’ PLPs. Advisors will use technology-based resources like a tracking dashboard with benchmarks, rubrics, and links to online learning resources.

Sam and kids at story booth

Photo: Joanna Zhang

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

Mixed-age and ability teams of students, plus an advisor, will embark on critical-thinking projects to understand specific challenges in their communities and develop actionable solutions. Team members move toward skill mastery in core subjects, while also exploring the history, science, math, technology, and design elements that will shape their projects. Advisors, other students, and the community become valuable resources to promote the idea that everyone learns from everyone at Crosstown. Team projects are assessed through presentations to other members of the Crosstown Concourse community, student-driven community events, and installations at local studios.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

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Getting Personal – What does it look like when learning is personalized? (video)

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A Day in the Life – Follow Alisha through her day at XTH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

The Crosstown High Manifesto

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

After completing the “Discover” phase of the XQ application, it was time to take all we’d learned and move into the “Design” phase — creating a plan for a school that would be a direct response to all that we’d heard from our community. What you read below will likely not be the final version of the mission, purpose and values of Crosstown High, but we believe it’s a strong foundation on which to build. And make sure you don’t miss the Crosstown High Manifesto at the end — it’s a truly inspirational read. It was created by WONDER, By Design — one of our partners working to make Crosstown High an amazing reality.

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Photo: Joanna Zhang


Crosstown High School’s MISSION: To be an adaptive community of youth and adults that never stops learning.

Crosstown High School’s PURPOSE: To prepare students to understand and pursue solutions to the challenges faced by our city and world, and to give students the confidence to be agents of positive change now and in the future.

Crosstown High School’s VALUES:

We value CRITICAL THINKING, CREATIVITY, and COLLABORATION, and we are empowered to lead as we learn.

We value INTERSECTIONS and UNEXPECTED CONNECTIONS and will learn from PURPOSEFUL EXPERIENCES in Crosstown Concourse and beyond. We seek to understand and impact the challenges, assets and opportunities in our communities.

We value ALL VOICES. We will create a culture of respect for our differences that will enable us to learn with and from each other with the goal of enriching our experience, our education, and our community. We know that we are better together.

We value a SAFE AND NURTURING ENVIRONMENT where we can learn from our failures and discover our passions and purposes.

We value WELLNESS — physical, emotional, relational — and will challenge and support one another as we seek it for ourselves and our communities.

We value LIFELONG DISCOVERY and will develop the skills to innovate and adapt.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school's design drivers

The Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school’s design drivers

We Never Stop Learning - Is XTH a good fit for you? Here’s what to expect!

We Never Stop Learning – Is XTH a good fit for you? Here’s what to expect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

 

What the students said

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. The content of this work is the foundation on which we will continue to build the high school, but we’ll need your help in the coming months to shape it into the school that Memphis students need and deserve.

The final section of XQ’s “Discover” phase (and arguably the most fun) asked us to reach out to young people in Memphis to hear how they experience school and learning in their lives. Here’s what almost 200 local students told us:

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

We feel UNDERVALUED and UNHEARD. Current school environments are, in many ways, irrelevant to us, and at times, even dehumanizing. We deserve to be treated like people, not test-taking machines. Being young should not mean being inferior to teachers and adults. Students can bring unique and essential insights to our classrooms. Teachers and other adults can learn just as much from us as we can from them.

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

We want a CARING, HEALTHY, PURPOSEFUL school COMMUNITY. We want a school that is caring and safe — not just from bullying and crime, but safe to explore new ideas, to question the world around us, and to develop opinions of our own. We want more time to develop real relationships with other students and teachers. We deserve a school start time that allows us to get ample sleep and a schedule that does not rush us. We deserve healthy food options that respect our diverse cultures and dietary needs.

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

We want opportunities to DISCOVER and EXPLORE new interests, and to feel better PREPARED for adulthood in practical ways — by learning everything from personal finance to interpersonal skills to new ways to use technology. We want to see connections between the work we’re doing today and our futures. Most importantly, we want to be able to choose a path that is not based on what looks good on a college application, but that develops our passions into skills that can be applied to solving real-world problems.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

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Our Words, Our Future – Memphis students spoke and we listened.

Class has Begun: A student-produced, spoken-word performance of two students’ frustrations and ideas about school. (video)

Class has Begun: A student-produced, spoken-word performance of two students’ frustrations and ideas about school. (video)

Playback Memphis: Student Edition - Local actors bring students’ ideas about school to life. (video)

Playback Memphis: Student Edition – Local actors bring students’ ideas about school to life. (video)

What’s a 21st century Memphis kid to do?

By | 12 Days of XTH, About XTH | No Comments

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. The content of this work is the foundation on which we will continue to build the high school, but we’ll need your help in the coming months to shape it into the school that Memphis students need and deserve.

The “Discover” phase of the XQ application asked us to uncover the major issues Memphis students deal with: 

What are your top three insights about the challenges facing your prospective students in the 21st century, both globally and in your community?

Cloud901legs

PERVASIVE POVERTY is killing kids’ futures before they begin. Many students in Memphis live in poverty and are profoundly challenged by the devastating separation and scarcity that it causes. Crosstown High (XTH) will be housed in Crosstown Concourse, a landmark, 1,100,000 square-foot historic adaptive reuse project that sits at the nexus of three socially distinct neighborhoods, where median household incomes range from $15,426 to $60,799. We have a responsibility to use the resources of this school to tackle the causes of poverty that impact so many young people in our vicinity.

STRUCTURAL INEQUITIES prevent true diversity within learning environments. Generations of Memphis youth have been segregated along lines of race and class, and the power of inertia is strong. We believe that Crosstown High can change that. We must create an environment that supports the needs of a wider range of students than is found anywhere else in Memphis. Unless we intentionally address the conditions of separation and scarcity that so many of our young people are experiencing, we will only reinforce them.

Schools are not consistently providing MEANINGFUL LEARNING EXPERIENCES that connect young people with their futures and their communities. Memphis youth need help to develop critical and creative thinking skills and to be fully connected to diverse communities where opportunities for growth exist. Few high schools in Memphis currently have ongoing programs that provide students the time and support to form real relationships with adults, pursue their passions, explore new things in a safe environment, or learn in a way that feels purposeful.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

Separation and Scarcity: University of Memphis law professor and native Memphian Daniel Kiel explores inequalities in local education

Separation and Scarcity: University of Memphis law professor and native Memphian Daniel Kiel explores inequalities in local education (video)

Education Today: Future tenants of Crosstown Concourse reflect on what students need to be successful

Education Today (video)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.