READY: Engaging the Community/Creating Demand
In 2001, Providence was one of eight cities in the country to receive a major grant to transform its high schools into learning communities where all students meet or exceed high academic standards and are prepared for success in life by improving the instructional core, and supporting the social, emotional and character development of youth.
The Rhode Island Children’s Crusade was selected as the Core Community partner by the Providence School Department to create public understanding, engagement, and involvement, and create demand/support for the redesign of the schools. Imaj had a long-standing relationship with The Crusade – having worked on their rebrand and communications for over a decade – as well as extensive experience in education in underserved communities, garnering community support and changing hearts and minds. We were selected as the most qualified firm to assist with branding, communications, and engagement for the five-year effort.
Our goal was to work with The Children’s Crusade and The Providence School Department to:
- Brand the High School Redesign project
- Help develop community partnerships to inform the initiative development
- Build public understanding and raise awareness of the issues that affect underserved youth in our community
- Stimulate a city-wide conversation about education, creating community demand and support for change
- Develop a framework for creative ways to elevate student voice
- Implement student voice communications strategies
THE BRAND SOLUTION
We first recommended a name to better speak to the higher purpose of the engagement process, which was approved unanimously:
READY: Raising Expectations and Discovering our Youth
Brand Premise: The entire community must have high expectations for our youth, for themselves and for the schools. We would strive to discover youth by listening to their ideas and concerns, understanding their social/emotional needs, and getting them involved in the conversation – as they are what this is all about. And the schools and the community must ensure that a network of support is in place to meet those needs. Everyone must be READY to work together and make positive change happen.
A simple – yet powerful – brand system
Imaj created a multi-level graphic identity system including primary logo, tagline, graphics standards and various color palettes and templates for “school-owned” and sub-branded group materials. The primary black and red were selected based on color studies of which colors most resonated with high school age inner city youth with various cultural backgrounds.
Templates were created for use by each school – sharing the same look and boilerplate copy but created in such a way that colors could easily be changed to each school’s color and logos could be interchanged.
CREATING AN INTEGRATED STRATEGY
Until READY, much of the dialogue around these issues had been dominated by school administrators, teachers, and a powerful teacher’s union. Although the community had a tremendous stake in the success or failure of their schools, their voices had not risen to the level of others.
Imaj conducted a thorough discovery of other initiatives, the District, the individual schools and neighborhoods, focus groups, and most-importantly, “living room/kitchen conversations” with many families – previously marginalized stakeholders – in order to obtain a thorough picture of attitudes, challenges, and assumptions while establishing important relationships.
We worked closely with The Crusade to brainstorm ideas about developing partnerships with the community and students that amplified student voice and took into account ideas and opinions of those who were impacted by the inequities on our education system.
Imaj created a 2-year comprehensive, integrated marketing communications and engagement strategy which was fully implemented.
The strategy included detailed recommendations for
- Strategies to integrate the most marginalized voices into the process/initiative
- Target audience segmentation to inform appraoches, outreach and communications strategies
- Tactics for outreach and communications
- Internal communications plan with training on changing conversations
- Segmented media relations plan with target-specific messaging
- Meeting and facilitator discussion guides
- A list of events including a high school redesign competition and exhibition, launch event, household outreach, and community events
- Dedicated website plan
- List of potential neighborhood partners
- Outreach and tools included posters, direct mail, billboards, reports to community, templates for schools, quarterly project updates, business community direct mail and PR support, radio and TV ads, presentation tools, videos, bus posters, public service announcements
- Ways for Mary Harrison and then superintendent, Diana Lam to get into the community
- High school level articles, events, direct mail templates, newsletters, school bulletin templates
- T-shirts, READY card deck, and other giveaways
- Information packets
- Recognition pieces
- FAQ sheets
- Rewards program
- Tactics to support individual initiatives like Study Circles
- Public affairs tactics
SAMPLES OF ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES AND SUPPORT
The Students are the First to Speak Out: We publicly launched this student voice through creativity program via a competition/presser, asking all of the city’s high school students to tell us what they think of their learning and how they learn. Over 250 students created thought-provoking works of art, music, dance, videos, poems, and essays to answer essential questions about how they learn and how the schools can improve. The works were displayed at the kickoff ceremony. Cash prize winners presented to a full house of families, teachers, community members, politicians, and media. The event was an overwhelming success and students’ ideas became central to the process and ultimately the solutions. We marketed the event with fliers throughout the community; posters at schools and READY direct mailers to students – which were designed using each school’s logo and colors; school newsletter articles; church bulletins and through the dedicated website. We secured outstanding publicity and support. Later, The Crusade circulated the entries through schools and libraries, gaining further press coverage. Bringing READY to the Community: In households, meetings, study circles and events throughout the city, we helped The Crusade raise awareness while inspiring conversations. We brought together racially diverse groups of youth, parents, teachers, and community leaders in a variety of ways to help reframe discussions in order to learn what they believed was needed from their schools and their community to help youth succeed. Several consistent themes emerged from these conversations. Study Circles and More: We conducted Youth Development Study Circles which brought adults and youth from different backgrounds together for several sessions of frank, open dialogue, to give them a chance to reach out to one another and build trust. In the process, a common ground emerged. The sessions were followed by an ‘action forum’ where the responses were organized under themes, and solutions were developed and later acted upon as the process unfolded. Other effective engagement activities included Kitchen Talks with parents, Church Talks, and Community Meetings. The groups were all led by an adult and a youth facilitator. In addition, we implemented outreach strategies to the business community and involved other civic and political leaders through the process. For all such events, Imaj created Q and A sheets, discussion guides, and training, created leave-behinds, videos and various tools to support all activities, as outlined in our plan. Our outreach included media, door hangers, bus posters, ads and neighborhood billboards.
SAMPLE OUTREACH CAMPAIGN MESSAGING
- Are we READY to take shared ownership – and responsibility – for providing our youth with what they need to succeed?
- Are you READY to talk about what would make your high school better and how you learn?
- Providence is READY to listen.
- Providence is READY. Are you?
- [School Name] is READY to act.
- We are READY to listen!
- We are READY to hear from the experts.
Imaj created compelling campaigns and collaterals; wrote editorials, op/eds; earned several television network affiliate news spots, and developed various community reports (in several languages) to report out results along the way. We created a final, printed report which was delivered throughout the city to all stakeholders. It reported the thoughts, ideas, and concerns of students, teachers, administrators, parents and other community members READY had reached out to over the two years. It outlined efforts the Providence School Department had started making to address these needs, underscoring that voices were being heard. The report set a process in motion, helping to get the messages from the community to the academic and political world. And, in turn, reporting back on progress.
In the beginning, through focus groups, we knew that few in the community had heard about high school redesign, conversations were diverting down distracting paths, and most thought they could not make a big difference in the way kids were taught or learned even if they tried. Qualitative metrics and independent evaluators along the way showed an unprecedented change in conversations, attitudes, knowledge base and involvement across all groups. Many of these previously marginalized stakeholders became involved in a dialogue about reform and worked together to develop a shared vision of what youth need from the school and the community in order to succeed.
Outcrop structures and groups took pivotal roles in each school’s plans to create small learning communities that would meet the unique needs of their students. Much of that “blueprint” was influenced by our work with The Crusade and each school created Redesign Teams made up of District Representatives, a Crusade team member, parents, students, and teachers, to ensure the process was inclusive of the results of engagement. Ultimately READY’s success led to the redesign and development of every aspect of Providence high schools to higher performing, healthier school environments, with the ongoing involvement of newly organized Student Government, Youth Advisory Councils and groups like PEEC (Providence Educational Excellence Committee). Many of these extended projects were also supported by Imaj.
The READY communications/engagement plan, brand, and communications materials went on to receive international award recognition, including the prestigious American Graphic Design and Communicator Awards.