On Friday, November 18th, I grabbed my tea and left home before the sun rose. My destination: the VIA Agency’s offices in the old Baxter

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Answering the Big Question: Side x Side’s Springboard Panel

posted on January 23rd, 2017

On Friday, November 18th, I grabbed my tea and left home before the sun rose. My destination: the VIA Agency’s offices in the old Baxter Library Building on Congress Street in Portland. I was on my way to participate as a volunteer panelist in my first Springboard session. Having recently written a 3-part series about Springboard (read part 1 here), I couldn’t have been more excited to see it in action.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by friendly faces, most of whom I did not recognize. [This is not surprising, as I’m still relatively new to the Portland area, but I mention it because I don’t think anyone in attendance knew everyone in the room. We were all going to be working primarily with strangers.] My mission as a panelist was to help Portland-based nonprofit Side x Side to brainstorm around their biggest current challenge. The session started with brief introductions, where the staff of Side x Side, an organization focused on more thoroughly integrating the arts into local classrooms, asked us to share our first art memories. Although we were strangers, all of us in the room had early memories of the ways art, creativity, and innovation impacted our childhoods. This introductory exercise was an effective way to get us thinking about the arts in education and in our own lives.

Following this exercise, Side x Side’s staff provided an overview of what they do. Using teams of teachers, teaching assistants, and interns from the University of Southern Maine, Side x Side develops content to incorporate artistic projects into the general curriculum at four local elementary schools and one local high school. These artistic projects last anywhere from six to fourteen weeks and are designed to encourage and promote critical thinking, creativity, and innovation among students, skills that are essential for their academic and personal success. After one year of programming, Side x Side saw increased math and English scores among their students, as well as increased academic motivation, interest, and confidence. Their current struggle, however, is that, as the recipient of a federal grant, and with that grant comprising most of their funding, Side x Side is limited in its ability to expand to areas not covered by the grant (e.g. middle schools and high schools) and is trying to anticipate what to do when the grant ends.

After this summary of their mission, current progress, and current problems, I felt prepared to hear their “big question:” How do we proactively increase visibility and support to ensure Side x Side continues beyond the current federal funding? What a great question! My fellow panelists and I needed a little more information, though, before we could begin brainstorming. What steps had Side x Side already taken? What role did students play in developing or choosing curriculum? What level of parental support did they receive? What other funding did they receive in addition to the federal grant? What were similar organizations doing for funding and visibility? This lively question-and-answer segment provided a lot of valuable information to guide us through our brainstorming.

At the conclusion of the Q&A segment, the Side x Side staff went “into the box” and were no longer allowed to speak or answer questions. This ensured that we were able to provide objective outside opinions without being distracted by too much information. My fellow panelists and I then jotted down our ideas on brightly colored paper, which were later attached to the wall and arranged in thematic groupings. For this particular Springboard session, our recommendations mostly fell under the themes of better utilizing visual media, partnering with other organizations, bringing more interns and volunteers on board, developing community art projects, and researching more financial development opportunities. At the conclusion of this brainstorming period, the Side x Side staff were allowed to ask clarifying questions, and then the Springboard panel ended.

I left Springboard invigorated. I learned about a nonprofit doing work I support and value. I listened to strangers share brilliant ideas and ask difficult questions in attempts to help an organization that none of us worked or volunteered for. I was able to “springboard” ideas off the ideas of my fellow panelists, and vice versa. And at the end of the brief session, Side x Side received validation for many of the things they had already attempted, as well as new ideas to consider in the future.

Springboard sessions occur on a regular basis and can make such a huge impact personally and professionally. Would you like to share your expertise and advice with a nonprofit in need? Does your nonprofit need expert business assistance? For more information on how to participate in Springboard, either as a volunteer panelist or as a nonprofit seeking solutions, please visit our website or call our office at 207.699.4545. We are always seeking new volunteers to provide ideas and new nonprofits to assist!

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