As a lifelong teacher, Dr. Michelle Edwards knows the importance of writing, reading, and math as a foundation for learning. But the real transformation, she says, happens outside the classroom.
“Yes, you can learn within the four walls of your school, but that’s just the beginning,” she says.
“If we want children, especially black and brown girls and boys, to be leading in boardrooms, to be thinkers and creatives, they need to have those experiences and see people in those roles that look like them.”
Advocating for Experiences
As Executive Director of Live It Learn It, Dr. Edwards is instrumental in leading programming that provides such experiences to children in Title I public schools in the Washington DC area.
The organization was founded in 2005 as a way for elementary school students to experience academic trips designed to expand their world and spark their curiosity. Today, Live It Learn It has grown to encompass thirty different programs at two dozen sites across the DC area. More than 22,000 students from DC’s Title I public schools have participated in Live It Learn It programs, which cover experiences across the arts, the humanities, science, and more.
“It’s really about opening up the world to children who would not otherwise have those experiences, and expanding their opportunities,” says Dr. Edwards.
Students in 3rd – 5th grade are eligible to participate in the programs, and the impact, says Dr. Edwards, goes far beyond academic growth. Many of these experiences also teach students how to imagine their future and shape a path forward.
“There’s so much social-emotional learning that happens,” she says. “When children can see and interact with people doing great things, they can imagine themselves doing it, as well.”
The proof is in the Live it Learn It alumni, some of whom return to volunteer their time as a way to honor the remarkable impact the program had on their lives and careers.
Creating Change in the Classroom
Michelle’s journey to Live It Learn It started in her hometown of Chicago, where she eventually became a teacher at the very school she attended from kindergarten through 8th grade. Wanting to deepen her expertise in education, Dr. Edwards went on to earn Master’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago and Trinity University, Washington as well as a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.
“The first year out of my master’s program, I was developing literacy infrastructure in the school I once attended with some of the folks who had been my teachers,” she recalls.
While the Literacy Coaching opportunity fulfilled her desire to create change in a meaningful way in the classroom, Dr. Edwards had an opportunity for an even bigger challenge in a new city.
It was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse — joining New Leaders as a resident principal during its inaugural year in Washington, DC.
“I went to visit, and I remember sitting on a rooftop lounge, looking at the White House in the distance and I knew that’s where I needed to be,” she says. “It was life-changing for me.”
It was in DC that Dr. Edwards took an opportunity to join the board of directors of Live It Learn It. She served the board for 5 years before transitioning into her current role as Executive Director.
Living, Learning, and Sharing Knowledge
While the Live it Learn It programs don’t currently serve students beyond 5th grade, Dr. Edwards says the organization has built an experiential learning fellowship that carries the work forward.
“Beyond working with our students, we’ve trained school teachers in experiential education so that they can impact students moving forward and propel our mission.”
As for her personal mission? It’s all about sharing, teaching, and encouraging people that cross her path.