Shifting culture: Travis Salter’s story

For a part of my life, I grew in a low-income neighborhood and was aware of a lot of inequities in the world.  At a young age, I questioned the systems and institutions around me. As time went on, I became more aware of the injustices that exist within these systems and how they shape our realities and futures.

Once I graduated from Penn State University with a major in Journalism and African American Studies, I felt the pressure of wanting to end the cycle of inequalities through a hands-on practice rather than a theoretical one, so I decided to work directly to solve these problems through Teach For America.  I taught for three years as a high school English teacher.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I wanted to make content more relevant and applicable to my students. However, I felt restricted in the classroom as I was not able to be fully creative with the content nor did I expose my students to enough different outlets. As I reflected on the problems and challenges that I faced in the classroom, I recognized various interventions and practices were not working to benefit my students in the classroom. So, I started Next Generation Men with my colleagues, Ben and Ian, to combat these problems.

Next Generation Men is an organization that recognizes that “scare-straight” practices used by schools and administrations are not positive, and consequently harm the growth and development of students, especially young men across the country. As an organization, we believe that the only intervention is positive inspiration.

Our program started small–with 12 students–and grew to a year-round program with 40 students at two different schools, expanding to 125 students at three different schools in the fall of 2017.

Next Generation Men provides opportunities for students to be more exposed to new industries, new settings, and new people. Through exposures, Next Generation Men believes that content can be made more relevant to students.  Additionally, Next Generation Men is an organization that is a compliment to the education experience that focuses on academic motivation to help students invest more in the K-12 educational experience.

School is mandatory; but Next Generation Men is not mandatory. Due to the various influences and activities that pull students in different directions, I found it difficult to keep a persistent attendance system. However, Kinvolved has helped Next Generation Men tremendously in two ways: tracking students’ attendance and messaging students’ families.  I wish that the Kinvolved attendance tracking system had existed when I was still in the classroom because I would have invested in the system personally. Next Generation Men uses the attendance tracking system to help the coaches at schools to track attendance every Monday and Thursday when the program occurs.  We use the messaging tool in Kinvolved to send weekly updates to our families, which have helped improve our relationships and engagement exponentially. Furthermore, I found that Kinvolved helped me decrease the amount of time it takes to contact families manually, and increase my overall productivity.

I believe the interchangeable systems of Kinvolved are working together to improve Next Generation Men’s efficiency. In regards to Kinvolved, families of Next Generation Men have given positive feedback, expressed understanding of application relevancy, and showed an increase in involvement and communication. Moving forward, I hope to continue shifting the culture where parents and students value attendance with the help of Kinvolved.