Edtech Insiders

Alejandro Gibes de Gac: Pioneering a New Era of Parental Involvement in Education with Paloma

March 25, 2024 Alex Sarlin Season 8
Alejandro Gibes de Gac: Pioneering a New Era of Parental Involvement in Education with Paloma
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Edtech Insiders
Alejandro Gibes de Gac: Pioneering a New Era of Parental Involvement in Education with Paloma
Mar 25, 2024 Season 8
Alex Sarlin

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When Alejandro Gibes de Gac was 7, his family immigrated to the US seeking educational opportunities for their children. His parents’ tireless efforts enabled Alejandro and his sister to overcome their circumstances and pursue their dreams. Alejandro published two books by 14 and was admitted to Harvard by 16.

After graduating from college, Alejandro joined Teach For America and became a first grade teacher in Philadelphia. There he became frustrated that the school system treats marginalized parents as liabilities, rather than as assets. Alejandro founded Springboard Collaborative more than a decade ago to close the literacy gap by bridging the gap between home and school. Springboard runs out-of-school time programs that help teachers and parents team up to improve reading outcomes for 35K+ students across the country.

While continuing to lead Springboard, Alejandro recently co-founded the edtech startup Paloma. Paloma harnesses AI to unleash parents’ untapped teaching potential. Their mobile web app helps marginalized families build and sustain a habit: 15 daily minutes of short-burst tutoring at home. (Imagine parents sitting with their kids and engaging in curriculum-aligned instruction every night.) By the time students enter middle school, families that do their Daily 15 throughout elementary school will have given their kids the equivalent of an entire extra year of school!

Alejandro’s career is guided by a singular objective: to close the opportunity gap by making parent-teacher collaboration standard practice in American education.

Recommended Resources:
Lenny's Newsletter


Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

When Alejandro Gibes de Gac was 7, his family immigrated to the US seeking educational opportunities for their children. His parents’ tireless efforts enabled Alejandro and his sister to overcome their circumstances and pursue their dreams. Alejandro published two books by 14 and was admitted to Harvard by 16.

After graduating from college, Alejandro joined Teach For America and became a first grade teacher in Philadelphia. There he became frustrated that the school system treats marginalized parents as liabilities, rather than as assets. Alejandro founded Springboard Collaborative more than a decade ago to close the literacy gap by bridging the gap between home and school. Springboard runs out-of-school time programs that help teachers and parents team up to improve reading outcomes for 35K+ students across the country.

While continuing to lead Springboard, Alejandro recently co-founded the edtech startup Paloma. Paloma harnesses AI to unleash parents’ untapped teaching potential. Their mobile web app helps marginalized families build and sustain a habit: 15 daily minutes of short-burst tutoring at home. (Imagine parents sitting with their kids and engaging in curriculum-aligned instruction every night.) By the time students enter middle school, families that do their Daily 15 throughout elementary school will have given their kids the equivalent of an entire extra year of school!

Alejandro’s career is guided by a singular objective: to close the opportunity gap by making parent-teacher collaboration standard practice in American education.

Recommended Resources:
Lenny's Newsletter


Alexander Sarlin:

Welcome to Season Eight of Edtech Insiders where we speak to educators, founders, investors, thought leaders and the industry experts who are shaping the global education technology industry. Every week we bring you the week in edtech. important updates from the Edtech field, including news about core technologies and issues we know will influence the sector like artificial intelligence, extended reality, education, politics, and more. We also conduct in depth interviews with a wide variety of Edtech thought leaders and bring you insights and conversations from edtech conferences all around the world. Remember to subscribe, follow and tell your ed tech friends about the podcast and to check out the EdTech insiders substack newsletter. Thanks for being part of the Edtech insiders community enjoy the show. Alejandro Gibes de Gac is the founder and CEO of Springboard collective and the recent ed tech startup Paloma when Alejandro Gibes de Gac was seven his family immigrated to the US seeking educational opportunities for their children. His parents tireless efforts enabled him and his sister to overcome their circumstances and pursue their dreams. Alejandro had published two books by 14 and was admitted to Harvard by 16. After graduating from college, I'll 100 join Teach for America and became a first grade teacher in Philadelphia. There he became frustrated that the school system treats marginalized parents as liabilities rather than as assets. Alejandro founded Springboard Collaborative more than a decade ago to close the literacy gap by bridging the gap between home and school, Springboard runs out of school time programs that help teachers and parents team up to improve reading outcomes for over 35,000 students across the country. While continuing to lead springboard. Alejandro recently co founded the ed tech startup Paloma. Paloma harnesses AI to unleash parents untapped teaching potential. Their mobile web app helps marginalized families build and sustain a habit 15 daily minutes of short bursts tutoring at home. Imagine parents sitting with their kids and engaging in curriculum aligned instruction every night. By the time students enter middle school families that do their daily 15 thriller mentary school will have given their kids the equivalent of an entire extra year of school. All the hundreds career has been guided by a singular objective to close the opportunity gap by making parent teacher collaboration, standard practice in American education. Alejandro Gibes de Gac Welcome to EdTech Insiders.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited for our conversation.

Alexander Sarlin:

I am to you know you are one of the most dynamic education entrepreneurs that I have met in a long time. And that's saying a lot because I meet a lot of them in this role. You have such an interesting story. And you've already done such interesting work in education. I'm really excited to talk about your new venture Paloma. But you know, before we start, can you give our listeners who may not be familiar with you a little bit of a overview of what brought you into the EdTech field and what brought you into the entrepreneurship field? What drives you on a daily basis?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yeah, like appreciate the kind words for me like my purpose on this earth is to equip parents to accelerate their children's learning. And for me that is rooted in my personal experience, my family immigrated to the US seeking better educational opportunities for their kids like so many immigrants do. It did not take long in Carrollton, Georgia for my parents to realize that school serving poor families like ours, don't often enough live up to America's Promise. So my parents were the real reason my sister and I were able to overcome the odds, overcome my circumstances and pursue our own dreams. And they saw a fuller version of our potential than maybe the school system did. And they helped us realize that potential by setting and achieving one goal after the next, but the school system never saw the value my parents brought to the table and my teachers didn't really know what to do with them right. At best. My parents and teachers were working in isolation to support my sister and me. And at worst, they kind of butted heads every so often. My sister went to Columbia, I went to Harvard between us we started four organizations that helped families support. Learning at home, it's hard to connect the dots should always taught me that my parents were like the reason we've been able to do that. And yet the school system could have left that entirely on the table. So when I graduated from college, I joined Teach for America, I became a first grade teacher in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Philly. I could see myself and my students, I could see my parents in theirs. And again, I felt frustrated that my school in our system was approaching parents as liabilities rather than as assets, talking about a kid's home life as a risk to mitigate rather than a resource to cultivate I knew from my own experience that we were getting that wrong and leaving a lot of value on the table. And then I dug into the research showing that parental involvement in their children's learning is the most powerful predictor of student's academic success and families. Not schools are the primary determinants of kid's life and learning outcomes. And yet, it felt like the education sector wasn't doing a whole lot about that we were so fixated on improving classroom instruction at the margins. And we should do that we should do right by kids in the classroom. And kids spend 13% of their waking hours inside of a classroom, it felt like we were all just trying to squeeze so much juice from this relatively small wedge. And no one was just in the rest of the orange. That was the journey that I started going down. What would it look like to equip families to support learning at home so that kids can capture kind of instructional value from the entirety of their time that continuum of home and school. And that's my belief, my belief is that parents love for their kids is the single greatest and the most underutilized, natural resource in education. And unless and until we equip marginalized families to support their children's learning at home, inequities are going to persist as they have for decade after decade, after decade. Yeah,

Alexander Sarlin:

it strikes me listening to your insights, really, I think, fascinating, and really deep insights about the relationship between home learning and parents and teachers, that, you know, the education system often has some really negative views about what happens at home, they often you see it as the sort of excuse for why a student might not be doing well in school, oh, they're having problems at home, their parents are disengaged, and they sort of like, you know, see it that way from the school's perspective in some cases, or they see it as you know, they don't want to get in trouble with the parents, right? They don't want parents knocking on the door and asking about grades or, you know, they sort of want to avoid deep engagement. And a both of those attitudes make no sense if you really think about them, even though they're very common. I think you're turning that around and saying the family is one of the most important research based influences on a child's learning just changes the whole perspective, parents and families are a positive influence. Even marginalized families who are often get, you know, blamed for things actually can have incredibly positive impact on their students in an educational way. So I want to jump in to Springboard Collaborative and Paloma. But I'd love to hear your response to that, like, Why do you think the perception from within the schools of families sometimes is so negative? Oh,

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

my goodness, how long do you have this decision? I think there's a lot of reasons many of which you can trace back to systemic racism, that, that people look at a black and brown parent, and they don't see their teaching potential. And that's like a whole other conversation for another day. But people are quick to overlook the value that families can bring to the table. And like sometimes with the best of intentions, people know that marginalized families have a lot of constraints in their lives, on their time on their resources. And that can make it hard. However, the answer isn't to just write families off. Right. And no one's benefited from low expectations. The answer is to support families when it comes to educating kids, there's, there's no going around parents, you got to work with them, you got to work through them. And if you don't, well, then you'll see exactly what's played out, like how many trillions of dollars that we invested in classroom intervention and and what do we have to show for it at a certain point, you've got to try something, something different. And when I look at families, like my gosh, just the will and skill is there, right in terms of the will regardless of financial circumstances, parents love their kids and want the best for them. And that's like an evolutionary drive, right? That's been forged over 6 million years, parents want the best for their offspring, that we leave that like renewable natural resource on the table is mind boggling to me. No one's more motivated, intrinsically motivated to help their kids learn. And parents are willing and able to teach for free. That's how motivated they are like for a school district that's got scarce resources and limited teacher bandwidth. Like, that's not something you can afford to leave on the table. And then families also have the skill. There was a research study that came out of our friends at Oakland reach showing that marginalized parents are as effective as teachers in tutoring kids, they're just as good as anyone else in tutoring students, if you equip them with the right resources and strategies to do that, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time either. There was a meta analysis showing that 15 minutes a day is the magic number of like learning practice at home to help kids sustain academic gains, families can make that happen. The hard part is helping people to build a habit. Just like it's hard to build a habit around anything, whether it's supporting your kids learning or like going to the gym or quitting smoking or whatever else. But a lot is known about how to help people turn an intention into a practice and turn a practice into a habit. And technology is particularly well positioned to facilitate in that process, so it's less complicated than it may seem. And once you unleash parents teaching potential, then you don't put them back in the box like a student learning pretty quickly and dramatically accelerates some

Alexander Sarlin:

phenomenal points. And I think, you know, some of the things we're saying as soon as you hear them are so you know, they seem obvious in retrospect, but they're very hard to sort of see in the context and sort of the muddy nature of all the relationships between families and schools, like you mentioned, of course, parents are driven to do the best for their children, and to the extent of willing to teach for free and able to teach with supports. And the fact you know, that I think I'm sure a lot of people listening to this podcast, have not heard that research that, you know, 15 minutes, a day of teaching at home can make a big difference. So all of these are these abstract facts, but you have actually put these into action in some really interesting ways. So first off, you are the founder of Springboard Collaborative, which has been working for years to improve reading outcomes by engaging parents in the learning process Exactly. As you've mentioned, can you tell us about the unique approach that Springboard has taken how it's used some of the research that you have just cited and some of the outcomes that you've seen for the districts and schools that are using springboard?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yes, I mean, over the last 12 years, we've been focusing a springboard on cracking the code on how do you equip marginalized families to accelerate their kids learning at home, and we've codified it into a methodology that we've kind of honed and iterated on for a long while. We call that method family educator learning accelerators are feel as for sure, there are five to 10 week cycles during which parents and teachers team up and help kids reach a learning goal. In the beginning of that cycle, parents and teachers build a bit of relational trust and set a goal. Then over that five to 10 week stretch, parents and teachers work together to support learning across the continuum of home and school. One of the lessons that we learned the hard way is that if you paint the finish line too far away, it's really hard to motivate people to build a new habit and try something different. Then at the end of all that practice time you measure progress, and you celebrate and that's more than just a lovely moment, like punctuating the experience with a quick win is what crystallizes lasting habits, both for teachers who realize like, Oh, my goodness, parents are the tutors hiding in plain sight. They're the CO teachers I never knew I had this job is less lonely and less daunting than I've experienced it to be. Teaching can be a team sport, I run my leg of the race during the school day, and then hand instructional baton to families and they consistently run their leg of the race at home, it's a better way. And then for families punctuating the experience with a quick win, helps them realize, like I just said and achieved a goal with my kid. I'd like to do that again, and again and again and again. And that helps the habit to persist over the long run. And ultimately, the small wins lead to the big wins. Springboard uses that methodology in the course of out of school time programs. It's a service that helps parents and teachers work together to accelerate early literacy outcomes in particular, serving 35,000 Kids in Title One districts around the country. And the beating heart of that service is a weekly workshop where parents come in learn how to teach reading at home. Turns out they're quite capable at it. And once you unlock that instructional time at home, student learning accelerates pretty quickly. Inside of one district, we get 88% of parents to attend that weekly workshop. For every workshop that parents go to, they delivered 25 hours of one on one instructional time at home. That's the force multiplier. That's the difference maker kids average three to six months of reading growth in just a short five to 10 week program, which closes the gap to grade level by on average 43% that you can make such a dent in what's been a quite an intractable problem, in so short a period of time by activating families to speaks to the enormity of the potential that otherwise lies dormant in almost every school and district in the country. The Massachusetts Department of Education recently did an external evaluation where they looked across all of their literacy interventions in the state. And they found that Springboard is in their words, by far the most cost effective tutoring model. And the reason that's the case is what I mentioned already about families like deep well of intrinsic motivation. The secret sauce is upskilling parents to be at home tutors for their kids in ways that like privileged parents already are right. And once you make that possible, and routinize it for families with less privilege, the outcomes are pretty well they speak for themselves.

Alexander Sarlin:

It's truly amazing. And you know, I love that phrase to coach teachers they never knew they had right. The teachers get don't realize that parents can be incredibly important assets for the students learning. You mentioned a few key outcome numbers in there. And you mentioned them pretty quickly. But they're so impressive and so interesting that I want to just take a second to dissect them. So first off, you mentioned 88 in marginalized Title One communities 88% of parents engaged in the springboard program. anybody listening to this, who has tried to do parent engagement, will recognize that as a unbelievably high percentage of parents getting involved in the school environment. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to that level of engagement and what you attributed to?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yeah, I mean, I think it speaks to how And up demand, like there's a deep desire and most of the families we work with have learned the hard way, just how important it is for their kid to have a better educational experience than they did. You know, it's funny, sometimes marginalized families are the folks that people tend to expect the least of. And yet, when I do user research, and I talked to the families with and without privilege, I find the opposite I find families with privilege have the luxury of like, not wanting to, like do anything extra with their kids, because they know that their kids are gonna be fine, just fine, no matter what. And so who needs an extra thing to keep track of? Marginalized families don't have that luxury, right? They don't know it's not guaranteed that their child is going to be okay. And therefore, there's a lot more hunger to like, no, no, give me all that you got. I want to know, how can I help this matters? I know what it is to live life in poverty, I know what happens if you don't navigate your educational experience in a way that I want my kid to have a different experience. And there's a lot of power in that desire. Learning heroes did a national survey finding that marginalized parents say personalized guidance to support learning at home is their biggest unmet need. So then that 8% is a testament to the fact that there's a huge amount of demand, and most of which is unseen. And then the challenge is like, how do you activate that? Right? The shortest conversion that that I can share is that it really matters, that the experience launch with a bit of relational trust building. And of course, like, you know, trust ideally, is something that's cultivated over a very long period of time. But we found that even five minutes of unintentional trust building conversation is incredibly predictive of whether or not a family shows up at that initial workshop doesn't have to take a lot of time. But you do need to be able to level with the family, you and I have a goal in common, we both want your kid to be successful, we need each other in order to reach that goal. As a teacher, I've got instructional strategies. I've got some expertise there. But I've got 25 Plus kids in front of me, I can't give each kid every day what I know they need, I need you, you as a parent, you're the expert on your own kid, nobody knows him better than you do. And you've got the ability to engage with them in this one on one or one on few setting that I just don't get in the classroom. So let's commit to each other, right? If I commit to sharing resources and strategies with you, will you commit to using those at home and sharing your observations back with me, you end with a commitment doesn't take long, but it does get you a much higher degree of visible engagement than you might have previously seen. Yeah, that

Alexander Sarlin:

quick ability to build relational trust, the mutual empathy, the shared goals you're mentioning, and the sort of commitment, the pre commitment to really work together, as well as that, as you mentioned, these, you know, five to 10 week cycle. So it's not that this is, you know, you do this on the first day of school. And at the end of the year of school, you check in on how well it went is these shorter cycles all seem to contribute to these incredible numbers. There's one more number I want to dissect really fast, which is the 25 hours. So you mentioned that 15 minutes of time from a parent to a student or to multiple students at home, is really all that's needed to make a difference. And then you also mentioned that 25 additional instructional hours is the result of Springboard Collaborative, tell us how that time comes together and how you actually get parents to do 25 hours. It sounds like a lot, but it actually isn't that much if you break it into small chunks.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Totally. That's the beauty of building like a regular habit that any given day, it doesn't feel overwhelming. That's why families are latching on to it. But it accumulates like snowflakes in a lizard it quite quickly, you know, 15 minutes a day, when you play that out over the course of a school year, if you help, even just half of the families in a classroom to build that habit, you unlock an extra 1000 hours of one on one instructional time, over the course of a school year, teachers only get 1000 hours with their students in the course of the school year, it's a massive amount of leverage. And nobody needs leverage more than teachers these days. And if you play that out even further, and this is something that we're excited about in the way that we're building out the technology, if you can help a family build that daily 15 habit in elementary school, by the time they send their kid to middle school, they'll have given them their kid the equivalent of an entire extra school year, you can imagine the cost of trying to replicate that amount of instructional time. Any other way you can extend the school day, you can extend the school year, you can do Saturday school, you can hire tutors, you can do whatever you want to increase instructional time. But there is no more cost effective way to do that. Not to mention scalable or culturally responsive or loving way and to do that, then leverage families

Alexander Sarlin:

amazing, culturally responsive, loving, you know, you mentioned Saturday school and there are families who put a lot of additional instructional time into their students in a variety of ways. But yes, Saturday school is not always a student's favorite way to do it. I think that you know, that those love and the cultural responsive and the fact that it builds an even deeper relationship between parents and students, all incredibly powerful. So okay, amazing stuff. Your new startup pillow La really is an ed tech startup. It's much more technology driven and actually utilizes AI to take some of these learnings you've gotten with springboard to empower parents to support their children's learning. So you've learned over 12 years how to make this work. So now you're putting it into a product in Paloma, tell us how Paluma works and what you're planning to do with it.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yeah, I'm super excited. Like the idea is a commute to steal the product from the service. In order to scale impact to new orders of magnitude, there's always gonna be a need for the service and out of school time programs aren't gonna be able to reach every kid within a district. So the question I started to ask myself was, what would it take to equip every family in a district to accelerate their children's learning to do that in reading and math for the broader set of grade levels? What would it take to do that? And the answer includes, but isn't limited to tech, like there will be a need for policy change. I don't know if that's ours to do. But I'm not pretending that tech is the kind of answer to all of the challenges ahead. But it's a critical piece of the puzzle, right, there's an opportunity to bring what we've learned about how to equip families to support learning at home to bring that to a pretty transformative scale. So that's what we are building via below mob llama harnesses AI to unleash parents untapped teaching potential. And the product is a mobile web app that helps families build and sustain a habit 15 daily minutes of short, burst tutoring at home. So imagine parents sitting with their kids every night and engaging in a rigorous, curriculum aligned and joyful learning practice, day in and day out. And as we talked about those daily 15 minutes, unlock an enormous amount of instructional time relatively quickly, that accelerates student learning. I wish I could do a demo on a podcast, you can check out our website, lemon learning.com, and get one. But I can talk more about what the tool looks like. And I can also talk more about like, what the results that we've seen so far are because there's a lot that you can lose in translation from a service to a technology. And so we've been super intentional about figuring out how to let the tech do what it does best so that the people can do what they do best. We

Alexander Sarlin:

can link to a video or you know, a YouTube or a loom video from the notes in this podcast if people want to see Paloma in action that way, and yes, definitely go to palummo learning.com. That's correct. Yes, definitely. Because it really is a wild approach. I mean, it's a product really designed to do behavior change. And you know, when you mentioned this 15 minutes a day, sort of goal, it reminds me so much of when Fitbit first came out, and they sort of helped take something that was research driven, which is the you know, 10,000 steps a day, it's about five miles, I think exactly a day is the sort of amount that will keep you healthy. That's the you know, idea. And by just they sort of wrap their whole product around 10,000 steps a day, right? Like, how can you actually use technology to provide the kind of feedback so that people can learn to do their 10,000 steps a day and stay healthier? And you're thinking around? How can we use an app to help parents engage with 15 minutes a day, as well as make communication between parents and teachers and build that sort of teamwork that you've been talking about is such a powerful method, I just think it's very easy to get your head around, which matters. And then when you actually get into the product, you know, the product can actually make it happen and make you really understand how to work it. So tell us a little bit more about how Palumbo works, you know, what are the touch points that it uses to connect teachers and parents and to sort of remind parents to do these 15 minutes and to build that habit?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yeah, great question. So I'm going to start with the parent experience, because that's like the beating heart of it and the day in and day out core. And then we'll talk about how teachers fit into the equation and kind of the relationship between the two. So starting with the parent experience at a pre selected time, families get a text message each day, linking them to their 15 minute tutoring session. It's a web app, no download, no login, a password, you click the thing, you're immediately immersed in your experience and families are engaging in that and whatever home language is comfortable to them. The routine that we get them in in order to facilitate the habit is that on Mondays families get a short video breaking down their teacher selected focus area into a bite size skill of the week, that could be as concrete as like a particular letter sound that y'all are really going to focus on this week. And then pull them up guides the family through short tutoring session learning game activity. That's Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays, families get additional learning games or activities that help them deepen their child's proficiency with that skill of the week. And then when they finish Tuesday and Thursday plan will ask the family what do you want tomorrow's content to be about and the family will answer. Whatever is bringing their child joy and curiosity and imagination. So you can imagine the things that come up, you know, elementary schoolers, it's Barbie, it's my cousin's coming over for pizza last night. It's winning the basketball tournament this weekend, you know, going to pop ups house and making pie and then we're able to use AI to Jen Rate decodable books and math story problems that are aligned with kids particular learning needs, but they're about their personal interests. And we render kids as protagonists in their own stories and math problems visually, in a way that feels demographically authentic to them. Embedded within that content are coaching tips for parents so that they know how to be the best possible teacher in that session. You know, things like we highlighted all the words with this week's letter sound, have Sanaya reread those words, you know, sounding out each letter and blending it together, the kind of scaffolding that helps the family, not just, you know, engaging in the time, but also make it the most fruitful and kind of rigorous, 15 minutes that they possibly could, without compromising on the joy. In the experience, I think there can be this kind of false dichotomy between rigor and joy, which is it? Is it science of reading, or is it like fun time, and you can do both. And AI enables the kind of personalization that enables you to do both. That's the family side, I can talk more about, like how the teacher fits into the equation, too. But I'll pause there,

Alexander Sarlin:

I would love to hear that I just, you know, it's such an interesting model. And it really it strikes me is, you know, you're facilitating, like you mentioned, a teacher selected skill of the week, right, that the teachers are actually helping, you're facilitating communication between what's happened in the classroom with what's happening at home, which is, you know, seems like it should be something that happens a lot, it actually is not happen smoothly, nearly as much as you would think in schools, as any parent or teacher would say. So that already is a great start. And then the idea of these resources, that sort of accelerate parent's ability to use that short period, that 15 minutes in a really instructionally sound way. So it's sort of it facilitates communication, it trains parents and how to optimize their time. And then the AI is sort of the cherry on top developing customized personalized interest based content well for the families so that you know, as they work together, they can do something that is of actual interest. That's something that can spark conversation that's relevant. It's a really brilliant combination of factors that I think overcome a lot of psychological barriers to this kind of work. So I'm a fan. It's really exciting to hear. But yes, I'd love to hear more about the teacher side, please.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

The AI does what it does best, which is content generation and personalization, so that people can do what they do best, which is to connect and collaborate. And the latter part, I think it's forgotten way too much the content is table stakes. But it's not where the value is not where the magic is, in order to facilitate that relational experience. We did some user research at the outset and wondered, well, is our world teachers really busy? Is there a world in which we can go directly to families and just equip them with resources and kind of skip the middle step? And the answer from families was very clearly like, if it ain't coming from the teacher, I'm not paying attention to it. I want to hear about my kids health from our doctor, I want to care about my kids learning from the teacher. And I think too many entities will kind of disintermediate the educator and the importance of that relationship and just start like beaming content to families, right? You got a kindergartener don't forget to count bananas at the grocery store. And as a parent, you're like, How'd you get my phone number? Who are you counting bananas at the grocery store and like, and then a daily reminder of like, something you didn't do that makes you feel bad, the relationship is everything. And so then the challenge became like, Well, how do you enable teachers to partner with families in a way that does not add a single thing to their plate, because as soon as it does, and then the game is over, before it even started, teachers are, are spread super thin, right? We all we all know that to be true right now. But when you look at it, when you look at the teachers experience, there's actually a lot that they're doing over the course of the school year, to try to engage with families and interface with them. And they're not getting nearly enough out of the experience nor our families. Everything from back to school night and Family Literacy night and parent teacher conferences and homework, my God, the number of teachers that like spend 15 minutes of their lunch every day on crumpling homework packets and trying to check those off. reading log inputting information, there's so much that teachers do intending to kind of establish that relationship with home and it's high effort, low value, which gives you a really great opportunity to both lighten the load for teachers while making it a much more robust partnership. So parent teacher conferences are the place that we're starting. They're ubiquitous practice. They happen consistently throughout the year kind of enabling you to to break the year into those smaller short goal setting cycles that that we talked about. And costs are such a missed opportunity. I've yet to meet a teacher or family that like really got a ton of value out of their parent teacher conference experience. So on the teacher side, Blum have built a tool that helps teachers schedule, plan and facilitate best ever had parent teacher conferences. You can plan a conference in under 30 seconds, identify what's the one thing that would be most helpful for the family to practice at home. And then when you're sitting together at the conference, blamo will guide you through the experience of orienting families to a learning goal, giving them a chance to practice Their first tutoring session with their child while getting coaching and support from the teacher. And that enables families to leave with the clarity and confidence. I know what I can do this, I know what I can do tonight, next week next month to help my kid reach their goal. And below then feels to them, like an extension of the teacher, you know, if the teacher is Coach bilum, as the assistant coach that day in and day out, is helping you to support your child's learning trajectory. That is a much more relational experience. The technology lives within the relationship between the teacher and the family. And it lives within the relationship between the parent and the child. That's where the power lives. And it's why we've seen the traction that we've seen relegate in Lummis, partner schools, 79% of families have successfully completed a tutoring session with their child, on average participating families are completing two out of every three of the daily sessions in their entirety. Down to the last click. Palumbo has a daily active usage, or a monthly active usage is 43%, which is like compare that to Instagram at 29%. Right. So to me the fact that parents are tutoring their kids more often than they're like scrolling Instagram is a testament to how deeply they care for their kids learning and, and if you can build an experience for them in the context of a trusted relationship, and a loving relationship, and then just help people turn intention into practice, you can tap into that enormous potential.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, one of the things that really jumps out to me about your approach that I think I really admire, and I'm sure, you know, listeners are honing into many different things. But this as well is the idea of using the existing structure, the parent teacher conferences, which is some of the only times during the school year where the parents and teachers are physically in the same place, or have to have extended time to talk at least even if it's a remote conference. And using that as the touch points to really, you know, as you say, build trust, build connection, sort of have that moment of like, yeah, we're going to do this together. And then using the app, as the continuous touch point, every week, you know, multiple times a week throughout the time, it's a really powerful hybrid approach reminds me a little bit of like, you know, a personal training model where it'd be like, you know, if you just have the Nike app on your phone, you may or may not use, it probably won't, if you have a personal trainer, you're meeting with, you know, once a week or once a month, and then in between, they're like an everyday you should be doing these stretches, they're in the app, or you should be doing these, these lifts, they're in the app, and I'm going to see you in a week. And then we're, well, I'll catch up together. It's just a totally different experience. I mean, those accountability and sort of connection moments that are personal, combined with the power of tech to be ubiquitous, always in people's pockets, giving them the reminders sending them what they need, is very powerful. And I think that hybrid approach is really exciting to me, you mentioned that technology is only one piece of the puzzle. And I think that's definitely true, right? And that policy is needed. You know, we are an ed tech podcast, we're an edtech community. I'd love to hear you expound on that a little bit. Because, you know, you obviously are seeing the value in using technology to scale some of the learnings and outcomes of Springboard Collaborative, but you also know that it's limited, it can't do everything, it has to sort of build within to an existing system. And sometimes the system needs change. Can you just tell us a little bit about how you think about what technology sort of can and can do to change some of the really embedded structures of the existing education system? Yeah,

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

it's such a good question. I'll share an anecdote and then I'll kind of zoom out and then kind of give more of a synthesized big picture so that the anecdote is I was at an AI conference recently, and there was a leader in ad tech AI on the the mainstage, the headliner, doing a fireside chat with like one of the bigwigs at meta about the future of AI, and learning. And over the course of a 90 minute conversation. No one said the word parent is conversation about education. Not though the word parent was not uttered, once and instead, they were painting this vision of this utopian world where every kid is sitting at the dinner table, wearing VR goggles and getting tutored by AI in the metaverse over dinner. And all I could think was like, Do you realize who else is sitting at the dinner table? Like? Who loves the kid most in the world, the person who wants nothing more than to give their child a better future? Like, why in the world? Are y'all trying to build a parallel universe with robot tutors sooner than we, like equip families to support children's learning sooner than we equip teachers to partner with families. And I think that's been one of the misses in how we're thinking about AI and technology is losing sight of the people. You got to start with the people and leverage that technology to do it. It does best. But putting people in front of screens like is deeply uninteresting to me like automating away that humans I think it's barking up the wrong tree, but there's enormous potential in using AI to facil Take personal person connection and collaboration to eliminate the friction so that teachers can collaborate with families and so the parents can have rich learning experiences with their kids. That anecdote, I think is like telling of what the tech can and can't do, in terms of what it can do, it can be really useful to remove friction, we should do that it can be really useful to reduce costs, like plumber can deliver one on one instructional time at 1/20, the cost of a traditional model, we should leverage technology to do that, it can enable scale, we should leverage to do that. They can personalize content, but the content itself is is a commodity, right, you can get a an AI generated decodable book, anywhere, the value is in the experience you curate. And in the relationship, you cultivate kind of via via that technology. And that's where things get interesting. But that's where technology needs to work in context, right, as opposed to, to just stand on its own two legs and beam content into the world.

Alexander Sarlin:

It's so interesting, I'm laughing a little because I know that I don't know exactly the headline of you're talking about, but I have a guest who it is. And I you know, we have talked to many, many people who do AI and education on this podcast through all sorts of different approaches and lenses. It's a really good I think, reality check for the industry. I feel it personally. But I think others listen to this broadly, as well that, you know, the idea of, I can't say it better than you did it. But basically, you know, the idea of the utopian future being one in which students and AI are sort of alone on a planet together, and not related to each other, or to parents or to teachers is a little bit of an absurd position. So I appreciate you calling it out in exactly that way. And yeah, there's, I think, a huge amount of you said, so, you know, you're using AI to do all of the things you just mentioned, and technology to do a lot of things you just mentioned, to auto generate content to remove friction to view, scalable, you know, technology to build habits is one you're using technology to build habits, it's something that you want teach parents to do something every week, and tech is pretty good at helping people do something every week compared to other things. So you are also using, you know, AI in some of those contexts, you know, just building on this approach. I I'm laughing because I think it's just such a funny anecdote.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

No shade the the the like, but I want to push it still like, there's a lot of attention being paid to single player tools. And I don't know if that's like the most the highest purpose of the technology or its greatest potential, I want to see more multiplayer interactions, and how can the technology in the background enable the people to shine in a way that the only people can and that's where I think like, both the potential lives and like for folks that are, you know, worried about paying their investors back, it's also where like, the defensible value lives, right, like the content is already a commodity, the copilots very quickly become a commodity, and then it's a race to the bottom on pricing and value, the value lives within the relationships. And so I'd like to see the field pay more attention to that. Yeah,

Alexander Sarlin:

makes a lot of sense. So maybe we can talk a little bit about I think VR and AI, you know, two of the sort of hottest technologies in tech and increasingly in edtech, right now, both sort of have this single player problem that you're mentioning, right? They're ones that immediately people's the first use case for both of these technologies that people often come up with is oh, you know, VR is available, let's allow kids to do virtual field trips to underwater, you know, by themselves. It's when looking at marine biology or, you know, AI is available, let's do an AI tutor for every kid where the kid never has to talk to a teacher again. And I you know, I'm exaggerating on purpose here. But can you tell us a little bit, you obviously have a really different perspective, I think, a really valuable perspective, how might we as a field, start to think about technologies like AI and VR to help them do the things that you're sort of advocating here? How might they help build more connections? How might they help build more, you know, peer to peer learning more parent teacher collaboration, more, you know, teacher student collaboration, you know, what does that look like? I think for you, I know, we were all figuring it out together. But what does that look like for you right now even outside of the context of Paloma?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Yeah, great question. So there's one I talked about in terms of like personalizing the content in order to create experiences that are rigorous and joyful in equal measure and and the joy lives in the relationship so that that's something that AI is uniquely suited to do, I get excited about going further with the parent coaching. So not just having like, you know, the little embedded parent posted and tips kind of within the content, but like, you can envision a coach mode where families can turn it on and as they're engaging with their child around the book Vilem is using NLP to like provide actionable tips and coaching and support for families in that experience. What it isn't doing is disintermediate in the family and saying, I got this like, go make dinner, I'm going to do the thing. There's a place in the world for that. But like there's enough educational babysitters like it ain't that but but what it can do is listen to the interaction and guide and coached the family to be the best possible teacher to their kid that they can be. And I think we're just scratching the surface in terms of what's possible. There. I also get excited about AI in the realm of. So what we're focused on right now is like b2b kind of building a foundation, embedding Palumbo within districts and having it be like the, if your kid goes to our district, here's how we support your family and being a part of the learning journey. That's our focus. However, once we've got a critical mass of families that are using the tool day in and day out that trusted to view it as an extension of the teacher. Then Blum is uniquely positioned based on what we know about a kid's learning needs, their goals, their personal interests, the family's demographic information, we can build and use AI to do this, we can build a recommendation engine that helps connect families with the supplemental tools and resources that are going to be most impactful for their kid. And the reason I care about that is it there's so much attention paid on the classroom, and that matters. However, American parents spent $161 billion a year supplementing their kids learning that doesn't doesn't even include tuition that's above and beyond whatever's happening in the school. Those are the resources that parents are bringing to bear to give their child further advantage. And that is an incredibly inefficient marketplace. Nobody knows what the hell they're buying, there's throwing money against the wall and hoping that like, some of it added some value for their kid. And it's deeply inequitable, as you can imagine, the top income quartile outspend the bottom by 15x. So like, god help you, no matter what happens inside the classroom, if you're getting driven under the table 15 to one by somebody who's in a position to just slather more and more advantage on their kid. How in the world are you supposed to keep up? What gives me hope in that is that because the market is so inefficient, because people don't actually know that the $5,000 I plunked down on like this or that fancy tutor actually, like, help my kid in a way that's aligned with their curriculum in the classroom, that creates an opportunity where if you can help the family that only has five or 50, or$100, to spend, spend those dollars in a way that's incredibly aligned and advances their kids learning, well, then definitely could be dangerous, right? That then you can up there and you can kind of disrupt that market, turn it on its head and make it a lot more efficient, as well as equitable. That kind of recommendation engine can be facilitated by AI in powerful ways. The only thing that makes our marketplace possible is the relationship that it lives within it borrows the credibility from the relationship between teachers and families. And with the trust that it's earned, it puts you in a position to be able to guide families and kind of take the legwork and guesswork out of finding educational resources for for their kids. And of course, you can't violate that trust, because the relationship is everything. But that technology enables you to be able to do that in quite a scalable way.

Alexander Sarlin:

Fantastic. I'm hearing a couple of sort of themes in what what you're saying. One is the idea of rather than, you know, student and AI, and those are the two players or a teacher in AI with a co pilot, it's sort of like almost think of as like a triangulation, you know, it student and teacher have a certain relationship, how might AI enhance that relationship? You know, parents and teachers have relationship, how might AI enhance that relationship and so on. That feels very powerful model for me, it just sort of shifts the landscape. And then as you say, it's it sort of return on investment, efficiency, economic efficiency in this case, you know, to helping parents and families figure out where to spend their money on something that you know, will actually make a difference is incredibly powerful. And you know, as the AI environment evolves, that might be it will certainly be recommendation engines, as you mentioned, like we can actually tell you what's more effective right now than this is more effective than that. You can also imagine it being we will generate something completely new for you, you know, it's not just about buying this product or buying that product. It's okay, given where you are given the money you have just been given, you know, what your student is dealing with will actually create something new, a new experience, tailor made cost effective for that. It's a really exciting world. Maybe I'm getting too future headed future headed there for that. But I love the idea of sort of helping families really optimize their resources, no matter how many they have. Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating really is so Okay, we are unfortunately I think getting to the end of our time, I know that I'm sort of feeling sparks go off with a lot of your answers. It's really shifting the way I think about, you know, the role of technology in education, and certainly the role of parents in schooling. What do you see as where this is all going? Right? I mean, what is the most exciting trend? You see, from your perspective, you know, 12 years at Springboard, developing Paloma and piloting right now, where do you see this all going in the future in terms of the future of you know, maybe it's a parent engagement, maybe it's of how tech is going to, you know, be incorporated into the existing landscape. What happens when you put your future Your hat on?

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

I love that question, I'll share a thought as it relates to the particular work that I do. But I actually want to step back. And you know, as a newcomer to the EdTech world and looking at it with fresh eyes, there's a perspective, I have to say in terms of like the world I want to see the world I want to live in is one in which parents and teachers work together rather than in isolation to support student learning, right? People won't even remember the dark days, when parents and teachers were kind of left to their own devices, I want to live in that world. And I see a path more clearly than ever to get there that excites me. But when I when I step back and just look at like this moment in technology, and AI and education, you know, with the disclaimer that like I'm a newbie to it, take with a grain of salt, but But what I get excited about is how AI is lowering barriers to entry like it used to be, or it used to seem like the the company that wins is whomever hires the best engineers. And it's hard to play that game. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think that the company that wins is the one that understands their users and their use case better than anyone else. Speaking of which we're hiring product designers that keep going down that path. But I think that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And and I think AI is helping to make startups much more capital efficient than they used to be. So there isn't that as steep a barrier to entry in terms of the the amount of capital capital you need to raise in order to bring a product to market. The reason that I'm excited about that is because it means that the people who are most proximate to problems can more easily bring solutions to life, right. And nobody understands the problem better than the people who've experienced it firsthand. And therefore nobody is going to design a better solution than the people who have experienced it day in and day out firsthand. I think from the outside looking in that part of why a tech hasn't fully yet lived up to its promise is in part because solutions were designed by technologists who didn't deeply enough understand the daily experiences of teachers and parents and students. So I get incredibly excited about the ways in which those very people, parents, teachers, and students are going to be able to bring their own solutions to life. And I'm really bullish about the things that they will create.

Alexander Sarlin:

Amazing, we are starting to see that sort of a wave of teacher printers, we sometimes call them you know, because the barrier to entry, you don't need to be a you know, a world class engineer to make an idea come to life. Now with AI, we're starting to see some teachers create tools often for their own classrooms and their for their own use cases, and then realize, hey, this is something that could be a product, and I think that trend is gonna accelerate, it's really exciting to hear you talk about it in that way I'm pumped about it.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

I think in order for AI to close opportunity gaps rather than to broaden them, we have to ensure that the tools are being developed by and for marginalized populations. It is no accident that they 80% of Lomas team, when you look across our full time and contractors, are people of color that have lived experiences with the problems that we're trying to solve that, to me is more than, you know, an equity imperative in though that matters. It's also a competitive advantage. And so I think we got to be really intentional about ensuring whose hands that technology ends up in and, and we support entrepreneurs in bringing their lived experience and their solutions to reality. 100%

Alexander Sarlin:

and one parallel to that, that it makes me think of I totally agree. I'm a little maybe naively optimistic in this way. But it feels like there's a connection between the two points you just made that could be really important, right, which is that, you know, for generations, the people who are majoring in engineering and actually coming out of college with computer science degrees able to go work in the field, where tended to be white men for quite a while. And that began to change in a few different ways. But it's still for the most part, the vast majority. And that created this huge social barrier. Two who could enter the tech field who could create new products who could design the future of what technology looked like, if you look across the, you know, they call it The Magnificent Seven now, right? The Amazon, Facebook, the really big tech companies, they're all white men. And I think that hopefully, this reduction of the barrier to entry and the sort of the change in linguistic needs, you don't need to know coding syntax, you don't need to know how to talk to a computer to be able to get a computer to design a solution for you. Now, I'm hoping that really equalizes the playing field and others have said the opposite they say a it means that engineers are going to be hyper super engineers, and everyone else is still going to be way behind. But I'm hoping that it levels the playing field and you start to see people solve very particular problems. People who know the problems say I can design a solution, I can figure out how this is going to be better. And my relationship to the actual problem is my differential advantage not because I know how to code not because I know Python, or or, you know, machine learning, it's because I know the problem And I can actually design the solution, that it will be an incredible future maybe naively optimistic, but I hope

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

so. I'm with you. I share your optimism, I sure hope. So. What is a

Alexander Sarlin:

resource that you would recommend for somebody who wants to dive deeper into the topics we discussed today? There's a

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

lot of great practical resources out there. And Lenny's newsletter is one that comes to mind that I'm sure it will be familiar to many listeners. However, when I'm thinking about this, ultimately, my suggestion is to there's no better resource than your users, talk to teachers, talk to parents talk to students, the answers are in the field. Fantastic.

Alexander Sarlin:

And that very consistent with your approach to this to both springboard and biloba, and I love it. So we will put a link to Lenny's newsletter in the show notes for this episode. But for every edtech founder out there for investors, for anybody listening to this, I think that's a really good note to end on. You're going to find the answers by talking to other people. Alejandro Gibes de Gac Thank you. You are the founder of Springboard Collaborative and of Paloma, which is your entry into edtech palomalearning.com Thanks so much great conversation lived up to all that dynamism that I promised at the outset. Thank you so much for being here with us on edtech insiders.

Alejandro Gibes de Gac:

Thank you for having me.

Alexander Sarlin:

Thanks for listening to this episode of edtech insiders. If you liked the podcast, remember to rate it and share it with others in the EdTech community. For those who want even more Edtech Insider subscribe to the free Edtech Insiders newsletter on substack.