• Cory Minkah Montalvo

Pilot @ The Confluence - The Beginning

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Hello, YEBOhood!

Welcome to the first blog post of our pilot at The Confluence. During the pilot, we'll be filling you in on our activities, learnings, and creations. Not only do we hope you tune in, but we need your engagement.

Along with the students we serve, you - our supporters and our community - are our greatest asset, so please contribute to these pages with your thoughts, encouragement, and criticism (always from a place of love).

In this episode, we'll provide you an overview of the center were operating in, our planned pilot, and some of our initial learnings from the week's work.

In future weeks, we hope to provide you some samples of student work via our social media pages, so be sure to follow us if you're not already.

Thanks for visiting!

Partnerships, Pivots, and Learning (lots and lots of learning)

What is The Confluence?

The Confluence is a multi-media maker space and community center located in McGlone Academy in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, Colorado.

Living up to its name, the space aims to bring together a diverse group of community partners, educators, artists, and resources in service of the students and families of the Montbello community.

The Confluence is led by staff members of McGlone Academy, including Paul Clifton, Roy Barnett, and Christina Lieberman. With the support of the Montbello Children's Network, Denver Public Libraries, and YEBO, the center plans to build out to a fully equipped multi-media maker space that will offer students a learning experience rooted in project-based learning and self-exploration. Included in the vision are music production studios, a fashion design lab, photography and videography studios, a visual arts station, a broadcasting station, a library, and an artist-in-residence program.

Among the core principles of The Confluence are the ideas of collaboration and co-creation. The space welcomes in local artists, political representatives, neighborhood elders, and older students to help create engaging and meaningful experiences for youth and their families. From podcasting to tagging up the walls with murals, students and the community drive the design of both the programing and the physical space of The Confluence. The goal is to create a learning environment that cultivates in students authentic agency over their learning experiences, one where students self-select from a bank of resources, people, and experiences to accomplish their goals and project ideas.

McGlone student working on Kendrick Lamar mural in The Confluence.

YEBO exists in The Confluence as community partner that facilitates programing with youth and as an early supporter that provides adult learning opportunities for staff. We're excited to work with such an amazing community, and we look forward to building with The Confluence family into the future.

The Pilot

We're fortunate to have the support of some amazing organizations throughout this year, including Moonshot edVentures, the Donnell-Kay foundation, the Margulf Foundation, the Open Media Foundation, 4.0 Schools Tiny Fellowship, and High Tech High (out of San Diego).

With this support, we're honing in to test the key assumptions and design principles around our elective-based program, as well as our YEBOlabs concept. Moreover, we're extremely fortunate to have a partner school in McGlone Academy to pilot with for the year.

Here are the dynamics of our space and pilot structure:

  • Our pilot is during the 7th-8th grade elective block (four days a week for one hour a day).

  • There are 50-60 students in the center during our elective block - half in a visual arts studio and half in a media arts course. Don't worry, we have a massive space.

  • There are a minimum of four adults in the center during our sessions (an visual arts teacher, a technology/pod-casting/music production teacher, a dean of technology/photographer, and yours truly).

  • In the Media Arts elective, we have split the students up into smaller cohorts (see "Weekly Highlights" and "Learnings" below), and YEBO is piloting with a cohort of 8 students.

For our trimester-long pilot in The Confluence, we'll be exploring and testing these buckets of assumptions:

  • We can effectively build the culture of our learning environment (norms, values, expectations) with students through storytelling.

  • Students will (and will want to) use media production and pop-culture for something more than entertainment (i.e. for self-exploration and to explore social justice issues).

  • Artists will want to partner with students to co-create projects rooted in their identity.

  • Students will want to continue our program after our pilot (we are assuming our program will work best as a multi-year experience, thus we want to ensure the majority of our students want to come back after the initial pilot).

Click here to see if these assumptions align with our desired outcomes.


The launch of the pilot, of course!

We began the week with a whole-group orientation to ground everyone in their "why" for selecting into the elective. Students also took a survey to let us and each other know about their passions and interests in the media arts.

We divided into smaller cohorts based on student interests, with the three buckets (because there are there are three of us facilitating the media arts elective) as podcasting/media production, photography (this took the cake with the most interest), and the YEBO cohort as the journalism/vlogging/branding crew.

Students engaged in a series of activities revolving around branding. In our smaller cohorts, we discussed what brands resonated with students the most, while challenging them to think about branding as a company or individual's "voice" that transmits their ideals, values, and style.

In YEBO, we had meaty conversations around the future (literally, whether or not there will be one), school experiences, politics, and the dynamics of power in our society (the relationship between money and control). We also played with media (photography cameras and a beat machine), and the students staged a pop-up Youtube episode, which will not be posted, as we learned this sort of thing takes planning ;)

The week ended with our YEBO cohort debating the relevance and contradictions of brands like Nike, Playstation, and XBox. The students also began plotting a structure for a future Youtube channel.


  1. Facilitating a whole-group at 25+ students is the equivalent to iceskating uphill.

  2. Paying homage to #1, small cohorts are blissful. Seriously though, we need the time and space to get to know our students deeply and to engage their weird - and often enlightening - curiosities about life.

  3. Students identified strongly by their specific interests. We'll never suggest that identifiers like race and gender are not vital; rather, we witnessed students cross lines of difference more effectively once they were broken into cohorts based on interests. Group size may have an impact on attitudes as well, but students were vibing with each other once their shared interests were surfaced.

  4. Be patient. Naturally we come into the game with a vision and our own expectations. While our bar needs to remain high in terms of students living as their best selves, we need to do the incessant work of de-centering our urgency for things like "100%" and other methods of compliance. Urgency must be rooted in uplifting dignity and humanity into our learning environments. So...

  5. We need to be more explicit on connecting purpose to the values and norms we want our students to uphold and live. It's about the process, not the product. Furthermore, put pressure on discovering a process that includes students in developing the culture of your learning space. And give yourself some grace in regards to how long that process takes.

Be well!

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