MindLeaps harnesses the power of dance
to guide vulnerable children and youth to
safe spaces, academic opportunity and
lifelong skills development.
The MindLeaps program utilizes a comprehensive core dance curriculum to develop cognitive skills and social-emotional learning, while incorporating individualized monitoring to determine when youth have reached improved levels of critical thinking.
- Since 2014, 3,500 children have completed the MindLeaps program across six different countries.
- In 2017 in Rwanda, 70% of students performed in the top 20% of their academic classes after completing the MindLeaps dance program.
- MindLeaps has seen a 0% drop out rate for students in formal education and vocational training.
CORE DANCE CURRICULUM
The core of the MindLeaps program is a strategically designed, highly-targeted dance curriculum created by professional dancers, psychologists and educators with expertise in working with youth from vulnerable populations. Recent studies have shown the importance of movement in the development of learning skills, and much of this research has informed the evolution of the MindLeaps curriculum.
This curriculum is built around five progressive modules, designed to meet students at their ability level, both physically and social-emotionally. To participate in the program, youth join 2-hour sessions, 3 times per week, taught by highly trained instructors. These classes follow a formal structure and require a tremendous amount of energy and mental concentration.
The extreme rigor of the class is one of the key reasons why students are motivated to keep returning day after day: they improve and see that, often for the first time in their lives, they are capable of self-betterment. In fact, MindLeaps classes have a 95% student retention rate after the initial two-week period due to the dynamic teaching style, the varied methodology and the attractiveness of the core activity: dance.
Cognitive and Social-Emotional Development
MindLeaps’ innovation lies in its ability to capitalize on the underlying power of its codified dance programming. Students not only feel the pure joy of creative movement, but are also simultaneously engaged in a deep experiential program for cognitive development and social-emotional learning. MindLeaps has strategically designed its classes around imparting skills that are often lacking in the youths’ current environment, but are necessary for not only academic success, but success in life.
Over the course of each class, multiple exercises focus on seven key cognitive and non-cognitive skills:
Youth need a high level of confidence to make safe life choices, return to school or pursue employment. The curriculum helps them believe they are capable of succeeding.
Over time, fighting and stigma are decreased and replaced by an ability to trust and work alongside other students in a manner conducive to quality learning.
MindLeaps classes help children make the connection between physical and verbal learning with a particular focus on foreign language acquisition (often English). Those who are kinesthetic learners benefit most from this dual processing style.
Vulnerable youth often think only of short-term survival. By building perseverance to achieve difficult long-term goals, youth develop the commitment necessary to make difficult decisions involving delayed gratification, to go to school or pursue legitimate employment.
MindLeaps youth have often experienced life devoid of adult rules and have created their own rules for survival. With MindLeaps, they learn to follow a code of conduct based on respect and tolerance for others. They learn to function and thrive in an environment with restrictions.
The ability to learn and recall sequences or patterns of information is essential for the development of sequential thinking and can lead students to higher executive functioning capabilities.
The dance program nurtures the imagination, which plays a crucial role in the problem solving, learning and abstract thinking necessary for success in academic classes and managing difficult life situations.
MONITORING AND EVALUATION
Data indicates that MindLeaps youth, on average, show a minimum of 35% improvement in cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The monitoring and evaluation of individualized progress is facilitated via Tracker, MindLeaps’ mobile application and software system with real-time analytics. Within the application, which works offline and lives on an Android tablet, each cognitive and social-emotional skill is matched with specific descriptors within the dance curriculum. Each skill is given a defined rubric and grading system based on collaborative research between MindLeaps, Carnegie Mellon University and Drexel University.
During classes, dance teachers are able to track each student with the app. The resulting real-time analytics, viewable by teachers and organizational heads, allow staff to make critical decisions around each child’s improvement, their growth of emotional regulation, school readiness, or extra needs for attention and services. Since long-term historical trends are easily viewable, Tracker also helps organizations maintain the quality and consistency of the program as various trainers join or leave the teaching staff.
BEYOND THE CORE CURRICULUM
The core dance curriculum lays a foundation for success, preparing youth with the cognitive and social-emotional skills that are pathways to further education, employment and self-sufficiency. The model expands from the core curriculum both at MindLeaps’ own permanent centers and through partnerships with other organizations.
At the MindLeaps permanent centers in Rwanda and Guinea, a holistic three-phase approach begins with the core dance curriculum and continues on to add academic acceleration courses, IT training and English language classes. Those children who adapt to this more structured framework, and develop across key cognitive skills areas, are sponsored to attend school or vocational training programs in their own country.
Through partnerships, MindLeaps can embed its curriculum in the workings of other organizations serving at-risk youth across Africa. MindLeaps partners with NGOs and international organizations to provide the opportunity to adopt the fundamental components of the MindLeaps program for their internal operations. The MindLeaps Toolkit Suite equips partnering organizations to continue the dance program with their own local MindLeaps-trained teachers after an initial three-month period of collaboration with MindLeaps staff in the field. Tracker serves as the ongoing monitoring system to assure continuing quality.