Dr. Sonia Toledo: Addressing Education Inequality in Underserved Communities
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! Today I’m excited to cruise around with Dr. Sonia Toledo, the President and CEO of Dignity of Children, an organization working towards SDG 4: Quality Education. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Sonia! Can you tell us about what challenge you are addressing with Dignity of Children?
Sonia: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! At Dignity of Children, we are addressing inequality in education by providing resources to children and youth in underserved communities. We train educators to help young people with different learning styles, including those with learning disabilities, find their interests and passions. We do this by teaching them about the mindset of an entrepreneur and giving them 21st-century skills necessary to succeed in the modern-day marketplace.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Sonia: My biggest motivation to do this work comes from my experience as a struggling student being told that I was limited in learning. When I was diagnosed with a learning disability, I realized that I was not the one who was limited in any way—my educators were the ones who were limited in teaching me. I went to college and eventually got my PhD because I understood how to meet my learning needs. So I made it my life mission to share my experience with other educators in the hope of improving the way we teach our kids, especially those who learn differently.
Spiffy: That’s a very worthy, and necessary, cause! Can you elaborate more on how you are working towards a more equitable world?
Sonia: We train educators to create environments that draw out the potential of our young people by helping them express themselves fully in a safe and nurturing space. We work with a lot of non-profit organizations who serve children and youth in under-resourced inner-city communities. We provide access to learning resources that help change the way students learn—we train educators to teach students how to think, not what to think, so they are prepared for post-secondary programs and are ready to compete with their peers who come from backgrounds with more resources.
Spiffy: Wow, talk about inspiring! I’d love to know about a recent initiative by the company and the impact it makes.
Sonia: We have a youth development program called iDEAS Empowered by Youth that focuses on teaching youth the mindset of an entrepreneur. We have served over 3,000 students in the last three years—young people choose a problem they care about, work on finding a solution, and present it to professionals, business people, and community thought leaders. The purpose of this program is to show our youth that not only do their voices matter but that they have the ability to realize their potential and make a real difference while developing themselves personally and professionally.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Sonia: In business, failure is a part of everyday experience and a constant motivator. We have been designing iDEAS Empowered by Youth for over three years now and we are continuing to make changes as we go to make sure that we provide the most value to educators and students. During our first trial, there were some things that just didn't work, so we had to adjust the process and make it more user-friendly. As a result, we have developed a learning management system that has brought our product to a whole new level.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Sonia: We recently had a student in our signature youth entrepreneurship program who, from the very beginning, was asking a lot of questions. At first, it seemed too upfront, but when we heard his questions, we realized that he was actually just trying to understand, and the answers he received were in fact valuable to other students. His final project came out very strong, which showed that he really got the concept even though he seemed to be struggling at the beginning. This taught me the importance of having the tenacity to ask questions.
Spiffy: That’s indeed a valuable lesson. Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before I let you go?
Sonia: I think people in general and young people in particular need to remember that there is power in knowing where you want to make a difference in the world. And if what you are working on doesn't meet your expectations right away, you need to continue adjusting your idea to make sure it is serving your purpose and your population. It took us years and countless adjustments to bring iDEAS Empowered by Youth to where it is now—creating opportunities for our children and a better future for each of them individually and for our society as a whole!
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Sonia—it’s been an honor!
Sonia Toledo, PhD. is a writer, speaker, researcher, and social entrepreneur passionate about bringing positive change to education. She is the founder and CEO of Dignity of Children, an organization created with the mission to inspire youth to thrive. (First published on the Ladderworks website on January 24, 2022)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.