In 2011, the Study Halls project was developed in vulnerable neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Study Halls is an example of a project that combines formal and non-formal education. This project aims to facilitate the necessary educational spaces for personal and academic development for students in primary and secondary education. At those locations, the pupils and students are supported by Life Coaches who gather educational material of the schools and provide additional tutoring in specific study halls.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

In 2011, Positive Society started the project Study Halls in vulnerable neighborhoods in Amsterdam. In essence, the life coaching that Study Halls provides is a combination of formal and non-formal education. Positive Society believes that educational growth and success depends on multiple aspects of a student’s life, such as living conditions or the educational level of the parents. Therefore, the Study Halls project is developed to provide hubs/locations for pupils and high school students to create an open environment and attitude, build trust and work in collaboration with parents, schools and the community to connect with the demands and needs of pupils and high school students. The main focus of the project is on supporting pupils and students in the formal education system by providing non-formal education as well, by providing:

  1. Educational spaces for personal and academic development for students in primary and secondary education;
  2. Help from Life Coaches who gather educational material of the schools, to provide additional tutoring at the Study Halls;

Support pupils and high school students in developing and improving soft skills and social behavior through tutoring sessions and activities.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The study halls are located within vulnerable neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. In providing these communities with safe and inclusive learning spaces, youngsters are provided a quiet space where they can work, do homework and openly discuss sensitive topics and themes that impact their life and school results. It is the combined effort of reaching out to these pupils, using role models that come from within the communities themselves and getting in contact with both the parents as well as the schools that makes this project successful.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

The Study Halls project was founded by one Life Coach, Abdelhamid Idrissi, who is the current director of Positive Society. Abdelhamid grew up in Geuzenveld, a neighbourhood in the Niew West district of Amsterdam, and noticed that not many of his peers pursued academics. He knew the challenges that they faced and wanted to improve the chances and educational support for his community and upcoming generations. Abdelhamid was known by the district council members, because he was giving diversity and inclusion workshops in various cultural communities. He was contacted by a city official to start his own foundation to improve the academic development of the children in vulnerable neighbourhoods. In collaboration with the district Amsterdam Nieuw West, Positive Society was set up in Geuzenveld in 2010 that still functions as the main office and first location of Study Halls. Today Study Halls has about 20 locations in the districts of Amsterdam Nieuw West and Noord. 

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

One of the challenges of setting up Study Halls was that the method was considered too out-of-the-box and innovative for schools. In the beginning, collaboration with primary and secondary schools was tough, since the schools did not know Positive Society yet and had to build up trust. Since it was important for the success of the Study Halls that schools encouraged pupils and students to participate in the Study Hall activities, it also meant that they would miss classes if that would be considered necessary.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

Study Halls uses various theoretical frameworks that build on concepts like Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), lifelong learning, non-formal education, coaching and tutoring practices. Currently, Study Halls is developing educational materials and methods that are based on their experiences.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The concept of the Study Halls initially originated to provide life coaching and tutoring for primary and secondary school students in vulnerable neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Students in these neighborhoods face additional challenges in comparison to their peers in other regions of Amsterdam, limiting their success for sufficient academic performance.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

Study Halls operates in 24 locations in Amsterdam Nieuw West and Noord. A total of 450 primary and secondary school students actively engage with each other, as well as with their Life Coaches, on a weekly basis.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

Many different social characteristics of the pupils and students are taken into account. In the past the students of Study Halls were mostly of Turkish or Moroccan origin, but lately Study Halls seem to attract, include and reach a more culturally diverse population.

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

City officials are in close contact with Positive Society and acknowledge the hard work and positive influence of Study Halls on the personal and academic development of the students. Dialogue with upper governmental layers, such as the general city council of Amsterdam or the Dutch parliament, remains limited.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

Positive Society is mainly subsidized and works with grants from governments, the municipality of Amsterdam, but also other institutions and organizations. This shows that the project fits the regional policies in the city of Amsterdam. 

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

The governmental system of Amsterdam is divided into the central city council and district councils that govern the day-to-day administration of the corresponding district or neighbourhood. Positive Society works closely with one of these local district councils, specifically the district of Nieuw-West and the Northern part of Amsterdam. The district council of Amsterdam Nieuw West and Northern Amsterdam are therefore important stakeholders who support the initiative. Also, other important stakeholders are parents and the schools of the pupils that Positive Society closely works with in the Study Hall program.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

Study Halls started in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. Most of the hubs of Study Halls are located in Nieuw West and Noord (New West and North). The inhabitants of these neighbourhoods are diverse communities with families with many different cultural backgrounds, like migrants from the former Dutch colonies or migrants that came to the Netherlands to perform labour-intensive work. Amsterdam is home to people from 180 different nationalities. The hubs of Study Halls are specifically located in the communities that face challenges such as high poverty, crime, school drop-out and health-risk rates. Study Halls tries to bridge the gap between institutions, such as the schools and the homes of the students. Study Halls tries to form a bridge between the student's family, school and community by involving every stakeholder to improve the academic and personal development of the pupil and student. 

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

Positive Society is a foundation based in Amsterdam that runs different mentoring and coaching programs for primary and secondary/high school pupils in vulnerable neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. Positive Society is a very accessible, bottom-up foundation that often works with volunteers that have been participants at the Study Halls when they themselves were pupils and students. 

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

As previously stated, the Study Halls initiative aims to fill in the gap between the school, governmental institutions, the personal environments such as the friend group and families of the students. The general belief is that formal education only impacts up to 30% of the development of a child, a bit more perhaps when these schools are considered excellent. The other 70% of development comes from the lived experiences at home or outside of school. However, the students in the neighbourhoods of Study Halls have a bigger chance of facing additional challenges in school or at home, limiting their maximum potential. An inter-sectional and holistic approach is necessary to fully support and empower the students. The schools are not able to provide this level of support for every student, due to insufficient resources or by overworked teachers. Study Halls provides personal educational packages for the life coaches, schools and parents to support the academic development and empowerment of the child. Positive Society also often gives advice to schools and institutions that want to provide additional attention for students that face additional challenges compared to their peers.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

Study Halls aims to empower and support the student in line with the current curriculum. They do so by evaluating the goals and needs for each student that signs up for Study Halls. Then educational material based on the current curriculum of the student is gathered. This way, the Life Coaches are able to provide additional tutoring for homework or soft skills, like giving a presentation. Pupils and students can apply for Study Halls on the Study Halls website or can be referred to the project by partner organizations in the neighbourhoods and participating schools. The pupil and their parents are invited to one of the locations that is closest to their home. During this intake, the needs and desires are discussed to be able to support the participant individually. Based on that intake, a Life Coach is matched that will guide and support the participant for the rest of the year.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

  • The teachers of the schools in which the pupils and students are enrolled;
  • Volunteers are encouraged to pursue further opportunities at Study Halls, like becoming Life Coaches themselves;
  • Life Coaches;
  • Management team;
  • The director;
  • Team leader at every location, that are social and pedagogic workers;
  • Two co-workers that focus on internal and external affairs.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

As mentioned above, Study Halls is currently developing their own educational materials and methods that are based on experiences from working with the pupils and students. The role of the professional Life Coaches is very important for the students and pupils in order to reach their set goal.

What are the final revenues of the project?

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

Positive Society currently faces a financial challenge, due to budget cuts in the district of Amsterdam Nieuw West and Noord. Positive Society is working on getting enough resources to be able to keep on working in all locations in Amsterdam. Subsidies and financial support are granted on an annual basis. For the period after December 2018 the financial resources are not secured yet. Every year it remains unsure whether Positive Society will receive enough funds to continue Study Halls. Although it has been unsure, Positive Society just keeps on coordinating this project. The crucial factor of ensuring continuation is the intrinsic motivation of the management team, the life coaches, volunteers, schools and the city officials. Also, the students that were involved with Study Halls in the beginning have a strong mentality of giving back and some of the first students that participated in the project became life coaches or volunteers at Positive Society themselves.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

Projects like Study Halls are not easily able to ensure long-term sustainability. This is a risk. However, many of the students that were involved remained supportive of Positive Society for multiple years. Even after they finished primary and secondary education, Study Halls invests a lot in the relationship with their (former) students. By empowering these students, they are considered role-models and show that they are intrinsically motivated to support their communities. In a way, this investment in the relationship between students and Positive Society helps to ensure a long-term impact.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

Study Halls' budget is based on the maximum of 150 students. Almost 25% of the entire budget is spent on renting locations. The rest of the budget is used to pay skilled Life Coaches and volunteers for their contributions. It is important that the Life Coaches are trained and skilled professionals, since problems like bullying, poverty or domestic violence can have a serious impact on a student’s life.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

The project depends a lot on volunteers. As mentioned above, the volunteers are encouraged to pursue further opportunities at Study Halls like becoming Life Coaches themselves.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

In reality, Study Halls supports 450 pupils and students that are working at their locations. Study Halls is pointed towards other foundations to receive grants for their program, but these foundations are not willing to provide resources for projects that do not have a set end time. Since Study Halls aims to empower and support students for multiple years, most of these foundations are difficult to reach out to.

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

Most of the goals that the life coaches formulate together with the students, are reached at the end of the program. Through multiple years of experience the life coaches have become experts at helping students reach their fullest potential, which is the most important objective in this project. This evidence supports the success of this initiative.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

The impact, joy and happiness that the professionals and volunteers of Positive Society experience and witness contribute to a positive feeling for everyone that is involved in the project of Study Halls. 

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?