Tap In Leadership Academy

Forging partnerships to address educational inequity: Tap In Leadership Academy

Tap In Leadership Academy is an innovative approach to addressing Champaign-Urbana’s current educational inequities.  Tap In is a relatively new initiative that provides summer and after-school programming to local youth.  In the two years since it was founded, Tap In has forged numerous relationships with both community and university partners, its university partners including the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS); Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Public Engagement; Krannert Center for the Performing Arts; College of Education; College of Business, Math, Science and Technology Education; Spurlock Museum; and Krannert Art Museum.  These partnerships have provided Tap In’s young scholars with a computer lab, university tutors, new curricula, numerous field trips, and an introduction to academic resources and culture

Tap In’s mission is “to educate, equip, and empower youth to enhance educational achievement, leadership development, and cultural awareness.”  Education is a crucial element of the Tap In model: every aspect of the program is highly intentional, providing scholars with tools they can use to critically examine their world.  Scholars then take these tools and apply them in projects that benefit their communities.  The whole process is richly empowering to students who are so often denied this sense of being valued.  A final, essential piece of Tap In’s successful model is the cultural awareness that it engenders; there is a cultural divide between University volunteers and Tap In families, and extensive training and a culturally-based curriculum make this cross of cultures a fruitful experience for volunteers and scholars alike.

This model is severely needed in Champaign-Urbana, a place of deep educational divides.  Champaign County is the most highly educated county in Illinois, thanks in large part to the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus.  However, the county is also the third poorest in the state, putting quality education out of many residents’ reach.  Educational disparities all too often fall along racial lines, a fact that was brought to the fore by a lawsuit alleging system-wide inequities in achievement and opportunities for a local school district’s African-American students.  Since 2002, a consent decree arising from the lawsuit has provided an impetus for the community to work to address these issues, but the wide achievement gaps have yet to be closed.

While programs like Tap In are particularly needed in places like Champaign-Urbana, Tap In was also created to act as a model for other programs serving disempowered youth.  People involved in Tap In say that the program is not just an after-school program; it’s a movement.  I am thrilled to have the support of GSLIS and IMLS as I explore this movement for myself.

Written by Jane Sandberg.


United Way of Champaign County, (2011). 2011 community report. Retrieved from http://uwayhelps.org/pgm-download_media.php?name=2011_community_report_with_sources.pdf

Illinois interactive report card. (2004-2011). Retrieved from http://iirc.niu.edu/

Champaign Unit 4 Schools, (2011). White paper report [for district superintendent search]. Retrieved from http://www.champaignschools.org/superintendent_search/white_paper_report.pdf

GSLIS partners with, is honored by local youth organization. (2011, August 19). Retrieved from http://www.lis.illinois.edu/articles/2011/08/gslis-partners-honored-local-youth-organization

Tap In Leadership Academy. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.tapinacademy.org/


Tap In is a technology heavy project site.  For more information on the resources used with youth, please see this page.

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