PelotonU: Principles for Engaging and Centering Parent Voice


This blog is part of Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s 2Gen Level Up series. Ascend challenged organizations that work with and/or on behalf of children and families to apply one of six resources listed below and level up their two-generational efforts. Of the many organizations from across the country that put these resources to use, Ascend selected six 2Gen Level Up winning organizations to each receive $5,000 and advance outcomes for families in their communities.

This blog series features the applications written by each of the winning organizations to demonstrate real-life implementations of these resources. Below is one winning entry, from Hispanic Unity of Florida, for their usage of the resource Building Strong Client Relationships: The Garrett County Community Action Committee Two-Generation Approach Begins with a Strong, Whole-Family Intake Process.

About PelotonU

PelotonU, Austin, TX, provides working adults in Austin the pathway and support to earn their college degree on time and debt-free. 

Why did you choose this resource?

While PelotonU embraced (and advocate to others!) the approach of treating parents and students as experts, as well as compensating them, we were keen to learn how else we might center our parenting students’ voices. We were reimagining what childcare support might look like for parenting students after both our initial co-located childcare proved unnecessary, as well as the initial disruption of COVID had worn off and parents were learning more about their long-term needs. It was the perfect opportunity to co-design the next phase of our support with our parents.

How have you implemented the resource? How did this resource level up your 2Gen work? 

After reading through the resource and reflecting with parents, we decided to implement a “design your own solution” scholarship fund for parenting students. Student parents filled out a simple application that they helped build, to receive up to $150 per month for six months to support their needs as parents in school. We did not offer any more prescriptions about what counted as “fundable;” the only limitation was that the fund was only available for parenting students, and they needed to share how the money would enable them to thrive in school. We knew our parenting students were experts in what they needed. The result was an influx of thoughtful, compelling, individualized requests that we never could have “guessed.” Eight parents are now receiving an average of $125 per month for 6 months to do everything from buying an extra day of grandmas time for babysitting so the parent could do school; Pay for gas so the parenting student could afford to get kids to childcare, which is free; and making a parenting student feel comfortable asking his/her/their family for help watching their kids more often so they can focus on school. 

This resource enabled PelotonU to level up its 2Gen work by reminding and empowering us to center our parenting students’ voices not just in broad systems change or programmatic refinement but in also the process to decide how to mobilize $6,000 in capital, as well as to recommit to our belief that students are the experts in their own experiences and needs, and we are just here to facilitate them getting met; we are not the arbiters of what is “worthy” or truly “necessary.” We are also fortunate to have a local United Way, the source of the funding, that is steeped in 2Gen work and who supported the trust we have in our students, which is not always true for funders.  

What are your next steps?

PeletonU began disbursing the funding in January and is closely monitoring for both our usual academic results, like persistence and being on track to graduate, as well as how the student does toward the goal they had for themself in their proposal for the funding.  

Additional Resources

Please find the other 2Gen Level Up Prize winning applications Resources released during the 2Gen Level Up Week below: