Four Upper School students in Mount Vernon’s Innovation Diploma program, Catherine Emmanuele, Philip Emmanuele, Emmy Schaeffer, and Anya Smith, participated in a community “creative hack” to help solve some of our city’s most pressing problems. Open to students at Frederick Douglass High School, North Atlanta High School and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, the re:imagine/ATL‘s weekend workshop was hosted and sponsored by Atlanta Tech Village.
The collective group of students were asked to present innovative business solutions to community issues by producing original public service announcements on topics such as: digital literacy access, food access, sex trafficking, lack of career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) career fields, and ways to inspire healthy lifestyles to a panel of judges and potential investors.
Junior Anya Smith shares, “This partnership was created when the lead of this event contacted MVIFI asking them to help run a flashlab because they wanted to use our DEEP DT Playbooks. However, due to the late invite, our team was not able to take on this offer, which is why they suggested having members of ID to go and help by participating in the event. We ended up not able to be official coaches this time, but we all helped lead our individual teams through the DEEP process because of our wealth of knowledge about the design thinking process and how to best use tools from the playbook. In fact the experience inspired us to talk about creating our own student lead flashlab because we realized that if people who have a limited knowledge about the process could lead and run one, then why can’t we? We also talked about how it could be a beneficial tool for others to have a facilitator’s guide to the playbook, which we’ve talked about before with MVIFI and ID, but seeing in action someone else lead the process, made us realize that coaches could use some tips about ways to help others understand how to coach people through the process.”
We asked our students to reflect on their experience:
- Catherine was in the Sex Trafficking group, and they created a device (a help button that does not require a phone as most can’t afford that calls the police, reporting their location and the Polaris hotline) targeted for students living in unsafe neighborhoods and have to walk home from school alone.
- Philip was in the Healthy Living group, and they created an app that would give warnings on running and biking paths based on crime reports, while giving rewards for exercising. Through this app, they hoped to cultivate lifelong healthy habits and prevent obesity in Atlanta.
- Emmy was in the Food Access group, and they created an app to help people fill in nutritional gaps; it also gave points for making healthy decisions and provided cooking instruction and recipes.
- Anya was in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Education and Careers team, and they created a website (STEAM.ed) that would be the first online database for youth to learn about job opportunities in the STEAM job area based specifically on their interests and skill sets.
2) What did you learn over the course of 2 days? And did it meet your expectations?
- Catherine: I learned a lot about problems people face in Atlanta, that I had no idea were affecting anyone around here. When the other kids in my group were talking about being scared to walk alone just in their own neighborhood, it really moved me.
- Philip: I learned a lot about childhood as well as adult obesity in Atlanta, even though I knew that southern culture encouraged obesity, I didn’t know it was such a major and prevalent problem in our city. Although social pressure and culture is a large part in contributing to obesity, a problem that I found faced many teenagers, was that their neighborhood simply wasn’t safe enough to run in alone. It really moved me and I realized I take a lot of stuff, like having a safe neighborhood, for granted.
- Emmy: I think the thing I learned the most about was the problems people in Atlanta face. For example, I was in the Food Access group and before the Creative Hack, I hadn’t known that the biggest problem with Food Access is not that people can’t get food, but that they can’t get the right food.
- Anya: I honestly didn’t know what to expect to get out of this weekend. However, I ended up learning a lot about statistics around how STEAM careers are some of the most desired in the workforce, and yet very few people go into a STEAM major and 31% of those people drop out (at least in Georgia). My team also ended up talking a lot about how education reform needs to happen because so many students have very few opportunities to resources that are in the STEAM fields
3) What are your biggest takeaways?
- Catherine: I think that this proved further that students should be the ones solving the world’s problems. In just two days we created these amazing and viable solutions. Imagine if we worked on it for a week, a month? Students are capable of so much, they just have to let us run with it.
- Philip: It is so inspiring to take the stuff that I learn in iDiploma and apply it in the real world in these events as well as help others understand the design thinking process.
- Emmy: One of my takeaways was realizing that we should create a student-led design challenge. We know this process very well and we’ve already coached a lot of people on the process, so why not host our own?
- Anya: For me, it was encouraging to realize how many other students are also starting to see the need for education transformation, so that all students can be provided with resources which will prepare them for careers that don’t yet even exist. Many students don’t have access to computers, or makerspaces, or opportunities to go out into the “real world,” and this means that they learn significantly less about career opportunities for them, specifically in STEAM areas but also other areas; this is a problem that something needs to be done about. I also really enjoyed working with the business experts on my team because I learned some tips about prototyping a website from people who design websites for a living, so they knew exactly what was needed for a minimum value product.
4) What surprised you most about this experience?
- Catherine: What surprised me most about this was the people I met. My team was made up from kids all around Atlanta in different schools, so in any other environment we would be strangers, but we bonded really quickly. We all were able to build off each other’s ideas well and the whole process just flowed.
- Philip: I agree with all of the information above, and something else that surprised me was how a bunch of high school students who had never met before can come together and discuss as well as come up with solutions to Atlanta’s biggest problems. This shows that students are capable of a lot more than most adults give them credit for.
- Emmy: One of the things that surprised me the most was realizing how much I’ve learned about presenting from Innovation Diploma. I’ve picked up a lot about how to create an impactful slidedeck. I’ve also had a lot of practice pitching solutions, so even when I can’t anticipate a question, I can think of an answer quickly.
- Anya: Some of the business leaders on the pitch panel (including reps from Twitter and a few Georgia Colleges as well as other startup employees) even came up to the 4 of us afterwards and said that even though we weren’t all on the same team, they could tell that we went to the same school because we were all so “smooth” during our pitches. I think we really impressed the experts who said that we delivered pitches more confidently than some of their employees. It surprised me too because I always assumed that part of my ability to deliver a pitch just comes from acting, and I’ve always assumed other actors could probably deliver a pitch fairly well too. However, one of my teammates was as actress from a performing arts school and I realized that it takes more than being comfortable in front of an audience to be able to deliver a good pitch, and our practice in ID has significantly grown this skill more than I had even realized.
re:imagine/ATL uses a project-based educational approach that combines film and music, storytelling, and entrepreneurship as a means of activating youth to positively impact their community. Program Sponsors and Partners: United Way of Greater Atlanta, Community Foundation, Arthur M. Blank Foundation, Arby’s Foundation, Piedmont Healthcare, Comcast Foundation, Center for Civic Innovation, Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) Georgia Institute of Technology, Work Ready Grad, and Catapult Acting.