How might we engage community stakeholders more deeply in what happens at school? It is a critical question regardless of where your community lies on social and economic curves. Take this short story I heard this week and translate it into something powerful for your school.
We visited Vista Innovation and Design Academy this week. Last year VIDA was a low-performing traditional middle school with virtually 100% low-income, largely Latino, students, many in transition or homeless. (You can search my blog for past posts on VIDA for more on their remarkable transformation.) A core principal of the school is that students will learn through experience and ownership of innovation and design. Principal Dr. Eric Chagala took us to their one-room innovation lab/maker space. It is about as low-tech as any such space I have seen: a few computers; one set of hand tools. No 3D printers or robots. But lots of cardboard, tape, tin cans, toilet paper rolls, paper, egg cartons, PVC pieces, and the like.
The first project of the year was to “design a catapult that can fire a water balloon at a teacher”. Eric says with those first, simple instructions the students just sat and froze. The teacher waited and repeated the instruction. The students stayed frozen. It took a while, and finally they realized that they could just start building and trying and researching “catapult”. The dam had broken.
Now here is the real breakthrough. They put word out to their community that they need materials for their innovation lab. One day Eric was called to the front office. A mom had walked in with a baby stroller full of cardboard and junk. She was in tears. They got someone to translate: she was crying because it was the first time this mom had ever been able to contribute anything to her child’s school experience.
I told my guests, teachers from a similarly disadvantaged community in Santa Fe, NM, “if you don’t change one other thing at your school, but can replicate this bond with your community, you will win.”