Over the past two years, I’ve taught high school environmental science, astronomy and physics at the Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington. I have focused on how to connect the world of scientific study to practical applications inherent in every child’s life. As a Delaware native recruited into teaching through Teach For America, I am always looking for opportunities to provide my students with skill sets and experiences that will better prepare them for the challenges of today’s workforce. The traditional confines of the high school classroom do not always present the entire spectrum of prospects for students eager to deeply engage in and explore their ideas.
In partnership with Teach For America and the Boys and Girls Club this summer, I launched the SPARK initiative: a summer program designed to teach entrepreneurial skill sets where students turn ideas into concrete achievements. I have seen how we as educators need to devote more time towards developing critical thinking skills, fostering collaboration strategies, and connecting the world of academics to personal passions. After receiving a grant from the United Way Foundation, we recruited ten students from Howard High School to join the summer pilot program. We were fortunate to have access to Howard’s infrastructure and meeting space in order to connect our group of learners with the tools for a technologically driven program.
Through an intensive seven-week program, students studied the entrepreneurial toolbox of attributes, wrote business proposals, built and designed websites, and directed their own advertisements for their businesses. We fostered ideas ranging from the convergences of new designs for women’s fashion to a youth program constructed to help high school males realize their full potential. We helped students utilize their vocational backgrounds in projects such as redesigning a burger business and connecting a cooking passion into a highly effective working model. Through a rigorous trial and error process filled with self-learning and guidance from teachers, our students completed each stage of the curriculum producing a masterful business pitch by the end of the summer.
Through the SPARK team initiative, my students took ownership of their learning and built insightful business models from their ideas. By empowering them to connect their academic learning to their personal goals, our SPARK group experienced the type of learning that frequently occurs in the business world: consistent engagement with thought processes and the management of barriers. They floated ideas, learning from intermittent failure, and experienced the success that happens with hard work. The summer pilot was such a success that we are expanding it as a fall 2014 extracurricular activity.
For me, the experience highlighted an important area of growth without our community. With high dropout rates and very low college readiness in our city, we must recognize and indulge the potential inherent in cultivating “real world” knowledge in our teens. Our high school students are eager to gain insight and exposure into professions that make their daily study relevant and critical.