Welcome to ID


This year marked the inaugural year for Mount Vernon’s Innovation Diploma. Those of us that participate in this program are part of a cohort that will work together throughout our high school years learning how to improve our skills as innovators while following our passions and pursuing our goals.

As the year has gone by, members of this inaugural cohort, self proclaimed as the Disney Cohort, have noticed a growing need to share our story with the community. To help make our story even more transparent, I will be doing bi-weekly updates about the work that is being done within ID beginning with this post.

It is almost the end of the year now, so we have already done so much in ID, like facilitating design thinking challenges at the CDC, partnering with design companies like Thrive, coaching at the Council on Innovation, and all the while discovering what we are personally passionate about. I don’t think I could possibly sum up all of the awesome work we have done into one post, but if you are interested in reading about some of our past experiances, we have a website updated by cohort members at innovationdiploma.com where you can always read more.

To keep things more recent, a team of 7 in ID has had a recent success in what we call a “coVenture,*” focused on innovating the space we work in so that it is a more flexible and creative environment. One of our phrases in ID is, “We’re not a class. We’re a startup.” We say this phrase because we like to conduct ourselves as a business rather than a typical class, so there aren’t grades or assignments given to us each week by a teacher; the program is co-created everyday by the students and teachers involved and we give real world feedback and assessments.

For example, in order to change anything about our current room, we needed to get approval from Dr. Jacobsen. This means that we had to pitch the idea to him, #realworldassessment,  but we aren’t just going to throw together a little powerpoint and present it once and be done; that isn’t how things work in a real world situation when you want to get things done.

We spent months researching businesses with innovative spaces and brainstorming how we would want our space to look. Then we went through an intense 3 week design sprint at the beginning of the semester where we completed 3 to-scale prototypes of how we wanted the room to look. From there, we narrowed down our team and decided on one prototype to continue working with and started formulating our pitch to Dr. Jacobsen.

We gave over 15 internals where we presented to our cohort, and sometimes others, in search of feedback on our designs and presentation skills. Then Friday, March 20, came the big day where we pitched to Dr. Jacobsen.

We had to practice our communication skills to even schedule this meeting. The first time we talked to Ms. Becker, his assistant, we had asked for a short amount of time and were not very specific about when we would be available to meet. Then when we told the cohort what we said, we got some feedback and went back to give her further details. Of course of all days, the meeting ended up being planned for the day when school was then canceled due to weather. This meant we had to keep in touch with Ms. Becker over Interim and Spring Break in order to reschedule our meeting.

In the end, everything worked out and we were able to pitch to Dr. Jacobsen this second go around, even though we are now behind schedule a little. To present we had our scale model, a sketchup model, and a powerpoint including a spreadsheet containing prices, which were all tools we learned how to use more efficiently over the course of the past year. We also had a room full of ID members as well as other students and teachers that were there to help support us and give feedback about the pitch afterwards.

I think the pitch went rather well. Dr. Jacobsen seemed very supportive of the idea, and he gave us clear feedback for what we should focus on next. Here is a summary:

  1. Our ship date** may be too ambitious.
  2. We need to think clearly about the wood finish and the aesthetics of the room, so that it looks and feels consistent with the rest of the school.
  3. We need to make sure we are thinking “big enough”, considering the new cohort members that will be joining us in years to come.

I’m ready and excited for the team to continue talking and for our conversations with Dr. Jacobsen to continue. We are currently in the process of working out our next steps, one of which is to finalize crafting our thank you and follow up email to Dr. Jacobsen and to continue moving our prototype along. We are all so thankful that these teachers could take time in their busy schedules to come listen to our ideas and it just keeps reinforcing to me how much our school values student voices and just how powerful and influential we can be. I think just hearing the positive feedback from “people high up” as we say, was such an accomplishment for us in this coVenture and in all ventures to know that student ideas can be taken seriously if you really put the time and effort into them.

This is the kind of meaningful work that really captures what is so special about what we do in the Innovation Diploma.


*We use the term “venture” because we find the word “project” to remind us too much of school where a teacher gives an assignment, you do the required work, present once, get a grade, then it’s done. Our ventures are meant to be continuous student driven passion work where we receive constant feedback throughout the process that doesn’t end with one presentation and a grade. The conversations continue as we explore topics either as an iVenture, coVenture, or adVenture. An iVenture is a personal venture while a coVenture is done with a team, and an adVenture would be a challenge/opportunity presented to us by someone other than ourselves.

**Just to clarify, “ship” is a term in a book we have been reading excerpts from called Linchpin, by Seth Godin. The idea of shipping is basically about the moving forward and finishing part to any project. You need deadlines because they force you to move forward with ideas instead of always ideating on them.


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