Valued Learning Memories


I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 


Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.


fuse17 Here We Go!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s finally Fuse17 week!!!! That means dozens of educators from around the country have gathered at our school to learn about design thinking and how it’s applicable in the real world, including/especially within education. Plus, unlike a normal conference (says the 18 year old…), we get the joy of working alongside of 3 non profits as we go through a lap of the design thinking process.

I’ve been waiting all year for this event and am so glad it’s finally here and that we have such an amazing group of people gathered!!!

Now I’m really tired and should probably sleep seeing as tonight’s only day 1 of the 3 day conference. However, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on my already uncontainable excitement from day one, so I’m going to try to make this short, which is a struggle of mine.

Today was a day of really gearing up for the Moonshot of the conference. Participants started the day in a lab either dt101-Flashlab or dt102-Consultivation; these labs allowed participants to get an extra lap through the design thinking process (at whatever level suited their past experience) under their belt before we head into the big design challenge working with our non-profit partners. Then the evening was really spent diving deep into MoVe Talks where we heard from the various non profit organizations (GA Farmers Markets, Beds 4 Kids, and Love Beyond Walls) as well as some MVPS speakers who focused on how we use DT at MVPS for all ages in various capacities.

What really stood out personally for me today was to see how far we- MVPS, MVIFI, Innovation Diploma, even fuse itself- have come in the past four years. (I guess when you graduate you can’t help but spend the summer reminiscing on how much things have changed over time because it seems to be a recent theme of mine.)

Hearing the MoVe Talks today from MVPS people made me realize how many more stories we have to share than four years ago and how we have so many people that could give a MoVe Talk if needed, students included. We have 6 total Innovation Diploma members at fuse17 which is a much greater turn out than the last two years where we had about 3 max, and I’ve already been hearing so many comments about people being impressed by the students they’re working with or hearing from. And projects that ID has worked on over the past few years came up myriad times over the course of the day, which just goes to show that we’ve done some pretty awesome noteworthy stuff in the past three years.

Furthermore, facilitating the Consultivation session allowed me to experience and feel how far we’ve come.

This may sound odd, but there was an almost physical vibe about how comfortable things felt in terms of the DT process/facilitation/coaching going smoothly. We’ve facilitated dozens of design challenges in the past four years- yes I say we, I may only be a recent grad, but I have done my fair share of facilitating- and we are still constantly prototyping new ideas on how to run them, but today just felt so organic and there weren’t a million questions about, “Wait I don’t understand this, how do I use this tool?” It was great! (Wow that was a run on sentence, but I’m just so empowered right now that I can’t help but think and type faster than my poor grammar can try to keep up!)

I’m going to cut this post shorter than my normal reflections because I need to get some rest, because these next few days are about to be full of hard purposeful work- so obviously it’s going to be too much fun to want to spoil by being sleep deprived!

I Am a Designer

IMG_7447What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:


Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.

The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.

Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.

I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a #fuse15 MoVe Talkpurpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.

Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.

This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”


Why I Blog

For a girl whose lowest grades always came from English class, I never thought I would confidently call myself a writer. Then I assigned myself the challenge to start a blog and post for 100 days in a row after getting an “innovation bingo” card that was meant to give students like me ideas for ways to stretch our creative minds over the summer. The activities wouldn’t be graded and we weren’t required to do any of them at all, but I love a good challenge.

At first I was at a loss for what to write about, but I learned quickly that it’s best to write about what I know and observe. My first few posts still make me laugh because they were very short, hardly a few paragraphs, and each of them were about somewhat cliche topics. However, as many teachers often say, “The more you practice the better you get,” and over time my writing actually got better.

Much to my surprise I slowly got more followers as my writing improved; thought leaders from around the world are constantly commenting on my posts. I still just write about my daily observations, but my observations have grown more insightful. Furthermore, blogging has allowed me to learn more about myself and has opened me up to new opportunities.

Knowing myself is the first step to being able to better understand the world. Truthfully, I believe that K-12 education does not focus enough on students learning about and discovering their sense of self. My sense of self has developed immensely due to blogging because sometimes when I write and then read over my writing, I’m able to discern trends and tendencies about how I act and respond to situations better than I can otherwise. I can then hypothesize about my future self in situations based on these observations. I’m still discovering more about myself everyday, and it makes me excited—I wish more students got the chance to experience this. As I move forward in life, I hope to learn more about ways to help other kids learn more about themselves because that’s how we grow.

One thing that I have learned, is that I deeply desire to be a part of the movement to transform education. Students of today’s schools need to be prepared for jobs that are yet to exist, and a school that is still following the traditional norms of an Industrial Age school is simply not going to prepare kids to solve the problems of tomorrow. One way I have contributed to this movement is by learning about the process of design thinking, human centered problem solving, which has allowed me to see problems in my everyday life as opportunities for change and innovation. Over time, my blog has become more and more related to education transformation and ways that I believe we can blur the lines between “school” and the “real world” in order to give students authentic learning experiences that will help them throughout their lives.

 Blogging has given me a place to share my story in a way that allows me to easily look back and find trends and connections between my observations. And, on top of everything, I’m constantly expanding my network and being asked to participate in new opportunities. Writing helps us think, reflecting helps us grow, and sharing helps make the world a better place—blogging is all three in one! I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I know there’s much to improve on. But, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed a new confidence and appreciation for having the ability to share my own individual voice with the world.


What I Learned From the Class of 2017


It’s officially been a little over a week since I graduated high school and it’s still just barely sinking in for me. It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t actually gone an entire week without being at the school. Between picking up my siblings and attending meetings for various Innovation Diploma projects that I haven’t stoped even though I have the diploma now- still not use to saying that- I’ve kept myself busy around MVPS.

However, even though I can’t quite imagine it yet, I know that next year I won’t be waking up in my room on the first day of school and heading back to MVPS to see all of my same friends and teachers. And going through old pictures for my mom while at the lake this weekend has gotten me reminiscent of all of the great times I’ve had over the years with some amazing people.

(The 7 members of the GT Squad! Go Yellow Jackets!!!)

On more than one occasion the class of 2017 has been called the “greatest class yet,” as I’m sure all of the years before us have been told. Despite whether or not our class really will be harder to beat than the years before us, I believe that there is something “great” about our class and I’ve been trying to figure out just what that is and I haven’t been able to narrow it down to one thing. So I wanted to share the top 5 things that I’ve been most grateful to learn from the class of 2017:

  1. Motivation from Healthy Competition
  2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life 
  3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True 
  4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 
  5. The Importance of Giving Back 

1. Motivation from Healthy Competition

Any teacher who has ever taught the class of 2017 knows that we have always been a highly competitive class. It’s not particularly “normal” for a group of students to turn a simple history debate project into a full blown mock trial complete with costumes and an audience of students and teachers from other classes, but this Mongol trial is still one of my personal favorite projects to talk about because the competitive nature we had made the project more enjoyable and helped me better learn the material. We’ve even called ourselves the Mongol Grade because we learned to love that period of history so much and believe we are often “the exception” to many school norms.IMG_1875.JPG

While this kind of competition has undoubtedly caused some tension at times, healthy competition has helped make learning fun for me over the years. My peers have pushed me to work harder and strive to do my personal best. I’m never going to lie and say that I have found 100% of my schooling thus far to always be fun and engaging- I may be an odd nerdy kid who enjoys learning but school has yet to get to that great a level even for me yet- however, when I wasn’t the most engaged, having my peers pushing me helped make school more enjoyable for me.

2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life

While competition has helped me try my personal hardest in school, collaboration is what allowed me to do constantly improve “my best.” The class of 2017 has been more than just a group of students working to get through k-12, we’ve been a family to one another. I remember when Google Docs first started to take off as a classroom tool, our grade took full advantage of the sharing capabilities. Back when everyone took pretty much the same classes, we would create study guides that practically the entire grade would help collaborate on in order to prepare for assessments. Our opinion was that everyone would have to study the same stuff, so if we all worked together to compile the information, it would make everyone’s life easier- and it did!CrDzAPtVYAAIVCE.jpg

This collaborative nature is evident not just in our school work, but also how we’ve bonded as a grade. During our Baccalaureate one of the speakers mentioned how there is no clear divide between “jocks” or “nerds” or “actors” etc, and that’s because everyone tends to get along with each other and help each other out. Members of other grades have often said that they were jealous of how close our grade has bonded over the years. This year we even maintained a group chat with the entire grade on it all year without anyone just spamming it into oblivion, which is an impressive feat for that large of a group of teenagers. It’s because of this kind of bonding that I know the class of 2017 will always be my family and though we may be moving far away from each other, I can count on these people to be there if I really need them.

3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True

I’ve had some pretty crazy ideas over the years, and while some people may be tempted to just say “Well that’ll never happen,” my peers have always been supportive to help make my crazy ideas into reality. For example, since freshman year I had been talking about how cool it would be to write an original show, and everyone always said it would be hard and take a lot of time, but no one ever said it was impossible to make happen. Sure enough, while freshman year might not have been the right time, I graduated having helped to write, direct, and perform an original show which wouldn’t have been possible if the idea wasn’t encouraged even back when I was just an ambitious, semi-clueless freshman.IMG_7671

This kind of positive spirit just makes life more enjoyable, and sure enough, we’ve been able to pull of some incredible things because of this “can do” attitude! The first step to doing the impossible is to dream of the impossible, which is truly impossible to do without supportive people by your side letting you know that anything is possible if you try hard enough. The class of 2017 has truly taught me to never let go of the childhood nature of dreaming like anything is possible, and that’s why we’ve been able to accomplish so many amazing things that get talked about as part of what makes us “great.”

4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 

The world is changing every single day and changes don’t happen without something first being questioned. Even schools are finally changing because of the people that are unafraid to question the norm. The class of 2017 is constantly questioning the norm and that’s why our class has been a part of making so many changes happen at our school. Members of our class participated in the first Council on Innovation where the Innovation Diploma started to further take shape. Members of our class were the ones to pioneer founding a student designed AP course. Member of our class helped prototype the maker space on campus. And I’m sure there are a number of other things that not only am I not mentioning, but somethings I probably don’t even know about that members of our class helped play an important role in.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 11.52.08 PM.png

Furthermore, we know that when you have a lot of questions about life, you need good mentors to ask your questions to. I’ve truly learned how important it is to not just ask questions, but to find someone who really is good at listening to questions. I have formed some incredible bonds with some of my teachers and peers whom I’ve had the privilege of calling mentors to me over the course of my years in high school, and I know others can say the same. I’ve learned when in life you truly just need to ask for help and thankfully I’ve found people that know how to listen and give advice, with the understanding that when they need advice, I can be that ear for them to rant to. Part of what I love about the class of 2017 is that we aren’t afraid of sharing the stuff that’s hard to talk about and it’s allowed us to form bonds with each other as well as people all around the school that will last long beyond the past 4 years; this is a big part of why I’ll miss my years of high school so much, and I imagine it’s a big part of why other students and teachers say they will miss us.

5. The Importance of Giving Back 

Last but not least, I’m so grateful that the class of 2017 has taught me how to really show how much people have meant to us. I can’t even count the number of times we have thrown parties for various teachers for birthdays, holidays, and farewells. We’ve gotten the nickname of “the stalker grade” over the years because we care enough to do some deep digging to figure out just the right gifts for people. Whether that means a video of pictures and an original song, a homemade grandmother’s recipe birthday cake, a signed copy of a favorite book, a video of a play we saw in France, a custom ordered hand sticked college bag, or a framed collage of inside jokes in the form of stickers, we have managed to put together some pretty great gifts for teachers where a bunch of us chip in to make it happen. I can confidently say they’ve been great because of the expressions on our teachers faces when they realize what we’ve done and it’s always wonderful to see someone you appreciate so much completely filled of joy.IMG_7509.jpg

Even our senior prank was so fitting of our grade because we were a tad annoying while also helping the community. We bought close to 300 cans at least and used them to block off the front entrances to the building, so while it was hard to get into the building that one day, our school went on to beat the all time record for the amount of cans donated to the Community Action Center by the end of the can food drive week. The class of 2017 has taught me how important it is to thank those that have meant a lot to you, and that’s why I never think I’ll be able to thank the class of 2017 enough for everything they’ve taught and done for me.

Thank you class of 2017 for being the greatest class a girl could ask to graduate with! You have all taught me so much, and while our time together may have come to a close, memories last a life time and I will never forget all we have learned together.


(And now for some of my favorite photos of high school…)


The Unpaved Path

C_egitqXkAAEVE4In two days I graduate…. That’s crazy. I’m a very nostalgic person, and, therefore, I have been doing a lot of reminiscing by reading old blog posts, emails, and in general having conversations with friends about the past four years of our lives. So when we decided that we wanted our ID seniors to give MoVe Talks to the younger cohorts and some admin as a way to share our parting advice, it didn’t take long for me to come up with the story I wanted to share.

Towards the end of sophomore year I wrote a blog post reflecting on some of my favorite memories of freshman year. In this post I questioned the idea of students walking on an already paved path, well this thought has now come full circle as I’ve learned through my work in the Innovation Diploma that the path unpaved is a path worth taking.

Below is the script I used for my MoVe Talk which is as close as I have to the exact words I used to attempt to impart this idea on to the younger cohorts.

“I could list a ton of things I learned from these experiences, but the grades don’t matter a smidge  to me (most of them didn’t even have real grades, but I still learned and enjoyed the moments enormously.) These stories I shared were all moments were I had incredible joy and also felt incredibly proud of my work because I took part in the creation of the end product and felt connected to the outcome; a teacher hadn’t predesigned what would come from the experience.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; if the teachers already have the path paved for the students, how will they ever learn to make their own path? “- Paving a Path; The Life of Pinya

Before I begin, I want everyone to close your eyes and imagine standing on a path in a forest. There is gravel and some large rocks, and it’s evident that people have walked this trail before. From where you stand you can clearly see the end of the trail.

Now turn to your left and right. There are trees everywhere and some flowers growing on the ground. There is no paved path in this part of the forest, but the unusual flowers and glimpses of multicolored light shining through the trees are intriguing. If you are pursuing innovative education practices, then you are in this unknown part of the forest and are pioneering a trail on the unpaved path.


This is me back in middle school, and today I want to tell the story of how I got from there (point to screen) to here (tada) because I’ve taken a fairly unusual path.

Back in 8th grade when this picture was taken, I was honestly pretty much your stereotypical try hard, nerdy, rule following student. In fact I won the award for highest gpa at the end of the year. I say this not because I feel like this award was all that important or because I want to brag about myself- I mean, it’s middle school let’s be real all of that is trivial in that regard- but I say this so hopefully you can better understand where I was coming from when going into high school.

My understanding of a successful student was someone who made all As, got a few awards, and then eventually got into a good college with scholarship money, and if you could become Valedictorian then you were really set for life.

At this point in my life, I was playing the game of school well and thusly believed I was on this path to success, and I was perfectly content with just that.

It wasn’t until freshman year that I started to believe that maybe there could be more to school.

Big History.pngNow some of you may recognize this picture because it’s a picture from the moment I describe as my clicking moment. The moment where I realized success in school could be so much more than just good grades, and realized that school needs to change in order to meet these new standards of success.

After participating in the 2013 Council on Innovation, I learned that I as a freshman had the ability to give advice and pitch ideas to community leaders that they actually valued. That was huge and stuck with me into my classes. In particular, freshman world history.

Here is where I believe my unusual journey begins.

Everyone in the grade had been tasked with the assignment of creating a project about whatever we wanted and would then present for 5-10 minutes anyway we choose fit. I had chosen a topic, but after a few days of working on the assignment I was getting frustrated because I didn’t want to just give a presentation of facts that anyone could easily look up online for themselves if they really wanted to know about it.

I talked to my teacher and after a few more days we agreed I needed a new topic, so instead we had the idea for me to present a project on “hmw redesign projects?”

C_jWuzOXYAAtNSR.jpgLong story short, I took this 5-10 minute project and turned it into a 45 minute lecture complete with a slide deck, prototypes, and 3 videographers.

This wasn’t the “normal” thing to do for my ideal path to success, which just made me even more incredibly nervous that no one would like it and it all would have been a huge waste of time and I would just fail the entire project. And I couldn’t tell you now what grade I made on that assignment, but I can say that it ended up being one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences of my high school career which meant more to me than any grade in that moment.

This all started with me questioning a teacher’s assignment. Now I’m not saying you should go off telling all of your teachers that you could make a better assignment than them, but I do believe one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you should never be afraid to ask a mentor for guidance if you feel like you have feedback that could help improve your school experience. Nothing will change that isn’t first questioned.C_jWuz8XYAAhWUT

As you can imagine, my path to graduation only got more unusual as I got older. For starters, I joined ID– a new vague program that promised to help nurture students into innovators. I jumped at the opportunity, but not everyone was quite as on board with the latest edition of Mount Vernon’s attempts to instill the mindsets in us.

To be honest, probably the hardest part of deciding to take an usual path was the social struggles I faced due to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you in here, especially the IDers who have been around for a little now, have at some point in time heard negative comments about ID, and maybe even felt like you were being offended because you are involved in the program. I know I did especially since I was around back during the dark ages when we really didn’t have much to show for ourselves and people tend to be skeptical of ideas without a proof of concept.

2014-09-12 14.49.57And this social tension around my path to graduation only grew when I got to junior year and made what many people believed to be an incredibly unusual decision for myself: I didn’t take all APs. (hu!!)

It is my belief that AP history courses are often trying to cover too much information in not enough time, and the content is a lot of reading and memorizing, and the writing is very dry and the AP doesn’t even require everything to be factual to get full credit. Thus I decided I would not take AP History because I didn’t feel interested in that kind of learning and would rather give myself more time to devote to attending education conferences, and working with community leaders, and talking to interested families about ID, and writing articles for magazines about education transformation, and all sorts of other projects that were truly meaningful to me because they beneficially impacted others.

However, this decision was still incredibly difficult for me because to me it symbolized taking myself out of the game.

Let me remind you that my vision of success basically meant the path to becoming valedictorian. Going into and early on in high school I truly thought that was what I wanted. But as many of you know, the class of 2017 is incredibly competitive when it comes to playing the traditional school game of grades, so by choosing to not take all APs, this also meant choosing to not be able to have as high of a GPA as my peers, and therefore I knew I would not be valedictorian despite originally being on this path if I made this choice.

DAH2mT5XsAAKMKvPeople, including some of my best friends, would tell me this was a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. They would say that I was too smart to not take all APs, or they would say that they didn’t get why I would take myself out of the running for val, or they would say that I was taking the easy option and I’d be less competitive to colleges, etc. etc.

And despite whether or not you are in the position to be the potential val of your grade, to some extent we can all relate to this struggle of wanting to maintain a good gpa for college and what not, but also wanting the time to work on things other than just grades.

I didn’t let the opinions of others influence me too much, and I’ve been very satisfied with my decision to drop AP History courses. And in general I have always loved and appreciated all of the opportunities I’ve had through ID, but I’m not gonna lie that I was often still nervous about what colleges would think of everything I’ve done because the scariest part about taking your own unpaved path is that you can’t possibly know how others will react to it.

How would they view a kid who didn’t take as many AP courses as others, who joined a new program with only two other graduates, who co-created her own non-traditional AP Lang class, and who took an independent study instead of the traditional economics course amongst other things?

But now I’m on the other side and I believe I’ve exceeded my original vision of a successful student.


  • Presented a MoVe Talk in front of over a hundred educators
  • Facilitated hundreds through design thinking Flashlabs
  • Participated in a week long experience with the Stanford d.School#fuse15 MoVe Talk.jpg
  • written 611 blog posts in not even 3 years, and created a network of over 250 people
  • Co-created and attended the first ever AP Course (approved by the College Board and the admin of our school) with a syllabus created by teenagers
  • been commissioned to write a number of magazine articles and guest on two podcasts about education transformation
  • Worked with the Center for Disease Control and the mayor of Sandy Springs
  • Co-led sessions at faculty meetings on “day’s off”
  • Pitched business ideas in a 3-Day Startup Program
  • Re-designed a classroom into an innovation studio
  • Changed the way 23 freshman experienced World History by forming the Design Team
  • and many more…

And now I am about to graduate with two diplomas which means not only can I say that I had all of these incredibly unique and fulfilling experiences, but I also believe I’ve achieved many of the “traditional school goals” as well.

I have had all As throughout high school, will be attending a well respected school (Yup it’s official go Yellow Jackets because I’ll be at Georgia Tech next year!!), got into a selective honors program, and even got a full ride scholarship!

Again my point to all of this isn’t to brag about myself, but for years when I talk about all of the innovative work we’ve been doing in ID in order to transform the “norm” about education, people have been asking me “Well where’s the evidence that this works? How do colleges and the ‘real world’ respond to this kind of thing?”

WScreen Shot 2017-05-18 at 10.32.51 PM.pngell I’m proud to say that I- we- can finally answer them. Even after having two graduates last year, it didn’t seem like enough of a statistic. But we are now about to have 6 total graduates from the Innovation Diploma program who have been highly successful no matter how you look at it, and that to me is a huge win for all of us. We have always believed what we are doing is great, and every year even more believe it too.

I feel more than prepared for college because I feel like I’ve been exposed to the real world all ready due to the choices I made to put faith in things that had never been done before.

So, I hope all of you remember that yes the path we educator pioneers tend to walk on that’s untraditional, unknown, un-”approved” can be scary because you don’t know how others will receive it, but don’t be afraid to question and take action about things you believe in because the chances are that others will believe in them too.

And even the unpaved path can be very successful in the school game if you work hard at whatever path you choose.  And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more empowered, fulfilled, and prepared for the next chapter of your life than you ever would have found possible without the Innovation Diploma.



A Babies First Steps: “I’m Fine”

IMG_7409.JPGWith the end of senior year rapidly approaching, I can safely say I have not had senioritous hit me. I have been working like crazy to the point where I haven’t been able to blog. However, tonight I don’t care what I’m procrastinating by taking the time to write this post because I’m so happy to have just made it through the most stressful day of my entire high school experience!!!

A year ago I asked the 5 other Thespians in my grade if they would be interested in working on a senior theater project. Little did they know when they agreed that we would end up writing, directing, and performing our own hour length show and putting the entire production side of the show together in under two weeks.

First semester we met once every other week for under an hour to work on writing the script which we then did a live read through of at the semester to get feedback on our work so far. When second semester rolled around, we still only really met on Wednesdays for an hour, but we decided we needed to come in every week not just every other. Then, once our spring musical, The Addams Family, closed, we had 8 rehearsals to put together the set, tech, and blocking for our show. Furthermore, only 4 of these rehearsals really had every cast member present.

Then today was the big day…

To be honest, our show was a mess even just this afternoon. Lines weren’t fully memorized, and transitions were sloppy, and our techies were just recently pulled into the show because we realized we needed more help and convinced some non Thespian seniors to help out. We barely finished by 6 and then sprinted to cars in order to try and grab something to eat before our house opened at 6:30. We had a small turn out, but a turn out none the less, and our nerves were higher than they had ever been for anything.

IIMG_7386.JPGt’s really hard to spend a hundred hours working on an art piece on controversial mature topics to then put it out in front of an audience for the first time. This show is about so much more than our acting because it’s about everything we had to do to bring the show to life, and it’s our final theater production in high school which is a big deal to all of us. We want to go out with a bang to show the culmination of all of our dedicated time doing what we love. For those people that come to see our show, I’ll admit it’s probably not the best show you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure more time would’ve helped the acting quality and stage relationships; however, this show is about so much more than just the acting, which is why we were even more nervous than normal.

I’ve grown to love our show like a baby, and it’s exciting and a little scary to see your baby take it’s first steps.

But today was the day to stand up because whether we wanted it to be or not it was preview night which means we did an entire run through for a live audience of parents and teachers– Man was I proud of the work that happened on the MVPS black box stage tonight!!!

IMG_7309.JPGNone of us felt like it was the performance of a life time, and there are definitely things that can and hopefully will be improved upon tomorrow and Thursday for our opening and closing night. However, like I said before, this was about more than the acting. This run through was the moment of truth to see if all of our hard work would pay off: could we really pull this off?

I think we did.

By the time we got to the last few scenes we knew we were going to make it through and were trying to hold in our excitement like a kid in a toy store who’s told not to touch anything. We had to keep going out into the cafeteria just to do a little happy dance so that we wouldn’t be too noisy backstage during the show because we just couldn’t contain our excitement.

We did it. We made it through smoothly. People enjoyed it! We made people think!!

I can’t imagine a better team of people to have been working with, and I’m so glad to have been a part of this process. I found myself doing lots of things I never had before from writing a script to crafting all of the light cues to thinking through marketing logistics, I really learned a lot from this process and am happy we put up with the stress it took to get here.

I’m still a little stressed and nervous, as one should be putting on a show, and especially one that you’ve directed… However, now I’m finally at a more normal show stress level where I truly believe it’s going to be something amazing, but don’t want to get over confident and not stay on top of my game.

Now we have two more shows left to really pull all of the bells and whistles together and truly make this show a show to remember. As my acro coach says, “The first time is to make sure you don’t die, now it’s time to do it for real with all you got.”



Oh How Far We’ve Come

C4y7nuiWMAMPqgN.jpgI always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.

C4zAo-fWYAEiFFd.jpgThe Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.

These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-12-14-06-amIt was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.

What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:

  • Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc. 
  • The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
  • Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
  • Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
  • Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.

These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to C3xAbL6W8AEW556.jpglearn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.

The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.C3xAbK4WQAALlIX.jpg

When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.  


Broadway Karaoke Night!

IMG_6648.PNGThis past week in general has been not so great but there was a light at the end of the tunnel: Broadway Karaoke Night! On a few occasions over the past year or so, I’ve had conversations with people about how fun it would be to have an event where we just sing a bunch of Broadway songs, but it had never happened. After winter break though, I decided this was my senior year, I’m president of the Thespian Society, and I wanted to make something happen, so this idea needed to be brought to life.

IMG_6645.PNGSo I met with various members of the performing arts team and pitched the idea to have a Broadway Karaoke night. The pitch was approved! Then we had three weeks to get this event together because we decided it would be good to make it happen sooner than later in case we wanted to make this a recurring event.

FullSizeRender-1.jpgI really wanted to make this a community event to bring together theater fans of all ages. So I reached way back into the alumni information we had to email theater people from long since, some whom I never even knew. Plus I invited lower schoolers, middle schoolers, and faculty that I know love singing Broadway because they have been in past upper school productions. Theater is a community no matter the age, we all gather together to perform the art we love. That’s one of the things I love about drama- you might have never met a person, but if you meet in the theater you immediately have something to bond over.

IMG_6644.PNGWe successfully had around 25 people come to Broadway Karaoke night!!! Including a 4th grader, a 5th grader, 3 seventh graders, 3 alumni, 1 former mustang, 4 faculty members, and a dozen or so high schoolers! The night was tons of fun as we ate Willy’s (a show week traditional meal) while watching some rehearsed and some clearly not rehearsed performances from some Broadway favorites like Wicked and Hamilton.We even had a few props and choreographed pieces thrown into the mix! It felt like a great success of a night, and knowing we didn’t sing so many great Broadway numbers and many people were sick, I think it only makes sense that we have another Broadway Karaoke night in the future!



“I’m Fine” Live Read Through

At the end of Junior year I had an idea about how I wanted to end my last theater season with the MVPAllstars. For my last year I really wanted to do a powerful show that left the audience contemplating life as they walked away.

A show like this requires a certain type of experienced cast though, so who better to perform it than all of the senior members of the Thespian Society?

I then talked to each of the other five senior Thespians at the end of last year about this idea of mine and everyone agreed, so to make sure we got this last theater moment, we formed “The Senior Theater Project.” Since the end of our junior year, the six senior Thespians have been working on writing, directing, and performing our own show and with first semester now over, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the progress so far.

Semester one was really focused on writing the script. We knew that we wanted a theme around identity, and after some summer interview work we were able to develop a clearer vision during our first semester meeting. The show is about the struggles that students face that don’t really get discussed at school or on social media; the idea is to demonstrate how much goes on in students lives that we don’t always know about.

At the end of first semester we had a live read through of our script in order to gain feedback about our story thus far. This was a hard goal to meet-having an entire script done to a point where we could share with an audience-and we even knew that it wasn’t finished when we presented; however, I’ve learned over the years how important it is to get feedback early on if you want the best possible final product.

Our team was working until the last second, literally creating the title, “I’m Fine,” for the show about 30 minutes before going on stage. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a complete story that made sense, and the feedback was amazing!

Everyone in attendance seemed to really enjoy the show and where it is headed, and on top of boosting our confidence, they also provided helpful feedback about things that they still didn’t quite understand and suggestions for our next edits. It was useful having outside people give feedback on our show, because those of us who have been writing the script have been so involved in the world of the show that we don’t know sometimes if we are showing enough backstory on parts of the story and characters.

Since then we have been continuing to meet and plan because we officially have less than 20 days of rehearsal left before we perform the show in full! It’s been a crazy process so far, and it’s insane to think how little time we have left. While the show doesn’t go on stage until April, we only meet once a week until two weeks before preview night so we’ve been trying to think through everything from blocking to set building to our photo shoot. (Sometimes I forget just how many little things have to happen for a show to be put on stage, but being the director and co-writer of a show makes that impossible to forget…)

However, despite how stressful it’s been at times to try to work on our show on top of school, college, and other theater productions, we all know that come this April when we take those last bows, it will all have been worth it. To be able to say that we created our own show and it actually went well, will be amazing! It’ll be even more amazing knowing how much work we have put into this brain baby of ours.