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.

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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.

I…

  • 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.

 

Last Hurrah

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(Precursor: I wrote this post last Sunday night with the perspective of just getting back to school after break; however, I wanted to wait to post it until I finally gathered at least a majority of my favorite pictures so that I could upload a slideshow to later look back at. That took longer than expected to put together, so just use those creative imagination skills to pretend this post is being read the last night before school starts after a two week break from classes.)

I feel like these past two weeks have flown by. Interim and spring break have both been amazing, but now I really don’t feel ready to go back to sitting in a classroom for seven hours a day. Traveling around the world is a much more enjoyable way to get completely exhausted; I mean, I’ve barely even had any time to blog because of how many nights I got to spend exploring new places and hanging out with friends and family. I’m still trying to process that two weeks ago I was in France and two days ago I was coming home from Jamaica. And yet what seems even crazier still, in two months I graduate high school…

While taking a ride up the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower a few people mentioned “Wow, this is really our last hurrah together,” but it didn’t fully hit me until now just how true this was. Teachers and students both have been saying throughout the year, “We just have to make it until spring break.” Well, spring break is over. Now what?

Now we go back to classes. Hear back from those last few colleges. Maybe get nominated for a scholarship. (I’m actually a finalist for the Georgia Tech Stamps Presidential Scholarship and, because college work doesn’t take a break, I attended a two day overnight event this weekend with the other 114 finalists, and I find out on Friday if I’m a scholar; fingers crossed!!!) Then we have Prom, the last few theater performances and sports events, decision day, exams, the honors assembly, and then it’s over. Four years later, and high school is officially weeks away from being over.

When we reached the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking down felt similar to senior year: like we were on top of the world. Up top we couldn’t see the chaos of the streets below, we could only see the bright lights shining through the night. At the end of a journey it’s important to remember the times where you struggled, but at the end it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate all of the shining moments.

At the top of the tower, lots of pictures were taken to capture the fleeting moment. As senior year comes to an end, sometimes I’m ready for it to all just be over, but other times I wish we could spend just a little longer capturing and living in these happy moments.

“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.

Community of Learners

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It’s always such a relief to meet with an entire conference of learners who really see the world of possibilities that lies in the future of education! These past few days I have had the immense joy of attending the Pioneering Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined here in Atlanta, Ga. I was blown away by the people in attendance so much that I needed to take a day before blogging to really process everything.

C10L7mtWEAIktyS.jpgIn my own words, the PioneeringLab is a gathering of educators (of all ages) from learner-centered environments that come together for inquiry sessions around major components of the education transformation movement. What I attended this past week was the training for this lab. The purpose of the training (also in my own words) is to prepare learners for the lab itself by establishing a common understanding of language to use within the learner-centered community.

Having common language is really important for a movement, because if I tell you “x” is a dog and another person tells you “x” is a giraffe, then you will end up just being confused as to what “x” really means. In the world of transformational education, there are lot’s of different words that get used, so the Pioneering Education community has done some intensive ontology and semantics work to create a lexicon which distinguishes key elements of a learner-centered environment. Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 11.24.14 PM.png

After the close to 24 hours I spent with the attendants of this training, I have come to realize there isn’t really a “short way” to distinguish what these words do and don’t mean in a way that feels satisfactory. While I could try (and have in fact practiced explaining to others during role playing exercises at the training itself), I would prefer to use this space to reflect on what I learned rather than just summarize it; however, here is a link to where you can read more about the context of these words in a learner-centered paradigm.

One of the important distinguishes I learned that I will discuss though, is about the differences between a network and a community. In a network people are connected through one to one relationships because each person has an interest in being connected to the other. A network is similar to a web in this case because not everyone in the network necessarily comes into contact with others. Jack might know John, and John might know Sally, but that doesn’t mean Jack knows Sally. A network is great for solving one time challenges/problems like finding a job based on who knows who; however, a network is not very helpful when trying to do something that requires a lot of people to accomplish a task that will have many little challenges arise throughout the process, like trying to build a house. -This is where a community is required.

1280x960.jpeg.jpgIn a community, individuals elect to contribute their gifts to some greater purpose/task/challenge. A community requires synchronization, timing, and nurturing from others in the community in order for a product to be created, but really the bonds formed amongst community members are just as important as the final product. A community can build a house.

This particular distinction really stuck with me because I know that I personally have used the words network and community interchangeably in the past because I had never found thought about the differences. After this training I now realize that these words have very different meanings.

I believe I have been involved in this movement since my sophomore year of high school in 2014. But I’ve really been involved on more of a network level. I’ve connected with people through Twitter and connections from my school. However, I think now I’m finally starting to feel a real part of the community outside of my school. Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.06.42 AM.pngI’ve been blogging, facilitating, and speaking with groups of people for the past three years; however, in this past year, since the summer really, I’ve begun to find myself working with more teams of people with an intent to make change outside of just my own school. I didn’t fully realize this until the last few days, but it’s crazy to think how much has changed since my sophomore year. Now I show up at conferences already knowing and working with some people!

Now to be a tad backwards and give some background context, I came to this training because I am passionate about the movement to transform education due to my own first hand experiences with how different forms of education can effect learners. I dream of the day where every student has the opportunity to experiance learner-centered education because I know it has changed me for the better. It has made me feel more confident in myself, passionate for those around me, and empowered to enact change now rather than waiting to get to the “real world” after graduating.

Furthermore, I came to this training because I believe it is vitally important to include student voice in this movement because students are one of the primary users of school.

When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world. – The Life of Pinya; The Movement: Transforming Education

I was thrilled that out of the 70 some people at the training, there were about 14 young-learners in the room; I’m ready for even more! Sometimes when wanting student voice, adults gather a group of only young-learners to discuss education transformation topics. While I love speaking with a large group of young-learners, when adults are still in the room there is still this power struggle with the idea that the adults still have the superiority in the room. Something I loved most about this experiance was that everyone-no matter age- was treated the same. There was no separation of groups by age, there were no limits on talking either because C1vNnIzXAAAyjjq.jpgyoung-learners felt overpowered or because adult-learners were prohibited from talking, there wasn’t even the specific placement of more or less of one aged learner at a table. The balance is starting to become more equal, and it was extremely powerful! It was evident by the way conversations were held that no one felt limited by their age to participate or felt forced to hold the pressure of representing all of the student voice by their self.

I personally hope to continue to empower more young-learners to be involved in the movement, because it’s always helpful to have some smaller people in your community in order to hold up the part of the house wall that’s closer to the ground.

The Future is Here

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For the past four years, and even longer than that really, the year 2017 has been talked about as this mystical year in the future. This great year that we’ve worked so hard to get to. The year I turn 18. The year I graduate high school. The year I go to college. The year so much changes.

It’s always seemed so far away; a distant future. The end of the line and the beginning of a new era.

Now it’s only hours away.

2017, the year of my future is so close I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that I turn 18 in a mere two days and I graduate in a few months and I go to college in less than a year. So much is about to happen in my life, so much that has been talked about for all of the years of my existence.

Everything has always been “leading to 2017”- well now it’s here and not slowing down.

First semester has gone by so fast. Life has been crazy to say the least. Between home, school, work, and friends there has been a lot going on. (So much that I’ve not been able to blog nearly as much as I’ve wanted due to so many late nights…)

I’m told that second semester goes by even faster for seniors. After accounting for breaks, trips and events, and senior work days, there are hardly any school days left for seniors. Graduation is just around the corner and sometimes I feel incredibly ready, and other times I feel incredibly not.

But 2017 will come all the same. It is here. It is now. It is time. Image result for 2017

Time for 2016 to be over and time for things to start changing. The new year is here; class of 2017, good luck, because our future has arrived.

 

Handing Over the Baton

There have been a lot of wins and stressful moments in the past week. So many that I was up till about 1am every night last week working on last minute preps for some sort of presentation.

While I have many blog posts I want to catch up on, including a portfolio entry on my latest pitch with the reMoVe10 team (coming soon!), it is finals week so I have little time for blogging at the moment. However, I just had to write about how sad I am to have run tech for A Christmas Carol for the very last time tonight.

For the past 3 years I have been helping my director with his one man show every winter, by running sound for this incredible production. We’ve had over a dozen performances and it’s been an amazing experiance on and off show time. The memories we’ve made between going out to dinner and walking around exploring the little towns we perform in, are unforgettable. Every time I see the show I am amazed with how he manages to become so many characters and memorize so many lines, and yet he does it without fail every year.

I’ve spent 27 hours volunteering this winter alone, and I wouldn’t have traded a single minute to do anything else. It was an amazing experiance learning from the best and getting to know more about the work techies do behind the scenes.

It’s been a great three years but now we’ve trained our apprentices and it’s time to hand the baton off to the next team of MVPAllStars.

 

The Value of Design Briefs

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This year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.

After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.

This is my first time working on a Design Brief and I have had the pleasure to work with a team of 3 other ID members as we work with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic by 10 percent. Working with an external client has been a big change for me because the last two years I’ve found myself working on projects that were primarily driven by student observations in our school community. While it’s been awesome to be in an environment where I’ve been supported to tackle problems that I helped identify, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of getting to work with a client this year.

My team has already had 2 client meeting check ins signifying that we are officially halfway to our big deadline date where we will be meeting with a council of members from the City of Sandy Springs. This being said, I felt like it was a good time for me to reflect on a few of the benefits I’ve identified since working on a Design Brief:

  • Time Management: We get to co-create deadlines, but have to be firm on meeting those deadlines because we can’t just email our clients the day before a meeting saying that we haven’t met our deliverables and need to push back a deadline. I’ve had to further develop my time management skills in order to create and meet deadlines for this project which has proven to be helpful in all aspects of my life.
  • Craftsmanship: When working with an actual organization there is a higher standard of work that we have to meet. Most organizations haven’t used students as a consultants before, therefore, we have to prove that we are worthy of being worked with. We want to present work to our clients that is at least as good as the work they would be getting from adult consultants. I’m happy to say that so far, our clients have consistently been beyond impressed with our work!
  • Confidence: It’s one thing for my parents or teachers to say that I did a good job on a piece of work that I presented, but they practically have to say that every now and then because they have a personal connection to me. But when a client from outside of the school says that my work was inspiring, that makes me feel more confident in my capabilities and makes me strive to constantly strive to take on bigger challenges.
  • Spreadsheets and Google Maps: I’ve learned a lot of very specific skills that I didn’t expect to learn while working on this project. I have been learning how to use Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps to help create visual representations of data we have. I’ve ended up creating a dozen of maps, graphs, and tables and have learned a lot about how to use these tools.
  • Communication: As project manager I have been the point of contact for all of our external experts ranging from our clients to parents in the community. This has required me to practice my communication skills in the form of email, twitter, and blogging amongst others. I’ve noticed especially with emailing that I’ve been able to draft emails that require less editing each time over the past few months which has been very tangible evidence of my growth.

I’ve grown a number of skills through this project work, but I think what I find to be most impactful about my Design Brief work is that I actually want to work on this project. Everyday I go into ID feeling excited and motivated to work because I know the work we are doing is actually going to make a difference in the lives of hopefully hundreds of people. That’s a huge deal, and more than I can say about most of my core classes. This Design Brief is meaningful work, and, therefore, I feel even more driven to do everything in my power to be successful in producing high quality work. I can’t wait for the day when it becomes the new normal for everyone to be doing this kind of “real world work” as their “school work.”