By Katie Boody
I found myself alone in a hotel room on the fringe of UCLA’s campus one drizzly morning last January to face one gnawing fact: after five years of teaching in high-needs urban public schools, a job I had absolutely loved, I was completely burnt out. Burnt to a crisp.
I was burnt out because after five years of 80 hour work weeks, endless “I do, we do, you do” lesson planning, copying and collating, Saturday tutoring, new curriculum initiatives, and behavior management plans, the needle of student achievement in KCMO education had barely moved. Overall, I wasn’t convinced that our kids in KC schools were any better off in 2014 than they were in 2008 when I first stepped into the classroom, or in 2004, when I graduated from an area high school. This was maddening.
Ultimately, this slow change is what drove me to hop on a flight to Los Angeles to participate in Startup Weekend EDU — an opportunity to create new, bold solutions that could redefine education.
In Kansas City, our "startup" scene has been consistently growing, yet this growth means little in the world of education. Just the word “startup” sounds intimidating to my teacher brain. The word “startup” conjures images of new, unproven and uncertain technologies, hungry “venture capitalists” (whatever those are), and a ruthless for-profit industry. "Startups" sound threatening.
In education, disruptive innovation is rarely discussed. We watch everything else in our daily lives get “disrupted" — Snapchat undercuts Facebook and Instagram as a more agile way of communicating in images. AirBnB and Uber disrupt many a brick-and-mortar-business in favor of a new “sharing economy.” In education, however, we’re slow to change.
In fact, educators often repeat the same methodologies (often a century old and deceptively coded as “best practices”) over and over in hopes of different results — despite the fact that we seldom see different results. By-and-large, poor, minority students lag behind more affluent peers, and the United States continues to fall behind other industrialized nations in critical thinking and student achievement. Yet we continue to perpetuate the use of stale, and often, ineffective models.
Enter: Education Reform. It wearily arrives and re-arrives in the shape of politicians and ideologues waging wonk wars — empty ballot initiatives threatening to remove teacher tenure or tie evaluation systems to student achievement. There are new funding formulas, bonds, levies or the re-drawing of district boundaries. However, we very rarely question education at its core. We very rarely ask ourselves, as educators, what it means to live, learn, and teach in the 21st century.
I arrived in Los Angeles at Startup Weekend-EDU because I was at the end of my rope. In 54 hours, my hope in education was renewed.
Friday night, I was surrounded by over 100 entrepreneurs, educators, and leaders in education, each pitching new ideas to improve teaching and learning. Their ideas ranged from apps to gamify positive character traits in students, to public maker spaces for kids, to new methodologies in teaching foreign language.
I had the good fortune of meeting Luz Rivas, an MIT and Harvard-trained engineer, and Marina Gonzalez, a local college counselor. Luz had founded her own non-profit startup to teach urban L.A. girls technology and engineering skills. Through the next 54 hours, we were supported, encouraged, and prodded by Joey Aquino, facilitator of the event, and folks from the education innovation world (shout out to Christine Ortiz, founder of Ampersand School, and the guys at Smartest K-12) to create and pitch a new education venture by Sunday afternoon.
We forged ahead as a team and ultimately created the yokyco.co kit, a set of tech tools for kids. We pitched on Sunday to a room full of education innovators and leaders. We won first place. I went back to Kansas City full of hope.
I now realize that I traveled to Los Angeles in January of 2014 in search of renewal. I emerged from the weekend with not only a new sense of possibility for education, but also a new sense of community. I found, for the first time, others struggling with the same questions. I also found others committed to taking action. This is the experience we are bringing this month to Kansas City.
So join us, one year after renewal in Los Angeles, as we grow this community of like-minded folks willing to throw out bold, new ideas and see them through to action here in Kansas City — all in 54 hours.
**Since winning 1st place at SWEDU, Luz Rivas has continued to grow her non-profit, DIY Girls, while also launching the product we created that weekend, in a new version, under the new name kithub. Check out her work!