Launch of Innovation Academy

We began to realize that a lot of kids feel that they don't belong to a 'tech table'. Tech is for 'those kids', not us, we heard. Girls didn't feel that they belonged at that table. Kids of color felt that they didn't belong there either.

So we had to stop talking about tech.

But we did see their eyes light up when we talked about the possibility of solving problems - problems that they and their community cared about. Everyone wanted to be at that table.

As the summer was fast approaching we had to come up with another name and another structure – a program that could keep nurturing this learning process.

On May 18th, the anniversary of the Mount St. Helen eruption, we launched the Innovation Academy, our boldest experiment yet.

It was a Saturday. More than 150 people showed up at the Franklin High School auditorium: students, parents, community members. I kicked off the gathering by telling everyone that we were going to do something amazing that day.

We started by talking about who we were as a community - the Core Values that defined us. We crowdsourced these values and began to group them on a screen, identifying those key ones that appeared to be at the center of who we were.

We then asked people to reflect on those values and to think about areas of the community they would like to reimagine. Again, we put the crowdsourced ideas up on a screen. Then we grouped them together into major themes. Three emerged.

Now it was time to get to work. We defined three different spaces in the building. Everybody had to go to one of those spaces, depending on which theme most intrigued them.

In the spaces, we had set up discussion tables, each with an assigned facilitator and recorder. The facilitator led the discussion and the recorder would capture the ideas on a shared Google Doc. The team’s job: develop project ideas aligned to their chosen theme that would be pitched to the whole group.

When each table had around eight people, the facilitator asked everyone to introduce themselves and briefly explain why this theme was important to them. From there, the teams began to explore ideas for projects they might be able to prototype over the summer.

These discussions went on until lunch. During this time the teams had to select one project that they felt more strongly about and prepare a pitch for it. One caveat: the pitch had to be made by one of the students on their team.

After lunch, the whole group gathered back in the auditorium and the pitches were made, one for each table. Through a rudimentary voting system, interest in the projects was gauged and the top seven projects were identified.

The group then dispersed again, this time going to one of seven rooms where projects teams would be organized. These teams had to map out roughly what was needed for them to deliver their prototype in six weeks.

After a final gathering to reflect on the experience of the day, the Innovation Academy was launched. Each Saturday through the summer, the library of the high school would be open for the teams to meet in preparation for a demo day in front of industry professionals.

It was the beginning of a creative eruption.

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