You may recall from our October Q&A with FUSE Fellow Parker Thomas that he probably has the most interesting one-year assignment imaginable: creating a maker education platform for Fremont’s schools and the community at large with the goal of building the workforce pipeline for advanced manufacturing. For the last two months, Parker has been on a listening tour, interviewing close to 100 educators, parents, companies, and community partners. Luckily for us, Parker has been documenting his journey in a series of blog posts. His most recent “update to the tribe” can be found here, with key excerpts below.

FUSE Update December 2017:

I’m eight weeks into my listening tour and starting to shift from listening to synthesis. In doing so, the pieces of the puzzle are becoming clearer.

Puzzle Piece 1: There are pockets of innovation all over the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD). For example:

  • Kristin Berbawy’s classroom at Irvington High School is filled with drones, material sorting machines, and other projects that kids create inside and outside class. We explored how she might coach others interested in doing similar work.
  • Dana Graham’s sixth graders at Warm Springs Elementary hold an annual college fair. In conducting their own research and presenting about what makes each school unique, they learn about colleges and how universities link to their own aspirations.
  • Charlie Brucker at Mission San Jose High School creates field trips for his AP Computer Science students to technology companies all over Silicon Valley. And interestingly, many of his contacts at the companies he visits are his old students.

In fact, in virtually every meeting with educators, I find some innovation that would be valuable if spread across FUSD. What surprises me is that these efforts are not equally distributed. It’s not related to the socioeconomic background of the students or the quality of the school. Rather these innovations are the results of irrepressible teachers determined to do what’s best for their students.

This leads me to think that we don’t need to create another program or “maker” curriculum. Rather, we need to create a framework so that these organic ideas from the people closest to the children can be nourished, scaled, and focused on larger problems.

Puzzle Piece 2: There are amazing community-based programs that would be thrilled to plug into FUSD. Many could help with “creating an HR Pipeline for Advanced Manufacturing.” For example:

  • — This Bay Area organization has a list of 2,800 companies eager to help kids learn about the professional world through talks, internships, shadowing, and other programs. It’s also free.
  • — Similarly, Gladeo is a non-profit dedicated to inspiring and helping young people discover, navigate, and achieve their dream careers.
  • — Among other programs, Pilot City helps companies package real-world business problems in a way that is accessible to students.
  • — LRNG works with cities and organizations to create “roadmaps of learning” so that students can connect to career opportunities.

These are just a few of the many that I have uncovered. In fact, every time I have a “Wouldn’t it be cool if …?” inspiration with an interviewee, I’ve been able to find a program that already exists. Here again, we need to make it easier for FUSD — and teachers and students — to access these programs, experiment, and evaluate how they work. I’m not saying that the solution to the Fellowship is simply connecting to outside organizations (it’s more complicated than that), but above all, we should not replicate effective programs.

Puzzle Piece 3: Business Involvement

A common narrative is that businesses don’t want to be involved with schools. But I’m finding that not only is the opposite true, but the companies are already involved in creative ways. For example, Pier 1 and IBM support the cybersecurity program in Hector Albizo’s classroom. And it’s not just large companies with enormous resources. Gemmo, a startup with only three people, has created an internship program for five students. Schmartboard, another three-person company in Fremont, donates time and materials to the Ohlone College Stem Day every year (among others).

So this leads me to a hypothesis: When companies are asked to be involved in a time-constrained, resource-constrained way that fulfills their business needs, they generally say yes. Companies large and small want to be good corporate citizens and have a hand in shaping their workforce of tomorrow.

Puzzle Piece 4: Parents and the Broader Community

Programs like the Fine Arts Mini Experience (FAME) program at Warm Springs Elementary and the Science Docent program at Mattos Elementary provide a way for parents to engage with schools in a manner that respects time and resources. Those programs are oversubscribed, meaning that the company hypothesis could extend to parents as well.

The overall challenge is this: how can we create frameworks for companies and other outside organizations to engage in an approach that meets their needs and the needs of teachers and students? Finally, how can we do this in a way that is sustainable over the long term and truly differentiates Fremont?

What do you think? Next, I’ll be exploring the question, “What does it mean to prepare kids for ‘advanced manufacturing’?” In the meantime, you can check out the new Fremont Learning Network website for the latest information — including a calendar of events and resource listing. While you are there, be sure to subscribe to the regular newsletter.