Nothing surprises me anymore.
Pushing the limits has been a theme at Katherine Smith since our reinvention back just over two years ago. We have been committed to bringing the most innovative learning experience to our students. Using project-based learning and a “No Excuses” attitude, we want our students involved in meaningful learning experience while developing the skills to be successful in an ever-changing world.
Over the past year, we hosted over three hundred visitors from across the globe, but one tour led to a unique and innovative opportunity for our students. When the Edcite team came, their observations and feedback were the same as so many others; everyone comments on the high quality work and high level of student engagement. For Edcite, they saw something different–an opportunity.
Somewhat of a perfect combination of events led to a first of its kind elementary internship.
As a project-based learning school, it’s extremely important to keep teaching and learning relevant. Our best projects are where the students are contributing to the solution of a real problem. We often bring in experts like guest speakers or industry professionals to support our projects with feedback and expertise from the field. For example, a 6th grade coding project brought computer programmers from Microsoft and EA Sports or a stray animal project called for a veterinarian to speak to kindergartners. For a while, I thought that was what “internship” looked like for an elementary school. Instead of sending students to the workplace, the workplace came to the students. It was through a professional development opportunity where that began to change. A few of us were doing some online work, and one of the week’s topics was internship. Like so many programs, they were talking about junior and senior level high school students. Hearing the firsthand accounts from them to get to do real projects for real companies made me want to figure out how to get that for our elementary students. Bringing in experts was just not enough.
At about the same time, one of our teachers met the Edcite team and after touring the campus, we began meeting about a potential partnership. The idea of an elementary internship was born. Giving our students the chance to use their skills to do real work for a real company was first and foremost the greatest draw. There was also incredible appeal to work with the Edcite team because both of our organizations shared an idealist vision to make the world a better place.
I’ve always said, stress can be a good thing if it has a positive outlet. The entire process has supported that. From the beginning when we asked eight to eleven year olds to apply for a job, or when we put students in front of a panel of adults for an interview, or when we asked them to do real work for a real company, our students have felt real stress, and they have felt real success.
Again, nothing surprises me anymore. I’ve grown to accept I don’t truly know the limit of our students’ potential. But what I do know is to provide them the opportunity, and they will rise to the challenge.
Aaron Brengard (@brengard) is the principal of Katherine Smith School, a public, neighborhood, elementary school in the Evergreen School District in San Jose, California. Katherine Smith is a New Tech Network School, a No Excuses University School, and a partner with Buck Institute for Education. In his fifteen years in teaching and administration, Brengard has been a strong advocate for bringing innovative learning approaches to underserved populations.