Students from eStem Public Charter High School in downtown Little Rock spent Friday morning pitching startup ideas devoted to applying a little innovation to the current educational model.
The students walked the three blocks from their school to the ARK Challenge space across from the Statehouse Convention Center on East Markham, where 15 teams of students pitched their ideas before peers and a panel of judges.
Noble Impact is a nonprofit launched in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service that teaches students entrepreneurship through public service. It is now a part of the eStem cirriculum.
EAST Initiative is the Little Rock-based nonprofit whose educational model focuses on technology through service-learning programs, serving more than 200 schools in five states.
Making up the i2e judges panel were Deedra Wilson, host of Education Matters on KARK-TV and anchor of Fox 16 Good Day; Cory Biggs, special projects coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Education; and Jonathan Dunkley, director of operations for the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
The 15 ventures pitched ranged in diversity from an online grading system to a program designed to introduce life skills and time management into the school cirriculum, but they each were tasked with introducing innovation into the current national educational model.
The winning team was a student startup venture called Stay Comfy, which aims to transform classroom design and increase student engagement by — for example — replacing traditional desks with bean bags. Stay Comfy team members are Sophie Bryant, Bethanie Gourley, Emerson Smith and Lady Flores.
Second place went to a team called Student to Student, students helping students achieve success, and third place was awarded to Steering Arkansas, which would introduce a 3-D driving simulator into schools for teenagers learning to drive.
The students’ choice award went to MACKM Education, which would introduce a more individualized cirriculum into education.
John Bacon, CEO of the eStem system, said the Innovate 2 Educate event represented a unique high-school experience. The idea for the event was hatched by students in the Noble Impact program just two weeks ago, when classroom discussion centered around a recent newspaper article that reported just 67 Arkansas public schools were designated as “achieving” out of almost 900.
Students decided to do something about it, and planned and organized the event themselves. EAST Initiative students at eStem were brought in to help. Many of the i2e teams pitched ways to improve teacher-student communication and improve student engagement.
“We need to come up with a way to create more dialogue between students and teachers,” Bacon said, noting that the i2e event was an example of how students can change the future.
The judges came away impressed with the pitches. Biggs said it was “exhilarating” to see students thinking outside the box in such a way and rejecting the traditional teaching structure in a respectful way.
He credited the ARK Challenge and Innovate Arkansas with helping spur entrepreneurship in the state.
“This next generation is getting a taste of it early,” he said. “If they can stay engaged, there’s a really bright future ahead for Arkansas.”
Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson said the event served as an example of what can happen when students are given “permission” to help shape their future.
“This sends an important message that there’s a seat at the table for them, and that their perspective on how to change education is vital to the process,” he said. “These kids are savvy.”
He credited the Stay Comfy team with identifying a problem — students becoming less engaged in traditional classroom settings — then applying research and coming up with a solution.
Greta Kresse, an eStem sophomore and member of the Steering Arkansas team, said it didn’t take long to identify an area of improvement once the i2e event was planned and given the go-ahead.
“Arkansas has the 7th highest teen crash rate in the country,” she said. “And driver’s ed is not required in Arkansas schools. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”