We Need Industry to Help Make Education Matter

I graduated from high school 20 years ago and never looked back . . . Until last fall when I started an unexpected journey that led me to find a solution for fixing education. What I learned can be summarized in the following video my team (at e-Mersion) and I produced for the Power2Work foundation.

Sometimes good things happen in unexpected ways. Last summer, I met with Dave Dahl and a couple of his friends at a coffee shop in Portland. Dave shared the story of how his life changed when he learned computer assisted drafting (CAD) in prison. By learning this skill, Dave discovered for the first time that he was teachable. With this discovery, he developed a strong desire to help others.

By the time he was released from prison, Dave now had the self-confidence and skills that allowed him to develop Dave’s Killer Bread and co-found the company that now makes the best-selling organic bread in the country.

This brief meeting among friends set in motion a clear mission to help others gain the skills that changed Dave’s life for the better. We decided the best way to do so was through a non-profit organization.

Through Dave’s generous donation, we launched the Power2Work Foundation (P2WF) and obtained 501(c) 3 not for profit status. As well as being a co-founder, Dave continues as an important outside adviser.

After launching the Power2Work Foundation, we set our sights on finding its target audience: Those in need of gaining marketable skills and work habits. Our search led the team to meet with many people, including employers, colleges, elementary, junior and high school educators and administrators, resource counselors and many others.

Here’s a video of Jane Comer from Sherwood High talking about the power the shop program has in helping disengaged students find purpose.

Through our journey we found the greatest impact would be in high schools where disengaged students failing to thrive in the traditional classroom either dropped out or at best graduated without a vision of a clear pathway to employment beyond high school.

Making the situation worse, because high school is not focused on work ethics and skills, these individuals are highly unemployable. With no vision, pathway or plan, many of these disenfranchised kids experience a life of marginal employment, existing on government programs, family assistance, or both.

These young adults are at the crossroads of life, where the cost of failure to the individual and society is very high. So we thought deeply as to how best to help these kids learn important skills and habits necessary to land and keep living wage jobs. We came up with the 5 Habits of work program. A summary of the program’s core principles are illustrated in the following videos:

Given the foundation’s skill-based focus, our first goal was to recruit high school shop teachers and industry partners. We believed the best outcomes would happen by recruiting teachers who were thinking out of the box about how to make an impact on students. This led us to some rock star shop teachers including, John Niebergall and Jon Dickover from Sherwood high school and Cory Toppa from Kelso high school.

Thanks to a federal grants and donations Jon Dickover and Cory Toppa started teaching kids to build houses and this past year, John Niebergall successfully outfitted over 30 Oregon, Washington and Alaska high schools with digital fab labs that include industry-standard software and state-of-the-art prototyping equipment.

With new equipment, these creative teachers (and others) have turned the shop program from a hobby class into mini-manufacturing facilities. The success of these programs has led to several student-run, school-based enterprises providing students with the real-life experience of designing, developing, manufacturing, and marketing scaleable products.

We saw how forward thinking teachers giving their students the freedom to work together to design and build products of value in high school fab-lab (shop) programs allowed these kids to learn valuable life lessons, skills and habits. We also saw how this type of program could get the disengaged students excited and involved.

After partnering with our team of rock star teachers, we discussed the types of projects that would get kids hooked on our program. In the discovery phase, Geekwire news featured a custom Seahawks amp Paul Allen commissioned for the Super Bowl. The article inspired the P2W team to launch what has become the Power2Play (P2P) guitar-building program. P2P is a skill based high school program providing CTE teachers all they need to teach students how to build custom electric guitars.

Here’s a video montage of the guitar building process:

Our first custom prototype guitar, ‘The Hawk’ is a tribute to Paul Allen and the Seattle Seahawks team and its fans, the 12’s.

The Hawk guitar represents many of our recommended career technical education enhancements for participating teachers and students. For example, the Hawk guitar grew out of a multi-school, foundation and industry collaboration between Sherwood and Kelso high teachers, staff and students, Jim Normandy of Normandy guitars, Shelby Spencer, the professional graphic designer that created and donated the Hawk design and the Power2Work Foundation.

By any standards, the P2P pilot program was a success as through it, a one of a kind professional quality guitar was designed and manufactured and met the goal of helping the disengaged student find purpose. One Kelso high student, on the verge of dropping out changed his mind when his teacher challenged him to help in the guitar’s design and fabrication. This student not only accepted the challenge, but made several significant contributions that improved The Hawk.

Power2Work is a 501(c) 3 Foundation. We exist to promote and facilitate skill based education and meaningful pathways to employment. We’re on a mission to help the disengaged become active learners with new found life goals and direction. Our approach includes training teachers to effectively challenge their students by providing them with more effective tools to get kids engaged.

We believe the best form of learning happens beyond the book, so we’ve created a learning environment based on real-world application. We are broadening the concept of educational success by helping students master practical work skills and principles.

Our education programs are built on adaptive modern technology. Our learning and collaboration technology partner is RISEcx. We enable teachers to easily administer and deliver personalized learning to their class and enable a collaborative multi-school project environment that emulates the way the world now works: The global supply chain.

We invite individuals, organizations and communities to work with us to help fix education and build the new economy of workers.

“You could have schools in the four corners of Oregon talking and building a guitar between them.” That’s cool! And what’s neat is that is the world our students live in … They must collaborate with people all over the world.”
– John Niebergall