After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans became an epicenter for eager teachers ready to roll up their sleeves to make a difference. Meghan Mekita, an eighth-year teacher at Cohen College Prep, wants to help maintain that energy. She hopes to sustain local enthusiasm for the profession and ultimately, provide another quality teacher pipeline into New Orleans schools with the help of a Tiny Fellowship from 4.0 Schools.
The Tiny Fellowships are designed to support people with bold ideas to improve education through a slow, but steady progression of idea design, validation and testing with robust supports, coaching and $10,000 seed money.
4.0 Schools named the fellowships “Tiny,” not because the outcomes of the program are by any means small, but because the entrepreneurs involved are empowered to make their ideas real in small increments without needing to make gigantic life changes, like quitting their jobs or moving to New Orleans, where 4.0 is headquartered.
Raphael Gang, 4.0 Director of Pipeline and Pathways, explains, “Tiny makes the innovation process a gradual one so that fellows can test ideas, get feedback from the people they want to serve, iterate the process, grow a little bit and repeat. So, when fellows are ready to quit their day jobs, they already have validation, customers and a built skillset. They aren’t just flipping a switch; they are truly prepared.”
That is precisely what Tiny Fellows, and still practicing classroom teachers, Meghan Mekita and Kennan Scott are doing: slowly, but meticulously, moving toward success.
With the support of the Tiny Fellowship, Meghan has piloted NOLA Future Educators, a program that exposes high school juniors and seniors to the teaching profession by empowering students to shadow a practicing teacher for approximately four hours a week.
Through shadowing, and the gradual progression of leadership duties that culminates in teaching a mini-lesson, Meghan hopes to “attract the best and brightest from the New Orleans community to commit to teaching.”
The program pilot finishes this school year and has successfully set multiple students on a path to becoming teachers. One NOLA Future Educator had planned on attending a two-year college. Instead, because of her participation in the program, she has applied to a four-year college to pursue a degree in education.
NOLA Future Educators is expanding to an additional school next year and is in the process of becoming an incorporated non-profit.
Like Meghan, Kennan Scott identified a problem and set out to solve it with the help of a Tiny Fellowship. Before becoming a teacher, Kennan was a transit engineer in the Bay Area but bumped up against “barriers to success” and “feelings of isolation” as the only person of color in his experience of the profession. He knew there were talented young people of color who should be working beside him, but that they weren’t gaining access to quality STEM education.
Inspired by his mother, who is an educator, Kennan left engineering to become a teacher and now teaches computer science in a West Oakland, California, middle school.
He discovered what makes him tick. “Figuring out ways to make learning exciting for students is my passion,” says Kennan.
The Tiny Fellowship is helping Kennan accelerate his commitment to making STEM come alive for students by supporting his efforts open a public charter school.
Through CODEd Academy, slated to open in 2019, Kennan hopes to bridge the racial gap he witnessed firsthand in the STEM workforce by “diversifying the tech pipeline” and “preparing a diverse student body, particularly students of color, for the wealth of technology related jobs in the Bay Area.”
Both Kennan and Meghan credit the 4.0 Schools Tiny Fellowship with giving them the space, tools and supports to make their visions for improving education a reality.
“I’m a pretty conservative person, and 4.0 wants you to call yourself an entrepreneur. I had a hard time seeing myself that way in the beginning,” says Meghan. “The 4.0 Tiny Fellowship changed that. They’ve guided me to take little and large steps—at just the right time. I don’t think my program would be expanding without them. They made launching and executing on NOLA Future Educators feel manageable. Now, I truly believe every high school in New Orleans needs this program.”
“I love 4.0 Schools,” Kennan adds. “They’re like my family, as well as my coach. Innovation and entrepreneurship is like a boxing match. You must get back up to fight another battle, every day. The 4.0 team members are the most amazing corner coaches.”
Photos courtesy of NOLA Future Educators and CODEd Academy.