Innovative Solutions Driven By Community Influence

Almost exactly three years ago, I co-founded The Lean Lab on the heels of five years of teaching middle school math in Kansas City schools. After working alongside brilliant students, tenacious teachers and committed parents, I was faced with two critical problems keeping our city from being a world-class education community:

1.    Achievement and opportunity gaps were persistent in Kansas City schools. Simply put, students of color from low-income neighborhoods were (and still are) not getting the same opportunities at a quality education as their more affluent peers.

2.    In a rapidly evolving 21st century landscape, we weren’t using enough creative, imaginative teaching and learning methods to close such gaps or prepare our students of today for the unknown opportunities of tomorrow.

When I began to search for a solution to these problems, my goal was clear: put Kansas City on the map as a top education city that is as innovative as it is responsive to its community.

The Lean Lab’s theory of change follows this goal, but revolves around a community-minded hypothesis: if those most impacted by education innovations—parents, students and teachers—are able to influence the innovation process every step of the way, then launched solutions will be radically more effective. In short, we believe that our community members have powerful voices and should have meaningful, substantial influence in shaping new policies, technologies, curricula or school designs before they launch to scale in front of children and schools.

To date, we have convened more than 1,000 Kansas Citians through dozens of happy hours, pitch events, workshops and coffee meetings. We’ve listened to hundreds of community members voice their "pain points" in need of innovation, alongside their ideas for solutions. Through the Incubator Fellowship, we’ve supported 16 education entrepreneurs who have gone on to impact 2,400 Kansas City students and counting. 

This year, we opened our program to innovators outside of Kansas City and received applications from 28 different cities and three different countries, proving that Kansas City is, indeed, on the map for education innovation. Our founders from this year’s Incubator Fellowship came from as far as Mississippi and as close as KC and what has begun to emerge is remarkable—real, innovative solutions developed and taking hold in true partnership with our parents, students and teachers.

Meet the 2016 Incubator Fellows

●     Mehreen Butt founded Brydge, a web-based application that extends the classroom into the home by sending three key follow-up questions from the teacher straight to the parent. Mehreen worked with Kansas City Freedom Schools’ teachers, parents and students to inform the initial prototyping of this solution, which is looking to scale across KC schools this fall.

●     Andyshea Saberioon, founder of PledgeCents, is creating an easier way for teachers to get needed resources in their classrooms. Andyshea has a goal of raising at least $25,000 for 25 Kansas City classrooms. Already, 16 schools have signed up with 27 teacher-led projects ready to launch projects on the platform this fall.

●     Nadja Cajic co-founded Meedu, a nutrition app giving children agency over healthy lunch preparation. Her team piloted an early prototype of Meedu with students attending Hogan Preparatory Charter School’s summer program and is working with area grocery stores to make fun, affordable and healthy lunch options available to all.

●     Lida Zlatic, founder of ClassTracks and a former English Language Learner herself, worked in partnership with teachers at KIPP Endeavor Academy and Scuola Vita Nuova’s English Language Learning departments to build a vocabulary acquisition tool streamlining the way new Americans learn key words in English.

●     Angela Rivera co-founded InReach, an application that demystifies the college experience by connecting high school students directly with current college students.  InReach will pilot at University Academy for the entire 2016-2017 academic year, after receiving feedback on the product from Kauffman Scholars, Alta Vista Charter School, and Shawnee Mission West.

The work of our 2016 cohort isn’t complete. They will return for a final intensive workshop, culminating in a public, community-oriented pitch event on the evening of Sept. 29. There, the fellows will unveil their innovations at Launch[ED] Day, answering questions from a panel of parents, students and teachers. All ticket sales will then go to the team deemed most impactful for Kansas City schools, selected by our community. Responsive collaboration between our community and entrepreneurs is the key to launching more effective solutions for our children, and everyone’s perspective is critical. Join us at Launch[ED] Day 2016.

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Katie Boody has worked in public education in KCMO since 2008. Katie was a charter corps member of Teach For America Kansas City, a founding member of C.A. Franklin's middle school team in Kansas City Public Schools, a founding teacher at Alta Vista Charter Middle School, and eventually a founder of The Lean Lab.  Katie taught middle school math for five years and later worked as an Instructional Coach. Holding a B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in dance, a M.Ed. in Middle School Education, and an Ed.S. in Education Leadership.