iLEAD SCHOOLS - THE STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND ADMINISTRATORS
"What we are is a culture. What we are providing is a culture and a mindset." Amber Raskin - Founder and CEO of iLEAD Schools
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ABOUT iLEAD SCHOOLS:
iLead Schools in California are project-based learning schools that are at the forefront of innovation in education. iLead stands for International, Leadership, Entrepreneurial Development, Arts, and Design Thinking.
The students at iLead created a science expereiment in 2019 that utilized Death Wish Coffee and sent it to the International Space Station.
While I was at the school chronicling that experiment, I was honored to meet a lot of the students, teachers, and administrators connected with iLead. I even sat down with Amber Raskin and Dawn Evenson, two of the founders of iLead Schools, to talk about their creation and what the future holds.
Learn more about iLead Schools here.
Speaker 1: - iLEAD It's an acronym, a five letter acronym, International Leadership Entrepreneurial Development Arts and Design Thinking. Those are kind of the five pillars of the way we do education.
Amber: My name is Amber Raskin and I am founder and CEO, founder of iLEAD Schools and CEO of iLEAD School Development.
Dawn: I'm Dawn Evenson, I'm founder of iLEAD Schools and CEO of iLEAD California.
Interviewer: Wow. So can we talk a little bit, can we start at the beginning? Can we talk a little bit about finding this school, because I've been talking to so many facilitators and learners, and parents since I've been there and I've never had a more mind blowing experience at this school. It's just so eye opening and so amazing, and to be able to talk to you two who started the whole thing; can we talk about how this came to be?
Amber: I moved to Santa Clarita from Los Angeles for the community and the schools and when I started, my daughter went to, my daughter's the older one and my son is two and a half years younger than her. We went to a very developmentally appropriate philosophically aligned preschool that was just perfect for us and they were having hands-on experiences where they were exploring and learning exactly the way I think learning should be, which is engaging fun. You can learn without even knowing you're learning by having fun, right? So that was happening really nicely at that preschool. When we got to Kindergarten, it was a whole different ballgame. We went to the district school near us and it was a very good school, still is a very good school, considered one of the best in the state by traditional standards. But to me, it felt like there was far too much focus on the test and this wasn't just at school this is the whole-
Interviewer: It's the public school system?
Amber: In the world world, not even just the country. I thought, "Wow," being somebody who didn't do well in school myself, I saw what was going to happen to my daughter, because in Kindergarten I was told that she asked too many questions. At the parent teacher conference I was told that and I thought, "Wow," looking at what was going on in the classroom, they were not going to faster creativity, which mattered oh so much to me. Being told that you're asking too many questions, in my opinion shuts that down, I thought, "Wow, I really need something different," so I started looking around and I couldn't find anything. I thought, "Well, let me be part of the solution instead of part of the problem," and a little naively said, "Let's start a charter school." I say naïve, because I didn't know at the time they didn't have things called Suburban Choice, they didn't think charter schools were supposed to go into suburban areas where school were doing really well by the measure the state has put out.
Amber: I kept looking around and then decided to start this charter school based on a few different schools that I'd seen throughout the state. Wound up saying, "Why not just open a school for all, a public school for all instead of going and spending my money on private school or homeschooling that's only going to benefit my kids. That was about 13 years ago [inaudible 00:03:14] planning process and 11 years ago our first school opened. One piece that I often talk about is my late mother-in-law who passed away a few years ago. She used to ask me after we opened the first school, "Why do you keep going? You started SCVI. Your kids are covered. Why do you keep going?" And I'd say, "Well, it was never about me or my kids. It was never about just us. If I was only going to take care of just our kids, there were a lot of other much easier options." The reason I keep going is because of my experience in school.
Amber: I didn't do well in school. I went to a very good school district and school also, as did my kids in their early years before our school was started. In junior high and high school, I fell through the cracks. I tested into mentally gifted minors in elementary school, but when I got to junior high and I started ... actually it was a project that I didn't do well on, I started to feel not connected. I just never found my niche. I never found my passions. I never felt like anything that I did was meaningful, but then when I got out of school and even when I worked during high school and college, I did well at work.
Amber: There's something at work that felt very different. It felt real, it felt meaningful. I think I had more autonomy, definitely more respect. Then when I got into television I did very well very quickly in my career there. I was looked at as an A there, where I wasn't in school. When I got to my daughter and I saw very quickly the same pattern was going to happen with her, I said, "Not again. I'm not going to let that happen again to her." Now, I keep going because I don't want any eighth grader to feel the way I felt at that time. That's what motivates me to keep going and what made us a success is Dawn.
Dawn: As you can tell this is deeply personal work for both of us. We wouldn't have lasted this long if there wasn't a strong why behind it and if it didn't start with who we are as people. That's why when we tell our stories, we talk not only about the organization that we've started, but we talk about who we are and how we got here, because that why is super important. I am one of those people that always knew I wanted to be an educator, like from birth. In fact, it was weird to me that people grew up not knowing what they wanted to do. I taught my stuffed animals, they did really great. I knew I was going to be a rockstar at this. I spent hours honing my craft before I even entered school, so when I did enter school, it wasn't so great for me. Mostly because I always looked at it from being a school personnel, like being in the school and being a teacher. I knew who was really great at what they did and who was not connected with the kids. That was kind of pivotal for me.
Dawn: I went through school just kind of hitting the middle. I was kind of like your C student. I always knew that I could do better, but it really didn't seem worth it to me. Why put out all that extra energy when it's not something that you're passionate about. So, I went to college of course, and graduated. I grew up in North Idaho, in order to get a job there you have to wait for somebody to die and one thing I'm not is I'm not very patient. I moved down to Southern California and I got my first teaching position. I taught for 13 years and I was happy, super happy, it was fantastic. I could go in, and shut my door, and do what I wanted to do with the kids. I could respond to what they were interested in, I could respond to what they needed. That was really important and that's the art of teaching. The science is always there, but the art of teaching is being able to respond and keep kids engaged, so I was doing that for 13 years.
Dawn: Somewhere along the line towards, I don't know, year 10, my principal called me in and he was talking to me and he said, "Have you ever thought about going into administration?" And I said, "Why would I want to do that?" He said, "Because then you could make the impact that you're making on your class with more people." And I said, "Oh. Okay," but that was great, because that's the kind of person I am. I'm like, "All right, get out of our way. We're going to make a difference here." My superintendent came and he said, "Have you ever considered going to middle school?" Now, keep in mind, I'd always been a primary grade teacher and my school was a K-6, and I was again, as happy as a clam. I said, "No. Why would I want to go to middle school?" Because we all know they're a little bit crazy there.
Interviewer: [inaudible 00:07:47]
Dawn: And so, he said to me, "Well, because then you can do what you're doing here, but on a bigger level," and I said, "Oh," and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. So in this period of time that I was the principal at a middle school, I also had three teenage girls and a couple of them were middle school, so it kind of made sense. Everything was nutty at that point, everything was chaos right? But my oldest daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school and we were ... you get measured for your cap and gown, so I was taking her to get measured for her cap and gown at her high school, which is in a different district, it's an international baccalaureate high school. One thing you should know about my daughter is that she was always deemed highly successful. She was graduating with a 4.3 GPA. She lettered in three varsity sports, which to make a sports team at a high school for 4,000 kids is difficult in itself. And we always got letters that deemed her successful.
Dawn: You know, superintendent's list, and the dean's list, and all these kinds of things, so she was deemed highly successful unlike her mother, let me point out. Because I was just that C, I'm just going to cruise along on that C. She was jumping through every hoop she possibly could to be the best that she could. I'm driving her to go and get her gown and she was getting a yellow gown instead of the blue gown, because the yellow gown is for those kids that they've sorted and selected into the higher ranks. I turned to her and I said, "Oh Emily, I am so proud of you." And she turned to me and she said, "I don't know why." I said, "Well, what do you mean?" She said, "I just learned to give the teachers back what they wanted." In that moment it hit me, it still hits a little bit, in that moment it hit me because here was a successful child who ... was deemed highly successful and had no idea who she wanted to be and who she was.
Dawn: All she knew was how to win at the game of school and I was part of that problem. I was part of that problem as her mother. I was part of that problem as an educator. Let me breathe for a second. Okay. Now my voice can be normal. I did what anybody would do in that moment that cares about education and cares about their kids, I had a mini midlife crisis. I don't believe in suffering, so it only lasted for a week and it went like this, I'd go to the crazy middle school and I'd work with those kids all day, and I'd feel crazy and I knew I had to hold it together, because I couldn't be crazy.
Dawn: Then I would go home and I would cry and my husband would say, "I just want you to be happy, whatever it takes to be happy," so then I would get on the internet after everybody went to bed, finished their homework, I'd get on the internet and I'd Google things like, "What happens if you love education and you hate schools?" This was 2008, so there wasn't a lot of out of the box articles out there, so I wasn't really hitting or finding my tribe or my people. What did happen was I came across a posting for a founding charter school principal. I'm like, "Huh, I wonder what this is." So I emailed the email on this posting and said, "I don't know if you've filled this position yet, but I'm interested in finding out more." Then I got up to leave the computer and a message came back to me, not like an instant reply, but a real true message because at the other end of that computer was Amber, who was looking for someone to be able to run her school.
Amber: I was saying to the computer, "Apply, apply, apply," because I didn't have anybody.
Dawn: And the reply said, "We haven't filled it. We're still interested. Please send us your resume and cover letter." I met with Amber and the rest of the board and then they decided to hire me, and then we ended up at charter school boot camp with each other. We were each other's roommates and we were finishing each other's sentences, even though we really didn't know each other. People kept saying, "Are you sure you guy don't know each other?" And we would say, "No." For your listeners, your viewers, whatever they're called, I would say that if you find someone that is finishing your sentences when you really don't even know them, and you've taken that leap of faith, and this was something that was definitely meant to be. From there, we moved forward and we started our first school, with, I think we about 75 kids on the first day and we ended with 135, so we knew what we were doing had really caught on.
Amber: There's something so special about what Dawn brings to the table to continue to say we should be out of the box, we can't look like any traditional school. If other schools are doing it, why should we even bother, because we exist to innovate and we can. We can keep innovating and she keeps that candle burning to make sure that we are always looking at what are we doing differently? What are we adding to education that's not already there?
Angelo: All right. I'm Angelo and I'm in eight grade.
Dominic: I'm Dominic and I'm in eighth grade.
Interviewer: I know it looks like we're in the Civil War right now, but this is 2019. You guys get to do something really incredible here at iLead concerning the Civil War with the way you look right now. Can we talk about what this project is all about?
Angelo: Well, when people ask you what happened back then, you have to explain it to them and they might not get the full picture, so what reenacting does is that it gives you a living image of what happened. We went through countless and countless of hours of research to get everything correct.
Dominic: Just to get this down to make it look realistic for every viewer that's going to be there.
Interviewer: You guys look real, for real.
Dominic: Thank you.
Interviewer: Did you make these costumes?
Dominic: No. Well, I fundraised money to purchase my uniform off of-
Interviewer: How'd you do that?
Dominic: I sold otter pops for a dollar. I sold a thousand of them.
Dominic: My uniform was $600. All the leather accessories that I have were $200.
Dominic: And I donated $200 back to the school.
Dominic: Well, back to eighth grade, yeah.
Interviewer: Wow. Can you tell me a little bit about who you are in the Civil War, because I noticed you both have different patches and you both are in different colors?
Dominic: I am a Sergeant on [inaudible 00:14:22] Master. That's my rank. I am a [Berdan 00:14:26] sharpshooter. They were the Civil War snipers, believe it or not. Yes they had the whole thing. They had scopes about this long. They had special rifles called the Sharps. It was a breach loader and had two triggers. One was to get it ready and then the second was a hair trigger.
Interviewer: Yeah, wow. Wow. How about you?
Angelo: I'm a Corporal. I'm in the 54th Massachusetts. That's a special all black regimen, the first one ever. Yeah, we're both Union soldiers, so-
Interviewer: That is incredible, so can we talk a little bit about what you guys get to do in this reenactment? It's not all just you're fighting each other are you?
Angelo: No. We actually have different science roles, so I'm doing a telegraph project where one of the dads actually created two telegraphs and we're going to use wires and we're going to make wet cell batteries and we're just going to do a whole hands on demonstration, so ...
Dominic: I'm part of the black powder, so what we did is that researched all the stuff that goes into the black power, the composition of black powder, how it was made back then. We also found how to find the force of a bullet, finding the formula for that. It's [inaudible 00:15:48].
Interviewer: I learned about the Civil War, but it was a picture in a book, that's it. Even stuff that you guys are telling me, I had no idea about and you guys are getting to live it. Did it make you like learning about it more?
Dominic: Oh for sure, yeah.
Dominic: It's like my memory of it too. I'm going to never forget this, I feel like.
Angelo: Yeah, I'm actually starting to get into actual reenacting. Just this weekend I was at Fort [Tejon 00:16:19] reenacting. Well, I was actually a Confederate then. I just got sworn into the first North Carolina Calvary.
Interviewer: Whoa. That is really really cool. Do you think you'll continue to learn about the Civil War even after this?
Angelo: Oh yeah, for sure. There's a lot of information.
Dominic: Yeah, you never stop learning.
Interviewer: That's incredible and what an incredible story too, because like I've said I've gotten to tour a lot of your facilities. I've gotten to meet with students and teachers, and a lot of people have the same story, that looking for something better. Speaking with some of the kids who have been through the public school system and then are now at iLead and with that perspective, because it was also amazing talking to some of the kids who have literally been at iLead since Kindergarten and are now in high school and they have a completely different perspective.
Interviewer: When did you start here?
Speaker 7: I started in first grade.
Speaker 8: I started in Kindergarten.
Interviewer: And you are in?
Speaker 8: Ninth grade now.
Interviewer: Ninth grade now? So do you love the school?
Speaker 8: Oh yeah. It's definitely like my home.
Interviewer: What is it about this school, for someone who's never heard of this school, what would you say about this school to kind of get that excited about it?
Speaker 8: Well, this school's pretty much project based learning. It gives us a lot of opportunities to kind of grow and a lot of freedom to express who we are. Also the community between teachers and students and other students is just really great here.
Speaker 7: Yeah, it's just definitely somewhere you want to be, because of the community and the people here are just great and they really care about you and the way you learn. They just want the best for you.
Speaker 9: There are four classrooms in here and they are fourth ... five mixed in homerooms. So we have a little bit of an interesting way of learning here. The thing is, since it's fourth and fifth mixed in homeroom, this side of the room, these two teachers are co-teacher and on that side of the room those two teachers are co-teachers, so they'll work together with lesson planning and they'll have their students learn together. For math, the fifth graders from both of those classrooms will go over there for math and the fourth graders from both of those classrooms will go here for math. That's making sure that they're learning at that required grade level and that they are learning at the expectations for their grade level.
Interviewer: That is super exciting.
Speaker 9: Yeah, so it's pretty cool. It's not like anything you'll see anywhere else. It's a really incredible way to learn in such a unique way that it's incredible that we get to experience this. I'm really grateful to be able to have an opportunity to do this.
Interviewer: I've got to ask though, you seem to like school?
Speaker 9: I do. Yeah, so actually ... I have never been like, "Oh, I want to go to school," until I started here, which was actually, I just started here this year.
Interviewer: Oh wow.
Speaker 9: Yeah, so at my old school I wasn't a fan, that's just because the teachers aren't very nice at [inaudible 00:19:28] schools, they're not as flexible as they are here and all they think about is worksheets, worksheets, worksheets. As I mentioned, most of our things that we do here, most of the education is hands on academic learning, which is incredible, because as I said, not a lot of schools have that opportunity to do that. So yeah, it's pretty awesome, because here the teachers not only think about how you're doing academically, obviously that matters a lot, but they're also very helpful with the social [inaudible 00:20:04]. We have ILP goals, which are individual learner plans, so everybody has them. Not just the students, but all of our staff members have them as well, which is pretty incredible, because it feels amazing to accomplish a goal once you worked so hard for it and we want everybody to be able to have that sense of pride and enjoyment. We want everybody to work for it, because everybody can improve and we want to makes sure that everybody gets to their best level that they can be.
Interviewer: It's really really inspiring and amazing to see what you guys have built. The other side of that I wanted to bring up was the teacher side of it. Both of you have this story where you wanted to do this, didn't really know what you were doing, and you got into it both feet forward and went for it. I've noticed speaking with a lot of the teachers that I got to speak with, some of these teachers had no experience in a teacher background before working at iLead, and you guys are inclusive not even just to have let's get every kid we possibly can come to iLead, but you have that same mentality with the teachers base too, the facilitators. I think that is absolutely incredible, because you get a lot of people who are going to think outside of the box, who aren't weighed down by that public school system for decades, or whatever. I met some of them too, who now work for iLead and are so incredibly excited to be a part of this organization. But just meeting some people who are teaching here, I asked a couple of them like, "What did you do before this?" And it's like, "Well, I never taught before, before iLead and now I've been here for four years or two years and I've never thought of anything else. That's incredible.
Speaker 10: I've worked with iLead, this is my fourth year.
Speaker 10: I teach biology for ninth graders right now and physics, IB physics, so mostly juniors.
Interviewer: What brought you to this organization?
Speaker 10: I like the way that it's project based learning and real world. There's a lot of opportunity to do things that you don't really get to do in a traditional school setting, so certainly being able to do a lot of those different kinds of things is really helpful and makes learning more fun and more engaging. Also mostly, I just fell in love with the kids.
Speaker 11: I'm a mom first, so I always start from that point and just build those kind of relationships, so I joke around with my kids a lot, but it's always from a mom point of view, so they feel really comfortable in my classroom setting. When we get into projects like the one that we're into right now, which is our resilient café project, it's a project that requires them to really dig deep, talking about resilience, things that they have personally gone through that they may not like to share with others, but I've been able to every year just pull that out of them; where kids are talking about abandonment or abuse that they've witnessed or gone through, and using those to empower them to create poetry pieces that they present, like slam poetry and spoken word presentations. It's been awesome.
Speaker 11: Then we just finished working on our sustainable growing practices project where my kids learn how to create equal [inaudible 00:23:10] and sustained by a freshwater plant, and freshwater, fish and snails, so their plants are growing from that. Now we're taking that project a little farther and we'll be talking to one of our representatives, Katie Hill, and trying to implement that within the community for our homeless community, which is growing rapidly. We have three locations here in the [Antelope 00:23:35] Valley, so we're going to try to create gardens in their spaces, where the homeless residents will be the ones sustaining and maintaining it, and possibly can be able to use that in the farmers market that we have once a week.
Speaker 12: How easy it is for the kids to pick up a computer and do a quote unquote hard assignment or hard computer software and they pick it up naturally.
Interviewer: Wow. Is it kids of all ages?
Speaker 12: Yeah, I have classes from K to eight grade. Some of the middle schoolers, they have the stigma of, "Oh, I don't want to do anything with computers." They're picking up computer programming and they're going great with it and they're saying, "Oh, I want to start doing this for when I grow-up. I want to start using this and applying it more seriously," so that's always something that's really cool.
Speaker 13: The kids can do anything in here from sewing all the way up to a little bit of metal working. It just depends on the project they want to do and the donations that we get from the parents or whatever they want to do. They can come to me with an idea to make like a clock and we'll put plans together. If they can't afford materials, we find a way to fundraise it, get donations, so they can put it together. We have a couple after school programs, we have clubs. I have kids making clocks, picture frames, all sorts of things.
Speaker 14: You can see Robert's teaching them a lot more than just wood working and safety. He's teaching them some of those really valuable skills like entrepreneurialism. A lot of the stuff the kids build, they end up flipping and selling. They sell for fundraisers for our school, but then he also teaches them things like community resourcing, community organizing when they need materials, they figure out who's got materials and do you need to do in order to be able to go access those. He teaches them the basics of a business pitch or getting volunteers in here to help out. Yeah, the kids have learned through Robert to be just extremely resourceful and a lot of the stuff that they have in here is a product of them learning to access the different resources in our community.
Amber: It's important to note for the public school advocates that those people who haven't worked in education before still get a credential and still get all of the proper training. It's just important to note.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, no [crosstalk 00:25:48] you're not throwing them to the wolves.
Amber: Well, because some people say that we don't have credentialed teachers, so we want to make sure that that part gets there.
Dawn: And also important to note, it's semantics, but it's important in this political climate, that we recognize that we are public schools. You're talking about traditional district schools and we are also public schools, it's just we do it differently.
Amber: But that'll bring it back to your point, which is that we absolutely look for mindset and cultural fit first. That is the most important thing that we do. What we are is a culture. What we are providing is a culture and a mindset. It's a very culture and mindset than what school has been traditionally. When we are interviewing for any position or talking even to kids and parents, we want to make sure that we are setting them up for success by letting them know who and what we are, and what we're about, and what matters to us. That is culture and mindset. The culture mindset that we have, which is that things are open. Our mission statement is "Free to think. Inspire to lead." Free to think, free to speak your mind, free to try things. We're intentionally setting up an atmosphere like what you hear Google's like or Zappos. We've studied those companies and we intentionally set up our systems so that we are creating a culture where people feel comfortable trying things, innovating, and it doesn't always work, and that's okay.The reason that people feel okay about that is because we also work very hard to create emotional safety, so people don't feel like they're going to be slapped on the hand all the time if they try something and it doesn't work.
Dawn: That is important, because it sets the stage for empowerment. That's ultimately what we do. We empower our learners to figure out what path they want to take and what their interested in, and how they understand that they can affect the world in a positive way, starting as early as Kindergarten. That's really important to us and it's about the kids, but it's also empowering our parents to come in and make a difference. It's also empowering all of our employees to come in and make a difference, and make decisions, and have that autonomy that needs to happen in order to do what's write for kids.
Amber: Another thing that I think that is really important to us, that sort of naturally have gravitated to having the background that Dawn and I have, because this is a passion for us is that it has to have meaning. Things need to have meaning. I mean, this generation is all about meaning and purpose, right? Remember that bumper sticker like, "He who dies with the most toys win?" That like makes your bristle now, right? Life is not about that anymore. Life is about contributing and giving back and certainly this generation, I think everybody, but this generation especially is really finding ways to focus on that. That's important because we want our kids ... we want school to be meaningful.
Amber: We don't want them to feel like, "Finished that. Don't want to go to school. I have to get through it." We want them to find their meaning, create meaning for themselves and for others, so starting in Kindergarten they can do that. It's not up to us as adults to tell them what is meaningful to them. They know. They know from early on.In fact, I would argue that the traditional way we've been teaching pushes that out of them, so now what we're trying to do is not lose that as they get older. We don't want them to lose their creativity. We don't want them to lose their purpose, and meaning, and wonder, and curiosity as they they get older. It's so important for us that we get out of the way and let that flourish at any age.
Interviewer: What's your favorite thing about being a part of this school? I know it's tough.
Speaker 15: Well, there's a lot of things that I personally enjoy coming from a very different educational background. One of the biggest things that I love about this school and being here in general is all the opportunities we're given, because for example this kind of stuff, being able to go to NASA, being able to be involved with projects like this, it's something that I never even thought was possible back at my old school, so that's a huge thing.
Speaker 16: For me it's just a freedom to sort of be able to arrange myself and my own classes and be able to really have a personal connection with my teachers and really be able to dig in deep into subjects I'm interested in, because I have a lot of friends that go to different schools and they just sort of float by and do what's asked, but going here I can really dig deep. I can get passionate about what I'm doing and my teachers are the ones that sort of influence that and are influencing me to always do my best in whatever I can do.
Speaker 17: I just love the freedom that it gives me. I heard you talking earlier about how like if a kid wants to learn about space, they can learn about space and that's really what I'm doing.
Interviewer: What drew you to iLead?
Speaker 18: The program that I had before was project based, but it was in this kind of square peg, round hole. I was trying to make something fit in something that didn't fit, so then when I met [Cath 00:30:57] and when I met our founder Dawn, and I did some touring around the campus, I spent some time with David, I spent some time on the campus, I'm like, "This is it. There's no square peg, round hole. This is it." It was like kismet, right? Because this was like my dream school. Anything I could've made up in my mind, this was it.
Speaker 19: I think I would've thrived in a school like this.
Interviewer: Me too, me too.
Speaker 20: I love coming here because the projects are so ... they're not just like a normal write an essay and then present it to the class. It's definitely something that you are ... I don't know how to explain it.
Speaker 21: You're excited for the-
Speaker 20: Yeah, you're excited and you want to learn about it and it definitely helps apply you for later future events and you can make it very personal to you to something you can relate to other than just write the essay about the same thing that everyone write and presents it to the class. It's definitely something you all relate to personally and it affects everyone differently.
Interviewer: That's awesome, that's awesome. For you, anything?
Speaker 21: Yeah for me it's definitely the community, like the people around me always make me excited to come here. Both of us are staff kids. Our family is everywhere around this school, so-
Interviewer: So you can't escape your family.
Speaker 21: Yeah, so anywhere we go we kind of see people that we're excited to see or we get to meet new people that gives us really cool opportunities, so for me it's definitely community.
Amber: So that's why we call our teachers facilitators, because we want the to facilitate learning to get next to the learners and learn right along with them about whatever it is that's interesting to them, or for the class, or within that project. There are people who have told us all along, "Oh, you're not doing this right. You're not doing school right," and that makes us feel great, because we beg to differ and if you really dig deep in the practices of our organization, we have put them in place very intentionally. Because the way that faculty is evaluated lends itself to how they're working with the kids and how they're looking and viewing evaluating kids, so you have to be very intentional about how you lay things out and we have within our evaluation system for example, a lot of refection because that's really important to us.
Interviewer: I'm so inspired by the kids themselves, because in iLead they're taught that just ask, go for it. You have an idea? Go for it. It's always a yes and ... it's the idea of, "Okay, you want to do this? Well, what's it going to take to do this? How're we going to make this happen? What's the purpose of making this happen?" And you guys have both said multiple times about the passion. The passion of learning and the passion of that and that is a lot of what Death Wish Coffee is all about. We want to fuel people's passion. That is one of our biggest tenants in our company. It's not just about getting you a good cup of coffee, which we enjoy that as well.
Amber: It's really important.
Interviewer: It is very important. But we want to fuel your passion. The theme of this actual show is fueled by death. We are all fueled by the idea that we want to leave the world a little different before we inevitably leave it for good, and these kids are learning that from every single day from Kindergarten on. Some of the examples of seeing that on campus were just mind blowing. It goes down to the core of the learner and the facilitator are actually partners. It's not a teacher/student thing anymore, which is incredible because that's technically how the real world works.
Interviewer: I've talked about this with other people that I've talked about since I've met here, that as part of traditional school I remember the first couple days, freshman on a college campus, I was completely fish out of water. I had no idea how to navigate anything, because you've got traditional high school and now I'm on a college campus. I was just like, "What do I do? Who's going to help me do this?" The kids that are going through iLead are already prepared for that and beyond, because it is a real world setting. That's the core of what the learners are even learning, not just their curriculum, not just all the knowledge that they're getting to be a part of, but just how to exist in the real world and make the real world a better place and that's exciting.
Amber: They need to practice that in their high school, and elementary, and middle school years, because if they don't practice it when they've got loving support at home and at school, then they spend a lot more time making mistakes where there's no safety net. It's important to let them do that while they're young.
Interviewer: Yeah. Now, iLead, cut to 2019, correct me if I'm wrong. There are eight schools?
Amber: There's six in California.
Interviewer: Six in California.
Amber: Next year there will be three outside of California.
Interviewer: So nine total, which is incredible. What do you guys think ... how can we get it to be more? How can we get 900 schools? How can we get this into the national consciousness?
Dawn: He needs to meet Ted Fujimoto.
Amber: Yeah, I know. I think it takes all of seeing what's possible, like vising our schools, seeing what's possible and then influencing politics, honestly.
Amber: Because I think that we're measuring the wrong things in politics. I think that they need to measure and I understand that, but we're measuring things that are from the last century. We're measuring the skillset to thrive and do well now has completely changed with being able to learn everywhere. Back in the way when we set up classrooms the way they are, having the person in front of the room delivering the information, books were expensive and scarce. One person who could would read the book and deliver the information. Then when more and more people learned to read then they read books, but now we know books are scarce again in a different way. So now, the whole way we do school needs to be shifted and decluttered and what we're measuring needs to be reevaluated. We've set up our schools to be very competitive. In our society where people care most about meaning and giving to others, that competitive environment, that lends itself to being cutthroat to the Varsity Blues scandal that we saw, things like that, that people aren't interested in that anymore.
Dawn: And when she says we she means the education system in general, not iLead schools. I just wanted to make sure your listeners understand that. We're about collaboration.
Amber: Oh absolutely, absolutely. That is exactly what I meant. As a society, we have to reevaluate what we're putting an emphasis on. We can't do business as usual anymore. We have to reevaluate how we're nurturing these kids, and watering and fertilizing them to grow into the meaning makers, and the people who are looking to really make society better by helping other people. We need to reevaluate that.
Dawn: So, let me turn the tables and ask you a question. When you met with our learners, do you think that they're learning?
Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah. I think more than I ever learned. It's an effortless learning, because they are almost having fun doing it. They learn something and then are able to extrapolate on that and go further if they want to.
Interviewer: Or take it to a different area.
Amber: So how do we measure that? Because right now schools are all measured on a narrow band of standards that are meant to happen during just that school year, so if someone's above those standards they're not going to do so well on those particular standards, because maybe-
Dawn: They're boring.
Amber: Yeah. Yeah, they're a little boring sometimes, but maybe they're interested in Asia and that doesn't happen until ninth grade and in eight grade they're learning about the Civil War, but they're really interested in Asia. If they don't learn about the Civil War then when they take the test, they don't have that knowledge to really rock that test, but if you asked them anything about Asia, they could do it. If you asked them if they could start a business or if they feel empowered, or if they know that they can change the world, the trick is how do we measure that? Because we've never had one person visit all of our schools that said, "There's no learning happening here. These kids are just hanging around."
Dawn: It's always a game changer when people visit in person. They can see it when they go in person. When you look at us through the lens of all the traditional measure, people without visiting, people sometimes are like, "Oh, I don't know," but when they come it always shifts their mindset.
Interviewer: It's a shame that traditional school hasn't figured it out yet, just because of the fact that the job space has changed drastically and we're talking in the last century, I'm talking even in the last couple decades, whereas the schools are still based on, "go to school, get a piece of paper that you go to school, and then give that piece of paper to an employer who is now going to employ you for that school." That is not how it works across the board anymore. I always used to say, I'm a product of the 80s. I was in the school system in the 80s, so I remember the first computer classrooms, when we got our first computer and had to learn that kind of stuff. You go to some traditional schools and it's still that one classroom with a few computers in it and that's it.
Interviewer: It's not like think of the entire industry that's built around the computer based industry now and that's not even taught. You go to something like iLead and ... I saw the other day in the maker space, kids had went in there and was like, "I want to build a video game system," like the old arcade system. I played on it. That's just incredible. It's like, "I want to learn how to do that," and they did. I didn't do well, but I played on it. It was amazing. They literally had tons of games. It was incredible. I think that is so inspiring and it needs to be more into the public consciousness.
Amber: Let me just say that there are some district schools that are doing that and in all district schools there are some pockets of that happening, but it's not happening widespread enough, I agree. It's imperative that we continue to try to figure it out.
Dawn: I also want to say that we do teach kids to read, and write, and do math. It's not just do whatever you want and follow your passions. I mean, you have to have some fundamental skills in order to springboard to those other things that you want to do.
Interviewer: I'll tell you, the two things that surprised me the most talking to a lot of the learners was one, every single one of them loves school, in fact a lot of them I was like, "Are you guys excited about summer?" "Sort of. I'm going to miss school." It's just like, "Wow." The other one is I would always ask "What's your favorite subject in school?" "50% of them said math."
Amber: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dawn: Yeah, yeah. That fills my bucket in so many ways.
Interviewer: Totally. Totally.
Interviewer: Favorite class, favorite subject?
Speaker 22: For me it's math. I just I don't know, I really apply myself hard in math and I had some struggles, but I overcame them and I just really like math.
Speaker 23: Mine is actually also math just because it's kind of like the thing that I feel like I can teach myself more about and it's definitely something I feel confident in.
Interviewer: It seems to be there's a vibe here that everybody kind of likes school. Do you like school? It's kind of weird.
Speaker 24: Because I just came to this school and ever since I came, I absolutely love it.
Speaker 24: Yeah.
Interviewer: So, down the line, favorite subject in school?
Speaker 24: History.
Speaker 25: [inaudible 00:43:15]
Interviewer: What was that?
Speaker 25: ELA. English Literature.
Interviewer: Oh okay.
Speaker 26: English.
Speaker 27: Science.
Speaker 29: Probably film.
Speaker 29: Yeah, but I definitely really like biology too.
Interviewer: Cool, cool. What's your favorite subject?
Speaker 30: Math and chemistry. I enjoy chemistry a lot.
Speaker 9: My favorite subject probably have to be language arts.
Interviewer: Really? How come?
Speaker 9: Because I love reading and I love spelling.
Speaker 9: And it's incredible to learn, because English is such an interesting language.
Interviewer: I think what iLead is doing and what you guys have built is needed. It's imperative. It is what we need to be gravitating towards and you guys are doing a great job keeping going in that. Like you said, you're going to keep doing it. There's no reason to ... it's not just for your own kids, it's for everybody to be included in this; facilitators, learners, the parents, the communities, everything. I really, I cannot wait to see what is in the future for iLead. I can't thank you guys enough for taking time and talking to me about this.
Dawn: Thank you so much for being here.
Amber: Thank you for your partnership. Thank you for taking the time to tour our schools and thank you for interviewing us today.