It’s no secret our country’s public schools are failing to educate many of our most promising students. Decades of education reform measures have cost millions, yielding at best mixed academic success. Post-industrial cities like Baltimore have been hardest hit in the wake of a shrinking tax base. Education funding has decreased while the number of families living below the poverty line has increased.
However, there is some encouraging news to share. A group of forward thinking business leaders from the technology community are actively seeking funds from their peers to help support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering Math) in Baltimore City Public Schools.
Ron Schmelzer, the founder of TechBreakfast is the mastermind behind this innovative approach to improve our underfunded schools. Each week TechBreakfast will feature on its website one local Baltimore City School looking to raise money for a specific STEM project on DonorChoose.org.
The first beneficiaries are Mrs. Batchelor’s kindergarten class at Leith Walk Elementary School. Her wish is to incorporate a projector and document camera into her lesson plan. “In this world that we live in, technology is a part of our everyday lives. Cell phones and iPads have become a part of just about every household” said Batchelor. “So why not use technology to enhance learning in the classroom?”
Batchelor is excited by the learning opportunities. “Not only will these tools enhance instruction, they will make learning and coming to school fun. It will keep my students engaged. Our classroom would have an abundance of interactive resources to re-enforce new skills and concepts. The document camera will guide instruction; the projector will make the screen larger and more interactive.”
Schmelzer says, “We are really motivated to support STEM education in the Baltimore City Public School system. Technology and science provide the path to innovation, and we believe that the way to grow opportunity is to expand the opportunities for everyone in the innovation economy. We choose to use the DonorsChoose.org platform because you can see exactly where the money is going, what the costs are, and the funds are used to purchase specific items or supplies, which are sent directly to the school and teacher. We’re doing this to help support STEM education in Baltimore City and our only benefit is seeing schools get their STEM needs met.”
Nevertheless, I wish to bring into focus the significance of this partnership with Baltimore’s growing technology community. TeachBreakfast is the largest tech meetup (a business networking group of common, shared interests) in the nation with over 5,000 members and over 1,000 attendees each month in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, D.C.; New York; Boston; Austin, Philadelphia; and Silicon Valley in California.
Schmelzer a MIT and Hopkins grad describes himself as a “parallel entrepreneur.” He has started and sold a number of successful businesses. In addition to growing and expanding the TechBreakfast brand, he runs Bizelo, a software company providing a large set of inexpensive web applications for small businesses. By leveraging his wide-ranging business connections he hopes to inspire others to become more actively involved with a struggling school.
Attending a TechBreakfast is a fascinating, informative way to start a workday. On the last Wednesday morning of each month, an amazingly diverse group of developers, designers, entrepreneurs, educators and business leaders gather to hear from people like themselves who are doing extraordinary tech-related things.
The format is straightforward. “No boring presentations or speakers who drone on” says Schmelzer. “This is a show and tell format where we tell people to ‘show me, don’t tell me’ about the great things they are working on.” Attendees range in age from 18 to 80. There is a lively question and answer session followed by “shout outs” by people seeking a job and employers looking to hire.
In less than a week the TechBreakfast Donor’s Choice project has raised over $250.00 for Ms. Batchelor’s projector and document camera. If you are interested in financially supporting TechBreakfast’s initiative to support STEM education in Baltimore City Public Schools you may donate by visiting the TechBreakfast Donor’s Choose page at donorschoose.org/techbreakfast
I am extending an invitation to Education Matters readers to attend a TechBreakfast. Each breakfast is free and begins at 8 a.m. and runs until 9:30 a.m. People usually network until around 10 a.m.
For more information or to register to attend a TechBreakfast, visit: http://www.meetup.com/techbreakfast.
Jayne Matthews Hopson is a development officer for the Waldorf School of Baltimore. She writes about Education Matters because “only the educated are free.”