Graduation Day 2013

2 years ago:

As a native St. Louisan, when I returned to teach here, I was excited about seeing the future of St. Louis rise up through my classroom and classrooms all over the area. I was saddened to see, however, the lack of innovation, creativity, and communication surrounding technology in our schools. I was also saddened to see students who were not invested in learning, in making, and in their futures. There are some great teachers doing amazing work in schools, it’s just not enough yet to make a truly collective impact on the nature of our schools. Few schools are encouraging students to learn how to code, design products, or become entrepreneurs. When I asked my students in those first few weeks about their aspirations for the future, one student replied that if they could go anywhere in the world it would be to the Arch. My students weren’t creating dreams for their futures that were big enough, that would prepare them for a life more than just working for an hourly wage at a dead-end job. Schools all too often dedicate their resources to preparing students for standardized tests. Yet despite this focus, graduation rates in St. Louis were around 65% in 2012, and looking around my classroom those first few weeks, I was nervous about the futures that laid ahead for my students as they continued on in their educational careers.

The Disruption Department’s mission is to provide the platform for students to learn, to build, and to share innovative things. We want all students to have the opportunity to work with their hands, to tinker with new tools, and to play with technology. We also want to ensure that there is the infrastructure to permit any of these students who have a passion for it, to work in a creative or high-tech field. We know we need to connect with the St. Louis business and university communities in order to ensure that St. Louis becomes a regional hotspot for innovation due to the highly trained, well-educated local talent pool. Based on students’ experiences, they will gain the confidence to pursue a professional career in a high-tech field, which in St. Louis offers an average salary of $71,000. We focus on high-tech fields in St. Louis because they offer a median starting salary of over twice the median household income for families in St. Louis and are highly engaging creative fields in which to work. I knew that this was something I wanted for my students, and something that had the potential to change their lives.

2 weeks ago:

Caps and gowns littered the scene as I watched my former students walk into the gymnasium for 8th grade graduation. Everyone was dressed up, families and friends were present, and ready to celebrate the success of their students making it past the 8th grade. When I surveyed the room, I saw lots of my former students, but three in particular stuck out to me. Three of our Student Fellows were graduating the 8th grade and will be going to high school in the fall. Over the past year, I’ve been able to work alongside them through the Student Fellowship Program and have seen the tremendous growth they’ve made. They often make fun of me because they are learning and mastering things I haven’t a clue about. When we are at Hackdays, they don’t want to work on my team anymore because, “Ms. DeSmet, what do you mean you don’t know how to do this? It’s so easy!”  They are now excited about making, creating, hacking, etc., and that excitement has transferred over to their regular schoolwork as well. While they won’t be under the same school roof as me next year, I feel confident that they will leave going to high school more prepared than their fellow students, due to their involvement with The Disruption Department, and well on their way to a thriving future.

It made me so excited to see what happens with our Student Fellows in the future. I’m elated at the prospect of sitting at another graduation ceremony in four years, waiting to learn what the future holds for these amazing kids. Whether it’s applying and getting into competitive university programs, going directly into great jobs in the St. Louis area, launching their own companies, or anything they desire for themselves, I can’t wait to hear about and be a part of it all.

I know that I will feel my involvement with The Disruption Department has truly been worth it when I see this first round of Student Fellows off in four years. Watch out St. Louis, you have a great group of kids coming your way, and I am now even more confident that the future of St. Louis is looking brighter everyday.


Disruption Department