Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fabricating Dreams could be a Reality

I have a proposal. Pull out your cocktail napkins for a moment and follow along.


The local school district might be losing a big chunk of funding due to changes in Ohio policy, and might be looking for ways to maintain their cutting edge education.

The local schools are among the top ranked in the state and especially proud of their science program (and academics in general).

A large portion of people in the community would gladly tell you that they moved to the area for the schools.

The individual schools only do a small amount of fundraising to cover their basic expenses including things like assemblies, the annual family picnic, etc.

Are you still with me?

The whole community, including the elementary schools, comes together for a very large and successful fundraiser that makes over $30K. (The money goes to $1000 scholarships to graduating seniors).

There is a very active, and amazing group of people in the PTA who volunteer a lot of time and money (and care a trememdous amount about education).

There are more amazing people in the community who might just volunteer more time and money if there was a project that sparked their interest – particularly one that would further their child’s education in a concrete way.

There are even more engineering and manufacturing firms in the community who might rally around a concrete education initiative focused on science and engineering.

Still have that cocktail napkin handy?


MIT had specifications for a FAB Lab to allow students to fabricate almost anything they could design on a computer – everything from ultra thin computers to furniture to toys to whatever.

The basic equipment for such a lab cost $60K (okay, plus a little more to make the space ready somewhere in the community).

Training and technical support exists through MIT and also the FAB Lab network of users throughout the world.

Two such labs already exist successfully in the Cleveland area and might even be open for a tour if someone were to ask.


The PTA and the school system and some local businesses were to work together to establish such a lab in the school system.

High school students could be using high tech equipment to create, well, almost anything. Maybe they could even create science experiments for the elementary schools to use for education? Or, maybe they could do some research for those local businesses? Maybe.

My cocktail napkin says that it is worth taking a closer look.


Badass Geek said...

Sounds intriguing to me!

Jessica said...

Amazing. Is it just turn-key fundraising at this point with the historic distribution choice? What is the protocol on new allocation of funds? Most likely people are just lazy and the current strategy is what works. Sadly, I am in a different school district AND county...otherwise would be happy to push on this side of town. Although, if you need help with development/fundraising strategy...let me know. It was my job for the Univ. just down Mass Ave from MIT.

Brigette said...

Sounds great. Too bad you're probably going to have to start organizing it -- you, with all your free time and dearth of commitments.

MIT Mommy said...

Jessica - I certainly wouldn't categorize anyone as 'lazy,' although I am sure everything isn't revisited every year. As you know, perspectives change over time. Anyway, I'm not even sure that the funds would have to be re-allocated totally. With due respect to our amazing volunteers, it may make sense to just 'cap' the scholarships at some level and anything beyond that benchmark go to other projects.

I think there is a lot of untapped opportunity in our town. The scholarship fund is not necessarily close to my heart, but beyond that I fear that it limits us. The one fundraiser policy that uses ALL of the money towards the out-going seniors takes the wind out of the enthusiasm of our younger families. No one wants to compete with the one fundraiser, and thus do not propose any additional opportunities for those who may have other ideas.

And, frankly, it $1000 is a drop in the bucket towards a college education. I'm sure they are thankful, but it is a token 'thank you' for years of hard work. I feel like those seniors would have been better served by enriching their education while they are in our town, rather than sending them off with a pat on the back.

But, having said that, I'm not interested in making people angry. There is no reason why we can't establish a plan that benefits everyone. We might find that with the right idea and corporate sponsorship, our fundraising capability doubles. We assume we've seen the whole pie.

My oldest is only in 2nd grade this year and I'm proposing a project that mostly benefits our high school students to start with. I am extending a hand to think long-term for our community.

I'm just wondering if anyone else feels the same.

Oh, and yes I'll call you. I know your background - and I have ways to help you out too =).

amyjr said...

Wow what a great idea. I agree about the scholarship. We all work hard to raise money for all the children and I know there is a huge need for scholarship for seniors, but I also have a 2nd grader and feel that money raised by PTA should benefit ALL children and a lab would. And there are alot of very smart people in our towns.

Working Glass Gal said...

I think this is a great idea, but you know I'm a manufacturing geek at heart (and have the good fortune to sit a few steps away from my own crazy 3D printer). If you get any traction on the financing, let me know. Maybe I can help point you to some contacts to help with the equipment.

P.S. Nice to have you back and firing on all cylinders. I missed you. XOXO.

*Moi* said...

My cocktail napkin (okay, cranberry juice napkin) agrees with your cocktail napkin!

Brigette said...

I agree about the scholarship money.

AreWeThereYet? said...

I still have my cocktail napkin in hand and my ear pressed to the wall wanting to hear more conversation on this supposed/proposed idea. So who are we going to forward this post to first???

*Moi* said...

Hmmm. We should do that in the Baltimore area, too. But, maybe not. Too many break-ins down here :)

MIT Mommy said...

Amy - Glad to hear from one of the many smart people in our community.

Glass Gal - Can always use help, and your technical prowess is certainly more up to date than mine!! Thank you Thank you

There Yet? - I received your other message as well. I don't think the person you spoke to about the meeting had read this post yet. Another post of mine was read at the PTA Council meeting on Friday.

I'm getting the impression that you want to pursue this further.

Anonymous said...

I live in one of the other top rated school districts in the State of Ohio. We have six school buildings in our district, each with their own PSO. Funds raised by each PSO, benefit that particular school. You would be amazed at the amount of money you can raise when the parents know that the funds will directly benefit their child. We have purchased Smartboards, an entire classroom of computers, built an outside nature learning lab classroom, and also raised enough money in a few short months to build a playground. And that is at just one of our elementary schools. We too, have a scholarship fund in place, with a separate event held to raise the funds. Those who choose to attend, know that the funds will benefit graduating Seniors.
There is clearly untapped opportunity in your community and it is easily attainable for those willing to change the archaic ways of the PTA.
If you choose to go the corporate sponser route, be prepared for community backlash. Our district does not allow corporate sponsership at any level,much to the agreement of many parents in our district. Schools need to be a refuge from corporate influence. Students are basically captive audiences that any corporation would love to reach, especially local businesses. I'd be willing to bet that you can raise the funds for the MIT lab with only donations from student families. We raised over $60,000 for the playground, imagine how willing parents would be to donate to the Lab.

MIT Mommy said...

Anonymous - Thank you for your insights! I appreciate your taking a few minutes to share your experiences.

I do think we can have the scholarship program as well as additional successes and am pleased to hear it is working in other communities.

I am also pleased to hear that you have not needed to engage corporate sponsors. That is very encouraging.

Thank you.

Suzi said...

Just curious if you presented the idea to Council, BOE or anyone within the school system or PTA? I didn't hear it mentioned at the PTA Council meeting.

MIT Mommy said...

Suzi - This is still very much a 'back of the napkin' stage idea from my perspective. But, per my great conversation with you (thank you again), I think it does make sense to move it into more of an official process.