District C Pilots at CHCCS High Schools
A new elective course will be available for the 2020-2021 school year at Chapel Hill, Carrboro and East Chapel Hill High Schools, but teams of students are already part of a pilot launch this year. “District C: Working in Teams to Solve Real-World Problems” will be offered in partnership with the organization District C, which is committed to preparing the next generation of talent across the Triangle and Southeast.
Dan Gonzalez is the co-founder of District C, and he has been working closely with five CHCCS teachers to set the foundation for the full rollout of the course next year. He said, “Colleges and employers are increasingly looking beyond GPA's and test scores. They want students who have real-world experience working in diverse teams to solve complex problems. This course will provide you with that experience."
The course will follow the District C model of pairing small student teams with local and regional businesses. Students first participate in a Launch Day training session before working together in person and online hangouts to research and develop solutions to address their assigned business’s problem statement. They unveil those solutions in Pitch sessions with representatives from the businesses.
So far, 11 Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) students have completed two three-week cycles of researching, brainstorming and pitching, with the first Pitch Night taking place last November, and the second one on February 24. The three businesses who partnered with the teams this month were LetServe, Brandwein’s Bagels and Chapel Hill Toffee.
Students arrived at the Pitch Night in business attire, and they mingled with parents, business owners and CHHS teachers for a “networking reception,” before delivering their team presentations. The response has been extremely positive from both students and businesses.
Cole Ragsdale, CHHS junior on the Brandwein’s Bagels team, said, “The District C experience was something that I would highly recommend to other students. It allows students to work collaboratively in teams and collectively work together to solve real world problems. It helped me think outside of the box for possible solutions for Mr. Brandwein. I would 10/10 recommend district C to others.”
Christine Cotton is the founder of LetServe, an online platform created to connect students with nonprofit organizations to track volunteer hours and increase civic engagement. Cotton said, “Pitch Night was fantastic! Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in District C. The LetServe student team asked very thoughtful questions and did thorough research which resulted in a spot on presentation with valuable and implementable suggestions. I am looking forward to continuing our partnership with the CHHS teachers and District C as we work to create summer internships for CHCCS students. This is such an amazing program!”
Lars Kahn, a sophomore at CHHS, was part of the LetServe team. He said, “In my experience, District C was a good opportunity to gauge my teamwork and communication skills. Through working with my great peers and talking with Ms. Cotton, we established a good foundation to help her with the various problems she faces with LetServe. The weekend before the pitch night, we used an agenda and our notes to finish the majority our presentation, with the notes making building the presentation an efficient process. I personally enjoyed the District C experience of getting to work with a local business, teammates, and a real problem to grow several skills that are needed in a professional business environment.”
Melody Copeland is a freshman at CHHS, and she also worked on the Brandwein’s Bagels team. “The experience leading up to pitch night was very effective,” she said. “Once we figured out what our main problem was and how to solve it, our group got a lot of work done. We all started to pitch in ideas, and overall, I feel like it was a great experience to help me be productive in my future.”
Teachers who are leading District C teams have completed intensive trainings with the organization. At CHHS, Garrison Reid, Erica Kinney and Jennifer Hoffman have worked with the students in the pilot cycles. Chris Beichner from Carrboro High School and McClain Musson from East Chapel Hill will be leading students through a Launch Day on UNC campus, March 7, and then they will complete a cycle of District C collaboration.
Reid said he’s heard from parents who have attended Pitch Nights, and they inevitably remark on the advanced level of professional training the students are receiving. Reid said, “The teamwork is very reflective of the way processes work in professional spaces, focusing on an end goal and a product to deliver. Teachers who have completed the training say, ‘I can use these project management strategies in my own classes’ (across disciplines).”
With an emphasis on accountability, reliability, iterative design and group problem-solving, it’s clear that District C participation gives an authentic and ongoing boost to students as they prepare for college and careers.
Sophomore Christina Kennedy, another Brandwein’s Bagels team member, said, “District C was an awesome opportunity to meet with business leaders and help them solve their real world problems. I’m so glad I did it!”