“Too often, in our traditional education system, we are preparing students for things that aren’t relevant or particularly useful in the modern workplace,” said Dan Gonzales, co-founder of District C. As former educators, Gonzales and his wife, Ann Jones, are hoping to solve that problem. They co-founded the nonprofit District C to train students to be better prepared for the modern economy.
Now, District C is hoping to expand its learning model with the Coaching Institute. Participants, called coaching fellows, spend six months learning how to help students to solve real-world problems for local businesses. Once they become certified District C coaches, they will implement after-school programs and for-credit courses back in their schools and communities.
The current cohort of aspiring coaches has a total of 13 professionals, including eight teachers. These participants come from Rowan County, Edgecombe County, Warren County, Wake County, and the Cape Fear region.
“I became interested in District C because it seemed like a great way to learn how to problem solve, how to be more of a critical thinker, and working in teams,” said Angiene Pommells, a math teacher from Warren New Tech High School. “Students are taking on tasks for a letter grade. They’re not being prepared for the real world.”
The Coaching Institute pitch event
In February, the Coaching Institute members completed their journey at a pitch event, held at the HQ Gateway co-working space in Raleigh.
Here’s how it worked: The 13 members are divided up into four teams. The four teams collaborate, brainstorm, and pitch solutions to real problems facing local nonprofits.
The organizations they were creating business plans for are Community Home Trust, a Chapel Hill nonprofit that creates affordable housing in the Triangle, and Knox Street Studios, a Durham nonprofit entrepreneurship and business hub.
The teams spent four weeks preparing their proposals. Each pitch session was about 10 minutes long and included a short question and answer session.
Community Home Trust was looking for a better way to reach their audience and build a following.
“We decided that one of the best ways that Community Home Trust could tell their stories were through videos,” said Pommells.
Their pitch was for each member of the Community Home Trust team to create short, one-minute videos with their phones. In each video, team member would explain why Community Home Trust has had an impact on their lives.
This process is the same one that District C students will experience. For that reason, it is a vital part of the Coaching Institute mission, to have all of the coaches go through the program themselves.
“We feel that this experience is critical to put them on the path to becoming great coaches in this work,” Gonzales said. “If they understand the work and the experience through the students’ eyes, they’ll develop a deep sense of empathy for that student experience.”
David Andrews, a math teacher in the Coaching Institute, is working to design a District C class at his school in Rowan County.
“We think we can really solve problems and help our community and our school,” he said.
“And though it’s challenging, District C has taught me so much,” said Pommells. “Now, I can go back and I can teach them, ‘This is how you solve a problem.'”
Behind the Story
The content in this article was filmed and produced in February, before the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.