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Why this project

Purpose:
Acera, The Massachusetts School of Science, Creativity, and Leadership, is a young non-profit striving to change the education paradigm in the United States. Acera’s leaders understand the challenges with current education model, but are hopeful about the future. These educators teach students to become capable and fulfilled adults. Students learn the skills needed to become leaders in a modern work environment and enjoy the journey along the way.

Problem:
The school has an aspirational mission, but with any great change comes significant challenge. For Acera, the primary obstacle is creating a pathway to higher education after students graduate in 8th grade. Although students are knowledgeable and wise beyond their years, they are not groomed specifically for standardized tests. This difference in ideology, blocks them from entrance into educational institutions which look heavily at standardized tests. Acera students do well enough at these tests, but not to the extent of students who have spent months each year on test taking strategy. In this type of competition, Acera students are not given the opportunity to show their full merit and higher education institutions are robbed of talent.

What is at stake
Without partnerships, traditional assessment methods, or the endowment to invest in either, Acera risks slipping from its well earned climb to existence. A future, which parents and educators agree is unacceptable.

Education in current schools does not prepare children for a future. Students in most schools are not taught the creative problem-solving, technological capacity, or internal-reflection skills needed to find and succeed at meaningful work.

If Acera were to close, students would be thrust back into an education system which does not motivate them. Many would fall short of their potential. It would perpetuate the cycle of challenges faced by young people in the workforce. Parents, educators, and children alike would be despondent should Acera fail.

A future to strive toward
To help Acera’s students achieve their potential, the consulting team and I had to help them beat an outdated assessment system. If we are able to, the students would not only thrive, but become some of the greatest contributors in society.
How we did it

Key Points
Extend to high school
Leverage new assessment methods for students
Build a brand
Partner with colleges

The consulting team and I took a three pronged approach.

A Full Primary Education Experience
More and more colleges are receptive to innovative education methods and look for accomplishments that stand out. This primes Acera students for acceptance into college once they find the right ones. The bigger challenge is getting into a good high school. It is less typical and affordable to send children away for high school, which limits the options to those within driving distance. Many of these high schools espouse the industrial education system which Acera students have rejected. Entrance criteria typically relies heavily on exam scores.

The consulting team and I strongly recommended that Acera work toward an end-to-end primary education experience for their students. This would afford students the ability to leap over the most resistant education organizations and enter directly into colleges like Olin or Babson whom aspire to have the types of students Acera graduates.

Leverage new assessment methods
In addition to schools like Babson and Olin, whom actively search for students who show practical prowess, Acera needs to provide pathways to other colleges and universities. For this our consultants recommend the innovative assessment methods used by other cutting-edge institutions.

Schools like Olin College of Engineering, High Tech High, and Somerville’s STEAM Academy use portfolios and competitive awards to prime their students for admittance into the next phase of their education. Students have a long list of projects to their name by the time they leave school. These are the primary drivers of their growth and when showcased in a portfolio, show their prowess.

These projects and ability to create excellent work, primes students for success in regional and global competitions against their peers. Olin College, makes up a large portion of all finalists in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program each year. An impressive feat when one considers Olin’s size, 350 students, against 112 other institutions from around the globe. The success of Olin’s students in these competitions demonstrate their outstanding ability to address the planets most pressing problems.

In a similar manner, Acera students are able to perform remarkably well in creative competitions. These awards are clear benchmarks by which Acera students can be measured. These competitions address the need previously served by standardized tests and can be used to recognize the potential of each student.

Build a brand
The accomplishments of Acera students not only improve their personal brand, but the brand of Acera itself. The school’s brand awareness among higher education institutions is vital because it is how other schools will frame Acera students’ experience.

Without a brand, the students have to do the legwork. Each time a student is interviewed, they have to build an understanding about their educational background from scratch. Similar to how Whole Foods educated the world about Organic, Acera needs to teach education professionals about the value of this style of education.

My consulting team not only helped strategize how to do this, but crafted marketing material to aid Acera along the way.

What we accomplished
My team and I delivered a myriad of strategies Acera can use to gain traction. We developed marketing resources such as survey templates, communication documents, and research-backed methods. These resources enable the school to focus on top-notch education, rather than get bogged down by business strategy.

We sat together with students, researched education pedagogy, and put together a plan to set Acera on the path toward success.

Acera is still alive today and doing better than ever. Their outreach capabilities have extended beyond the simple online website, to a fully fledged pipeline of both prospective students and donors. You can see their website here, at AceraSchool.org.

Conclusion
Although the consultants only had a short month and a half with the school, in which we cannot claim credit for many of the staff’s accomplishments, we were able to lighten the burden of these educators and fill a business gap previously missing.

Materials
The following materials are those developed for the Acera School by the Babson, Olin, Wellesley (BOW) Consortium.

Deliverables

Disclaimer
Disclaimer: These are my own opinions and not necessarily the opinions of the Acera school. All articulations of the school’s mission are my own interpretation and do not necessarily represent the desires of Acera.

Learning
Through this experience I learned domain specific knowledge, and how to look at problems from a First Principles approach. It was a chance to see how students learn and what an impact new educational models can have on their well-being. It stoked my passion for education and afforded me the tools needed to take action.