Students Tackle Local After-School Program in Innovation Challenge

MBA students in the Design and Innovation Strategy Club (DISC) at Haas, which offers opportunities to deepen classroom learning by applying lessons to real-world problems, recently tackled a new challenge: after-school programs. Alpha Public Schools, a charter management organization with middle and grade schools in East San Jose and a 500-seat high school on the way in 2015, sought DISC's help overcoming particular obstacles.

“We want a program that connects what students are learning in school and out of school, and since 40 percent of our kids are English-language learners, it has to be accessible to them,” says Will Eden, who will lead the high school when it opens. And, he says, the after-school program must have the potential to achieve measurable results and cost no more than $2500.

On a recent Saturday, about 25 MBA students, along with an equal number of students in education and public policy as well as a small group from the California College of Arts, met at the Berkeley-Haas Innovation Lab inside Memorial Stadium to brainstorm solutions that could lay the groundwork for Alpha’s new program.

Working in teams, club members watched a video of students from Alpha’s Blanca Alvarado Middle School talking about their lives and their education and then met with tenth graders in the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) program for a better understanding of the challenges students face.

Each team developed a plan that included goals, methods, and staffing requirements and presented it to a panel of judges.

Realizing that many students lack a quiet place to read at home, one team floated “Alpha Beats,” which entails equipping students with noise-cancelling headsets and encouraging them to listen to recorded stories and articles on the headsets while reading the same material from a printed page.

Ashley Kleckner, BA 05 (Mass Communication), MBA 15, who worked on Alpha Beats, says the challenge “gave me a chance to apply my skills to an industry I believe in—education.”

Another team suggested that students use computers to research subjects they care about, such as sports, then blog about them. Because some students might feel self-conscious about their writing skills, the team suggested they work in pairs to help boost confidence.

At the end of day, Eden and the other judges said the challenge met their expectations, and they plan to use a number of the strategies developed by the teams. There was no need to pick a winner, they said.

Was the long day worthwhile for the Haas students? Absolutely, said Vivek Murali, MBA 14. “Hearing the perspective of the kids and working on the challenge was invigorating, and it helped crystallize my understanding that so many young people lack confidence in their own abilities,” he says. “We have to develop assignments that interest and engage them.”

Vivek Murali, MBA 14, at the daylong innovation challenge to help improve after-school programs for a new charter high school.