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Puerto Rico Rundown

By: Sofya Shatalova

The first out-of-country class in d.tech history was “Teach 4 d.tech” and it was in Puerto Rico. It was educational, fun, and full of dancing.

Photo by Matthew Silverman

During the second intersession of this school year, a group of twelve students had an idea: a foreign student exchange program. The “Teach 4 d.tech” design lab class started putting together a Puerto Rico student exchange program last year with Rob Bolt, as  mentor, creating a student body to bring it to life. “The India group was an inspiration. . . creating a passion for student service learning,” he said, referencing the community service-driven group of students who are planning to travel to Northern India. Bolt found his ardour in Puerto Rico a few years ago, when he dug into gap years and the experiences students can gain from them. He said Puerto Rico was one of the most welcoming countries with the kindest people. He noted it was also inexpensive to travel there and he thought it would be a perfect place to set up an exchange program.

Daphne Palmeter, a junior and one of the students on the project, said that the first week of the design lab was about building connections with the Puerto Rican department of education:  “We talked with [Bolt’s] contacts in the education department.” Prior to the design lab, Bolt travelled to San Juan for vacation and decided to visit the department of education to build relations. “I walked in and said ‘I need to talk to the secretary,’” he said.  He ended up talking to Maria Christian, the Undersecretary of Academic Affairs of Puerto Rico Department of Education, and worked out the logistics for this new endeavour.

Left to right: Julia Keleher (Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico), Rob Bolt, Ricardo Rosselló (Governor of Puerto Rico). Photo by Matthew Silverman

The original plan was to create a sister-school connection with one of the schools in San Juan. Over the course of the first intersession, the idea morphed into one in which twelve students would be teaching design thinking skills to the pupils of Escuela Francisco Manrique Cabrera, a school similar in size to Design Tech.

When they got there, the initial interaction with the Puerto Rican students started rough. The biggest difficulty was the language barrier, even with the twelve students delivering the lesson in two languages (English explanations with d.tech’s Jose Obregon providing the Spanish translation). The Puerto Rican students, mostly seniors, were not used to speaking English, however by the end of the first class, everyone was more confident and warmed up to each other, even having fun afterwards. Palmeter said that “they held a whole assembly in the courtyard, they brought a group of dancers out to do traditional dances, and it was really amazing.”

Jose Obregon teaching students how design thinking works. Photo by Matthew Silverman

The design thinking lesson was built around the Wallet Design Challenge. The Puerto Rican students were given a cold start, only told to design a wallet. After that task, Design Tech students delved into what empathy is and how to make a product for an average consumer. The first class ended up being longer than expected, stretching out to three and a half hours, and did not follow the outline the students planned out before hand. Despite that, teaching design thinking was a very rewarding experience. Bolt described the students at the end “like phoenixes rising from ashes.”

Matthew Silverman, a junior, was very happy with the trip. “I’m also thinking about taking a gap year,” Silverman said, hoping to grow the program more and connect different schools between the two countries. Both Palmeter and Silverman expressed interest in expanding the curriculum, potentially developing a sister-school program that the group planned originally.


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