Kent State unveils partnership with Akron Public Schools to strengthen innovation, design thinking

Firestone High School Principal Larry Johnson and President Beverly Warren listen to David James, the superintendent of Akron Public Schools, speak at a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, which announced a partnership geared toward experiential learning. 

Akron Public high school students’ learning will soon expand beyond the classroom, allowing them to engage in opportunities targeted toward their college careers through a partnership with Kent State and Firestone Community Learning Center.

Kent State plans to provide hands-on learning for the high schools in performing arts, design, architecture, advanced technology and comprehensive engineering, communication and fashion.

In a press conference Wednesday, Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James said while children have changed as learners, the school’s innovation hasn’t — until now.

“Our vision for Akron Public Schools’ students is to have engaged learning with goals for their future — students who are more competitive when going for internships and scholarships, and all Akron Public Schools’ graduates employed, enrolled or enlisted,” James said.

President Beverly Warren said the collaboration will generate excitement and energy around education.

“Just as we’re looking at innovation in our own environment, we’re looking for those partners to really help us develop an innovation ecosystem here in Northeast Ohio,” Warren said. “And here we have the opportunity for design thinking to sit at the core of that innovation.”

Warren said this partnership was arranged with the community’s youth in mind, or “those who depend on us to really help craft that pathway.”

She thanked Senior Associate Provost Melody Tankersley and Justin Hilton, who recently accepted the position of senior director of community engagement.

Warren closed her remarks with words familiar to students and educators, originally stated by Dr. Seuss: “We have brains in our heads, feet in our shoes; we can steer ourselves in any direction we choose.”

Firestone High School is home to about 1,250 students, and was mentioned by the Washington Post in a ranking of how successfully schools challenge their students.

The high school was ranked 1,849 out of 2,368 across the nation.

Principal Larry Johnson said the partnership will empower everyone, and students will be the main officiaries of the collaboration.

“It won’t be easy, and we’re going to have to be creative and persistent in order to be successful,” Johnson said.

He said a large part of what Firestone does is design, and it seemed like a natural, logical fit with Kent State.

Ginger Baylor, an Akron Board of Education member, said she is looking forward to aligning with a forward-thinking university.

“It helps our students have something to look forward to and will be able to acclimate themselves to college earlier now to where they have a different understanding of what to expect once they arrive on campus,” Baylor said. “Having that experience, I think, is key to success for the students.”

Valerie Royzman is an administration reporter. Contact her a [email protected].

Laina Yost is an administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected].