I am so incredibly proud of them. This was really the Shark Tank of education, the big times. When we got on the bus with the other competitors, Edgar looked at me and said that he thought this was a high school competition. Nope. Not one other student in the building. We were competing against the top education innovators in the country: from 36 teams to 12 to 4 in the final round.
The intimidatingly impressive panel of 14 judges was made up of the executive leadership of organizations including New Schools Venture Fund, Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Education Cities, Stand for Children, Teach for America, Progressive Policy Institute, Walton Family Foundation, USA Funds, Transcend Education, and more.
When all was said and done, we practiced our 10-minute presentation roughly 40 times over the course of a month. And this, after hours of writing, refining, and practicing our individual parts. This was a lot of work by adult standards. For Edgar and Anahi, it was on top of being a full-time student.
At HackSchool, our mission is to teach America's future leaders to solve the world's hardest problems. We do this by partnering students with industry professionals to design and execute projects that solve real people's problems. This competition was a wonderful case study in just that. I am an industry professional in the education world, and I worked collaboratively (on the same level) with a 9th grader and an 11th grader. We were massively successful on a national competition stage, and the students fully pulled their own weight.
People are often skeptical that high school students are capable of performing at the highest levels in the professional world. They are wrong. With the right training and coaching, high school students can perform at levels considerably higher than the average adult. They may not be in the "elite adult performer" category, but neither are most of us...and they're not even adults yet!
In the end, we came in a close runner-up in the final round, and all night at the dinner event (see below), we couldn't finish a conversation without being interrupted by a passerby and judges expounding on their love HackSchool and our presentation...it was great. The kids presented at the highest levels of the professional world and came out on top.
Indianapolis wasn't all serious! We stayed at the Westin, which happened to be the same hotel as many of the NCAA women's basketball teams were staying...it was the Final Four! The night before our big competition, we were working out and swimming laps (good strategies for keeping sharp and calm before a big presentation). I was finishing my warm-up by the pool while Anahi and Edgar were swimming, when an entire DIII women's basketball team burst in, screaming.
They had just won the national championship, not an hour before, and were in search of a place to celebrate. Needless to say, they were on a totally different level than us. Also needless to say, having won the national championship, they deserved the pool. We quickly turned the pool over, lest we be overcome by cannonballs and chanting. It was a bizarre and awesome turn of events.
It's also worth mentioning that this was Anahi's first time on a plane. A momentous occasion. This first photo encapsulates the essence of wonder: