More than 325 education supporters gathered at RAFT on October 9 to participate in The Amazing Race to prepare students for success in the global economy.  To start the evening, RAFT’s education team and newly inducted class of Fellows led guests through a series of hands-on challenges focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) concepts. As they built hovercrafts, tested solar experimenters, and designed roller coasters, participants connected real-world challenges to STEM learning through RAFT’s hands-on activities.

Hands-on education is an important part of teaching students key 21st-century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and creativity. These skills are critical for employers striving to remain competitive in the global economy. This is a point that Randy Pond, Executive Vice President of Operations, Processes, and Systems of Cisco Systems, discussed during this keynote address. Randy emphasized that today’s students are preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet, making these skills essential for adapting and succeeding in school, life, and the workplace.

Emmanuel Stewart receives the Robert Brownlee Teacher of the Year Award

Emmanuel Stewart receives the
Robert Brownlee Teacher of the Year Award

One of the most important reasons for hosting the event each year is to celebrate excellence in teaching. Mary Simon, RAFT Founder and Executive Director, presented the Robert Brownlee Teacher of the Year Award to Emmanuel Stewart.

Emmanuel Stewart serves San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood and is celebrated for his hands-on science lessons and commitment to closing the opportunity gap for students. He serves six elementary schools as the region’s first-ever Science Instructional Program Administrator, and is an inspiration to students and colleagues alike.

“For me, the passion is to make sure that our students have an opportunity and the experience of learning,” said Emmanuel. “Without the hands-on investigations, students have a disconnect from what you are teaching from the textbook. Until they make the solution themselves, with hands-on, it has no connection at all. Our students must have hands-on science.”

To further emphasize the importance of hands-on education in developing key 21st-century skills, Emmanuel led 40 tables in the high-energy team competition leg of the race. In just ten minutes, teams raced to construct the tallest free-standing structures using a collection of RAFT’s upcycled materials such as foam, pipe cleaners, and tape. Throughout the effort, Emmanuel added extra hurdles to simulate common workplace challenges. At one point teams could only use one hand, representing a reduction in workforce and at the end participants were not allowed to speak. RAFT even introduced new technology in the form of duct tape, which was available for a $20 donation.

RAFT brought in youth referees equipped with whistles and flags to make sure the highly-competitive teams were following the rules. At the end of the intense collaboration and creative building, table 27 was named victor of The Amazing Race. Most importantly, guests could experience the same hands-on approach that students benefit from with RAFT activities. As Sal Pizarro shared in his article, “But we had a blast failing, and that was really the whole point: If you make science fun for kids, they’ll keep trying until they get it right.”

Ysabel Duron, award-winning television journalist and Founder and Executive Director of Latinas Contra Cancer, emceed the event and closed the evening by urging guests to stay in the race. RAFT’s work would not be possible without generous financial support, material donations, and the thousands of volunteers who build hands-on Activity Kits for classroom use.

RAFT thanks the companies and individuals who sponsored, attended, or otherwise made the event a success. A special round of applause goes to the staff and students of Ex’pression College who donated time and expertise to provide AV support, photography, and entertainment.

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