RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) announced that Mary Simon, its founder and executive director, will retire in the spring of 2014 after 20 years. A former teacher, Simon started the organization to provide hands-on learning resources to educators looking for creative ways to inspire their students and foster critical-thinking skills.

“Creating a place that celebrates and supports great teaching was a dream-come-true for me, and I thank the thousands of teachers who have joined RAFT to improve the quality of education,” Simon said. “RAFT’s success has been made possible by the volunteers, donors, and companies that have supported our efforts. The heightened interest in hands-on or project-based learning with the new Common Core State Standards will make RAFT even more valuable for educators moving forward. I am confident the organization is well-positioned for continued success.”

The transition to Common Core curriculum challenges educators to offer practical and engaging activities that help students develop critical-thinking skills. Project-based activities, like those provided by RAFT, have been proven effective in helping students achieve a deeper understanding of complex math and science concepts.

Simon started RAFT in 1994 after 12 years of teaching in the classroom, mostly math and science. The experience deepened her belief that hands-on learning is the best way to help children understand complex concepts and develop a love of learning. She said project-based teaching is effective because it actively engages students in the learning process and brings abstract concepts to life. But teachers don’t always have the resources they need to provide hands-on activities and often end up paying for supplies out of their own pockets.

“I wanted to create something I wish I had as a teacher,” she said. “I knew these resources not only had to be effective and engaging, they also had to be affordable. With the help of area companies and donors, we have achieved that.”

RAFT is a membership organization open to all educators.  At its San Jose and Redwood City locations teachers have access to ready-made, hands-on teaching kits; more than 600 Idea Sheets for activities in math, science and art; a resource room staffed with education specialists who can help teachers plan their projects or lessons; teaching workshops; and affordable teaching supplies.

In addition, RAFT has a processing and volunteer facility, the Sobrato Center, in Sunnyvale, where volunteers process materials donated by area companies and assemble hands-on teaching kits. RAFT has been successful at helping local companies recycle their surplus goods. Just about any gadget, from business surplus inventory to manufacturing discards, can find its way into one of RAFT’s hands-on teaching kits. Cardboard tubes, rubber bands, CDs and many other items become the ingredients for inventive teaching kits that challenge kids to think.

RAFT’s influence goes beyond the Bay Area through its online store and affiliate organizations in Sacramento and Denver, Colorado. Under Simon’s leadership, RAFT has grown into a 10,000-member organization that has helped to enrich the educational experience of hundreds of thousands of students.

RAFT’s staff and Board of Directors are committed to continuing RAFT’s mission and growing the organization’s impact. The Board has formed a search committee to replace Simon and to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

“Under Mary’s leadership, RAFT has become an invaluable resource for educators and a hub for community involvement,” said Jon Flaxman, chair of the RAFT Board of Directors. “RAFT would not be what it is today without Mary’s vision and creativity. We look forward to celebrating what she has accomplished over two decades and welcoming a new leader to grow RAFT’s impact on education.”

“I am proud that I was able to create a place where teachers can come and feel supported and respected for the important work that they do,” Simon said. “It is also incredibly rewarding to know that RAFT has helped to inspire and engage so many children through the innovative activities and materials that we create.”

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