Designer Spotlight: Kathleen Mazurek
Through her work as Outreach Coordinator at Digital Harbor Foundation, Kathleen Mazurek was invited by Liberty Elementary to grow a technology after school program. Once onboarded, she partnered with Christyn Wallace, a 4th grade teacher, and together they grew the program. They are now in year two and are looking to expand into a third year.
How did this initiative originate?
The principal, Joe Manko’s vision was to create a program for grades 1-5 where students could explore design thinking and STEAM content via the Idea Lab, Liberty’s Makerspace area. He wanted to ensure that families could participate and not be limited by their age. Both Ms. Wallace and I have worked to foster a community of learners that focus on habits of mind, design thinking, and empathy. Given the blended age of our cohort, we have fostered a community mindset where listening, collaboration and ownership is valued. We have emphasized that teamwork makes the dreamwork and our students apply that mindset to every project. They try their best, they help their teammates and they self monitor so that they can learn valuable work habits and develop empathy.
Our core group of parents are a blessing and have been essential to growing the program into its second year.
What were the biggest challenges in establishing this program?
The biggest challenges have been by far the funding. Thankfully, we have had the support of an amazing administrator who has been instrumental in funding our program. We are supported both by monthly tuition collected from parents and grant funds.
Plan it with love and with honesty. After school programs work and thrive as a side hustle for most people… Your commitment will inspire commitment in others.
What was essential for your success?
Communication, community support, and financial support have been the hallmarks of the program’s success. Both Ms. Wallace and I work two jobs to make the program happen and our parents are aware of this. Our parents are our loudest advocates and maintaining a positive relationships is paramount to the program’s survival. By maintaining a level of consistency and school presence, we have built a strong relationship with families that has helped us weather funding uncertainty.
How have you grown in the community?
We have grown community through our consistent presence in school and social media presence through Liberty’s active hashtag. Through our social media presence, we have drawn unlikely partners. Jermaine Bell reached out to offer a showcase at Impact Hub Baltimore in the summer of 2016 and we brainstormed how to make this happen in a space commonly reserved for startups. April Danielle Lewis with Labbodies reached out in the winter of 2017 to include Liberty Elementary in the Neighborhood Lights installation at the Light City festival.
What were the biggest milestones for success?
The biggest milestones of our success have been consistent parent support in our bi-annual student Makerfair showcases, consistent monthly enrollment and partnership opportunities. Also, our partnerships at Impact Hub and with Light City have shown our students that good work speaks for itself.
What would you have done differently?
In my experience, it is much easier to plan a program that is scaffolded according to age. In the future, I would cap the number of students of first grade students, in that fine motor and reading skills are still in development.
What else should someone interested in piloting a program know?
Plan for your staffing first and foremost. Strong staffing builds and sustains programming because strong staffing builds strong communities. Ensure that your instructors are compensated for their time for both planning and instruction.Plan for scalability so your program can weather funding shortfalls. Plan it with love and with honesty. After school programs work and thrive as a side hustle for most people. Plan it as a relay, in that it will build a culture if you plan ahead for building team members in. Your commitment will inspire commitment in others.