This year, Janae Peters and Justin Cook took over as the new teachers of the Entrepreneurship program. Justin Cook has been a full-time entrepreneur for the past six years, launching two start-up companies and inspiring him to join the program. ”I was pretty familiar with the methodologies and ideals of the curriculum. It’s something that speaks to the core of my being. It creates life-changing educational experiences. Project-based learning is an idea that has been tossed around for decades. The approach just made a lot of sense to me. For that reason, it made the decision pretty easy for me to come and join the team.” Ms. Peters, who is a humanities teacher by background, has taught entrepreneurship programs in the past. Ms. Peters remarked that “[her] aunt was in the first class of women at Hawken, so [she’s] heard of Hawken, but didn’t go [herself]. [She] had a good friend who graduated from Hawken but he was sort of the anomaly. He was the person who left [their] public school district and had an opportunity here.” Ms. Peters is from Cleveland, and has come back from teaching at boarding schools to become a part of Hawken’s Mastery School next year.
The Entrepreneurship program is one of Hawken’s macro-courses. It incorporates project-based learning and community engagement into a multi-block course that’s based at Hawken’s Gries Center in University Circle, where the Mastery School will also be based. "I love the idea of young folks solving problems in and around Cleveland and learning as much as they do in the process," says Ms. Peters. Mr. Cook is “really excited to incorporate a model for young people of different communities” as he believes that “helping students that might fall between the cracks” defined his career path. However, taking over the program hasn’t been the easiest for Ms. Peters and Mr. Cook. For them, “this is a completely new teaching and learning experience for me,” says Mr. Cook. Mr. Cook says that “one of the biggest obstacles for [him] has been getting comfortable with the process of developing lessons. While you are given different tools for the classroom experience, there’s a customization approach to each class session. Each semester is going to be different because the students are all different … it’s a more intense challenge for the teacher because it’s not all laid out for you from the beginning.” The flexibility, yet added challenges of teaching a course like Entrepreneurship are what define the program.
“What was hard for me was being new,” says Ms. Peters, who has worked at boarding school previously. ”I’m used to knowing lots of the community and knowing everyone around. [Entrepreneurship] has us off campus a lot. I’m with the same group of wonderful students all the time, but it also means that we don’t know a ton of people when we venture out of our classroom or outside the Gries Center. The learning experience is wonderful and what they do is life changing, but I think that we are a very insular group for the time being. That was kind of hard for me, coming from lots of big communities and now not being around a lot of people”.
As far as changes to the program, Ms. Peters believes that “[they] are two fairly young, black teachers co-teaching a course. [She] would argue that [they] are pioneers in that way. There is something that this experience brings that is different from any other course, Mr. Cook being the entrepreneur that he is, [her] being a teacher who’s from Cleveland that understands some of the stuff we’re engaging in, [she] think that does add something that doesn’t always pan out in any lesson plan, but it is something that contributes to a new experience. “
One concept that the two teachers have implemented into the Entrepreneurship course is the value of community and sense of self. Ms. Peters says that they start every semester with two exercises, a social identity exercise and a core values one. The purpose of these exercises is “to really start to think about who we are and what that means as a class and in this space. That’s something that I’m pretty sure is different from past years, but we thought was important to what we hoped students would learn and do.”
“It’s definitely important to create a sense of community in the classroom for the work that we do,” says Mr. Cook. “It’s all project-based, so you’re working as a team to solve different challenges. Collaboration is a big part of that. How your messages can land for different people in different ways are based on who they are and how they self-identify. It’s a key ingredient in the early days of the class to create a sense of community.”
Jumping into their second semester of teaching Entrepreneurship, Mr. Cook is looking forward to the future. Mr. Cook feels “really humbled and really excited for this experience as someone who cares deeply about entrepreneurship and education. This opportunity has been the perfect marriage between [his] two passions in life.” One of Ms. Peters’ passions is accessibility. She values “what people are able to access in education and student growth and development,” but she also believes “in people being good citizens of the world and decent humans. This course creates the space for opportunities to engage in all of that. As we rounded up last semester, I was thinking a lot about what a program like this can do for access. What it can do for student growth development and how it could help anyone be a better citizen of their community. Those are the things I think a lot about on a day to day with this course.
In final words, “[Entrepreneurship] alone has given me a chance to reflect and think about how I can grow as an educator, as a guy, as a stan for youth,” says Mr. Cook.