Once a week for three months, Newark Charter High School students Riya Setty, Noah Rossi and Megan Chen missed class as they headed up Interstate 95 to Wilmington, meeting up with a group of other students.
When they came back, they had to make up their coursework and go in after school. But, by the end of a 10-week period, they had created a company, designed two curriculums and written a children’s book between the three of them.
The teens are recent alumni of Dual School, a program that allows high school students in Delaware to pursue passion projects to create real-life applications. Developed by Zachary Jones, Meghan Wallace and Catherine Lindroth, the program connects students from different schools so they can learn from each other while prototyping their own projects.
“From the outside, it looks like it’s super fun, interesting, you can really do a cool project, but there’s a lot of intentionality behind forming groups,” said Jones, the director of Dual School and a 2017 graduate of the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship program. “The students are all coming together from different schools and contexts, so we really try to create a lot of conversations and opportunities for students to interact with people they wouldn’t normally get to interact with.”
Dual School connects students from schools like Newark Charter, William Penn, The Charter School of Wilmington, Cab Calloway, Concord High, Conrad Schools of Science and others. It also matches students with a mentor, who helps connect the students with professionals.
Setty and Rossi were both a part of the program’s pilot. Setty applied to the program to address the problem of lack of women in computer science; Rossi wanted to look at the sparse computer science education in high schools.
By the end of the program, Rossi had created Ground Up Computer Science, a company to bring computer science education to students through camps, and Setty had developed a curriculum for eighth graders.
Chen participated in the subsequent cohort, where she created a curriculum to align with her children’s book, “Finding Tiger,” which looked at the problems of racism, implicit bias and stereotyping. Ryan Mitchell, college counselor, said that they’re in the process of finding Chen a literary agent.
“Once we saw it actually take off – to see that it was a pilot program when Riya and Noah first started and, from that, they both obtained tremendous opportunities, including a full-fledged business that is now running that Noah started,” Mitchell said. “You know, you really can’t question its value.”
The three students agreed that the set up of Dual School was valuable. Jones said that mentors are matched with no more than three students, to keep the connections personal.
“It’s not tied to one group, which, honestly, is one of the coolest aspects of it,” Rossi said. “It’s not like tied to the Horn Center or the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Initiative or 1313. It’s sort of like this combination of all these different ideas that culminated in Dual School, with backing from different groups.”
Setty’s mentor was part of a non-profit that focuses on technology education for inner-city kids.
“She was really able to open up a lot of opportunities for me, not only with the project,” Setty said. “She was able to offer me an internship, and volunteer and work opportunities, which was really beneficial.”
Chen worked with a student who was well-versed in the subject and connected her with a UD professor. Rossi worked with Lindroth, who is the director of the Summer Learning Collaborative, and was able to run a camp through the organization.
“Next year, we’re hoping to scale that up even more to regional kids,” he added.
Connecting with the other schools proved powerful, too.
“You had people your age to almost prototype your project to these people before you actually made it into a real thing,” Chen said. “I made a lot of connections to people around the area.”
They agreed that it was a natural environment.
“A lot of the students thought that it was important to have students from different schools because it sort of gives everyone a fresh slate,” Rossi said. “There’s all these students you don’t really know before, they don’t really have any preconceived notions of who you are and all that, so it made everyone so strangely comfortable pitching these brand new ideas into a room of almost strangers at that point.”
Jones said that part of the vision is to make entrepreneurship education more accessible to more people in this area. Working with high schoolers seems like the perfect fit, he added.
“Because students are just starting to get a feel for what they might want to do and who they are and what impact they want to make,” he said. “This gives them space to experiment with that.”
For the Newark Charter students, Dual School did impact their futures in some way. Rossi, a senior who is beginning the college search, said that the program helped him realize he was interested in computer science and the managerial side.
“I kind of used to think that managers were just kind of these people that ran meetings and it was boring and all that, but now I kind of realize that there’s a lot more to it and it’s really like an interdisciplinary thing, especially because computer science plus management is this growing field as all these technology companies mature,” he said.
While Setty, a junior, knew she was interested in getting more women into computer science, she said that Dual School helped her figure out that it’s a problem she personally connects with and inspired her to do more, like start a club for girls in STEM fields to “create a community between them,” she said.
“It has shown me what I’m truly passionate about and showed me that I want to help people,” she said.
Chen, a sophomore, said that Dual School helped her find what she was interested in. She started an entrepreneurship club at the school after the prototyping mindset that was instilled in her from Dual School.
“And then through writing and all of that, I’ve found that I really enjoy doing that kind of stuff,” she said. “So I’ve gotten more into like journalism and writing. I did a summer camp at Stanford for journalism, and that was really cool. I think that helped me.”
Through networking, creating projects and programs that have real life applications, the students agreed that it was a beneficial 10 weeks.
“The whole missing class thing did add more work, but I think it was worth it in the long run because even though in the short term I had to make up work and go in after school, I was able to gain opportunities from Dual School that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t missed class,” Setty said.