In a nation of ever-increasing economic disparity & racial tension, Menlo-Atherton High School stands bravely in the crosshairs of a national climate that would be wise to take a cue from its example.
One of the most diverse high schools in all of California, M-A graduates nearly 97% of its students each year and operates as a living, breathing ideal of American education and its capacity to become “the great equalizer of the conditions of men” as once envisioned by Horace Mann. It is a school that continuously defies categorization: providing students from every socioeconomic background and race imaginable the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and enact change in their community.
Without even compounding the stresses of economic disadvantage or racial diversity on any educational environment, the fact remains that for any school to function successfully it must employ an administration and teaching staff compiled of dedicated professionals giving all of themselves for the betterment of our collective youth.
The work, however, does not stop there.
Local communities and businesses have a unique opportunity to elevate certain educational experiences: stepping out of their worlds to provide guidance and support to students who dream of one day playing critical roles outside classrooms in enacting actual change through the medium of their choosing. Bringing the professional world into a classroom setting offers high school students experiences and perspectives that are generally reserved for post-collegiate existence. It gives them an invaluable head start in fermenting concepts and ideas that will become commonplace once they graduate and seek employment.
It is in this spirit of reaching out, of two intellectual worlds colliding and coexisting, of infusing a high school curriculum with the passion and knowledge of a local business that our story is born, and begins.
For Krista Skehan, Founder & Creative Director of PERSONIFY, it began as a simple desire “to give back, somehow.”
To the casual observer, PERSONIFY operates as a strategic design firm, crafting logos and solutions for clients of all shapes and sizes. This work, however, does not begin and end with the clients or confines of an office building: it is rooted in a fundamental belief in the power of effective design’s capacity for goodness and betterment of business and society.
It is in this spirit that, for nearly two months, Krista and the entire PERSONIFY team dedicated the whole of its creative & innovative spirit into the students studying multimedia design at M-A, passing the torch of design’s potential to an eager roomful of brains within their own community.
With the help of teacher Chris Rubin, the PERSONIFY team sculpted a six-week curriculum for two multimedia classes, focusing mainly on the process of creating a new logo and brand identity for a local pizza place. In doing so, the students were given unhinged access to understanding design process in both theory and professional practice, with the team returning each and every week to guide and inspire their work.
In the words of Ms. Skehan, “We wanted to create a totally engaged and different experience… I wanted the students to notice logos, to look at a menu differently, to feel design, to understand how design affects decision making.”
The power and potency of a positive approach and creative mind were continuously stressed, providing the students with a constructive means by which to navigate the ups and downs of any design process. “We wanted to show the students that creativity does not have any limitations… creativity and positive thinking can be used as tools to solve problems and invent solutions,” remarked Matt Niehues, a Visual Designer and PERSONIFY team member who helped craft and teach the six-week class.
“It’s easy to get caught up in a world of educational standards,” reflects Chris Rubin, the teacher of these two multimedia classes geared towards at-risk students at M-A, “by applying it to business the students were engaged on a daily basis – they were on a different level with Krista.”
As an old, weathered cliché will readily inform us: with any truly wonderful experience (be it educational or otherwise) it is the journey taken, not the final destination, where the most valuable pearls of truth and knowledge lie.
Graphic design is no exception.
Yes, these six weeks would produce a handful of new logos, but the most resonating and empowering aspect of the curriculum was, according to Mr. Rubin, the generation and understanding of a process by which problems were solved and solutions created through the powers of creativity and effective design:
“In the end, it was about ‘What are the processes to solve any problem?’ … you can do anything as long as you can master this process, it’s universal and applicable to all aspects of life.”
Any gorgeous logo, regardless of how simple it may appear, is the product of a process that, if applied on a universal scale, can be used to understand, evolve, and better society as a whole. It is a constant, creative, and relentless desire to understand the world around you and generate innovative solutions to its problems. It begins simple enough, with brainstorming and fine tuning, but when taught correctly the concepts introduced by PERSONIFY empowered students to view design as an active force of change and betterment in their worlds.
It was impossible to conclude my chat with Mr. Rubin without him ensuring I repeat his praise for the PERSONIFY team: “They came into my classroom every week for two hours, you know how busy life is, it was so generous. Most businesses won’t give you the time of day and what they did was really special.”
By taking the time to offer these students an opportunity to understand design process from a professional perspective, the PERSONIFY team left a lasting impact on two classrooms full of students who now view design as an active participant in their lives, a trusted tool in their arsenal as they decamp this educational environment and seek to better their world in any and every way imaginable.