I’ve been writing for some time about the need to have more crossover conversations among educators, startups, policy makers and investors.  Thursday night I saw this happen at Digital Harbor Foundation’s Edtech Link Fundraiser in Baltimore.  Audrey Watters wrote a great piece sharing the work of the Digital Harbor Foundation. When everyone thinks and works together, truly innovative ideas emerge and can be put into action.

The two young and energetic co-executive directors, Andrew Coy (Baltimore City high school teacher) and Shelly Blake-Plock (of TeachPaperless), brought together students, teachers, principals, founders of edtech startups, Maryland businesses, and venture capitalists—everyone invested in improving education. Perhaps the only group missing was higher education. Each table included representatives of these various stakeholders, which made for truly rich dinnertime conversation. At my table we range from discussing particularities of serving students with special needs on both ends of the spectrum, hearing about several edtech companies developing tools in conjunction with teachers, why two impact investors chose to focus on education and listening to student experiences with reverse mentoring.

The evening program began, where it should, with Digital Harbor High School students sharing how their experiences with iDev have opened numerous opportunities for them. Several of the students participate in reverse mentoring—these high school students regularly visit Liberty Elementary, a local Baltimore City elementary school led by the forward-thinking principal Joseph Manko. The high school students work with Liberty teachers, helping them learn to use technology strategically, particularly with their 1:1 iPad program.  It’s a win-win for everyone—the teachers learn new strategies and the high school students learn marketable skills. One young man at my table shared that he had built a simple website for someone the previous weekend for $350, a nice chunk of money for a high school student. Two other students approached several of us after the dinner to offer us their tech services if we needed them. Loved seeing such entrepreneurial skills in young people!

Further along the pipeline, the foundation also provides scholarships for college students and a fellowship for recent college graduates in Maryland tech industries. Teachers may also apply for tech fellowships that allow them to spend the summer learning to use technology in innovate ways that will impact the classroom. (Here’s more information on the application process: http://www.digitalharborfoundation.org/fellowship.html) Imagine the impact if even just 20 teachers participated in this program every year and took back what they learned to their individual schools.

One of the other brilliant ideas coming out of this group is a project to turn recreation centers that are closing because of budget cuts into tech centers for young people.  The plan is to include 3-D printers, tech classes and tech coaches available. The only real question is why didn’t some