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Mason uses design thinking on a global scale

Photo by Sarah Spell

Design thinking is not just a part of the St. Martin’s Episcopal School curriculum, but also can be applied across the world. Director of Innovation + Design Garrett Mason took a two-week trip to Africa to train Moroccan volunteers through CorpsAfrica on how to educate locals by following his model of design thinking.

The volunteers who Mason trained go on to serve at least a year in high-poverty communities. They meet with the locals and address their needs, which can range from a new school to a new water system. It is the same

approach Mason takes at St. Martin’s, where he hopes to leave a similar legacy with the students he instructs.

“Mr. Mason is taking design thinking to CorpsAfrica and giving the young leaders in Africa the same tools we are working to give the students,” said Head of School Merry Sorrells. “He’s teaching them the same skills that we’re teaching in the new center for Innovation + Design.”

This is not Mason’s first trip with CorpsAfrica. Mason has shared his design thinking model two times before, once being in Morocco, and the other in Malawi. However, this trip to Africa was different from the others.

“This was the first time that all of the countries where CorpsAfrica serves, Morocco, Senegal, and Malawi came together,” Mason said. “We did this massive training for all the volunteers and all of the staff.”

He taught them a model with four different modes of thinking.

“There’s empathy, or observations; that’s learning and understanding what’s happening in the community,” Mason said. “The second is the principal mode, where you’re taking the community, and you’re finding out what’s important and who it is important for. The next is the ideas mode, so now that you’ve figured out what you want to fix, what are the possibilities to do that? The fourth mode is the prototyping which is not just thinking about it but actually trying it.” Head of Middle School Jenny Velasquez sees this as yet another opportunity to teach educators all over the world about how St. Martin’s teaches its students.

“Anytime another teacher goes to a conference and presents, or does a workshop for teachers, or something as extended as Mr. Mason working with teachers and educators in Africa, I think it spreads the news of what St. Martin’s is doing,” Velasquez said. “The more we can do that as educators, locally and globally, the stronger our teaching force is, because you get so much out of learning from other teachers on how they teach.”

Mason taught a pragmatic, informative way of thinking, which is the same way he educates the St. Martin’s student body. While Mason was in Africa, he and the volunteers held video conferences with classes at St. Martin’s. They spoke with over 13 different classes during four different class periods. Classes heard African tribal languages, Moroccan songs, saw traditional Senegalese clothes, and dishes that are used for cooking in Africa. The French students even spoke French with a few of the volunteers.

Junior Diego Ortega was present for the meetings and spoke French with the ambassadors in Africa.

“Being able to have the privilege to have a conversation with one of these esteemed African delegates helped me broaden my horizon on a global scale,” Ortega said.

Middle School Spanish Teacher Annabelle Allen incorporated Mason’s trip into her classes.

“Another teacher asked me, ‘Well it’s not Spanish culture, so why would you do that?’” Allen said. “Exposing kids to cultures from anywhere around the world is more important to me than specific cultures. It opens their eyes to the idea of differences.”

Not only are the African communities benefitting from this exchange, but so is the St. Martin’s community, and Mason himself. “There’s this idea that I’m leaving something behind that’s much larger than myself.” Mason said.

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