A Sideways Reflection

Reflection. The word conjures up many things to many people. To some, it may mean quiet meditation and inward-focused thoughts, fixating on understanding yourself. To others, reflection is a way of perceiving yourself, whether literally, or in a more abstract way, trying to understand not only who you are, but also understanding past events. The key part of reflection, however it is perceived, is that it is usually a person reflecting on themselves, their own past, or something they did. Reflection isn’t normally used to reflect on someone else’s work. But today, that is exactly what I am doing. Like many posts before this one, this post centers on an iDiploma design brief. Unlike all other posts, this is a reflection

Like many posts before this one, this post centers on an iDiploma design brief. Unlike all other posts, this is a reflection on a design brief that I played no part in; in fact, my knowledge of this design brief comes solely from the description given to us all at the beginning of the year, tidbits of information from surveys and questions they have asked, and more snippets of information from projects and any presentations that group gave that I sat in on to provide feedback on. So I have quite a task ahead of me.

The group I am choosing, the City of Sandy Springs group, was actually my second choice when choosing design briefs. Not only was the group hired by the mayor and liaisons, they would be consulting with the City of Sandy Springs Council as well as other groups, such as the Georgia Commute Options group, to help reduce traffic in Sandy Springs. This was a project that affected everyone in the Sandy Springs area, myself included. Typically, the more an issue affects me, the more invested I am in the project and the better I am able to do, which is one of the reasons why it was my second choice (a selfish desire to decrease traffic being one of them). But, my design brief, however challenging, was an amazing experience and one I really wouldn’t trade.

As stated above, their mission is to reduce traffic in Sandy Springs. Right off the bat, I could see how they had the capability to truly make an impact in our community – it would be something subtle but greatly appreciated and noticed by many. As one of many drivers on the road, I can attest to the fact that sitting in traffic is Not Fun. And unfortunately, traffic is extremely prolific in the Sandy Springs area, especially near the entrances to 285. Which consequently backs up traffic everywhere. However, the group realized almost straight off the bat that improving traffic is not just about improving people’s temperaments – traffic also wastes time, energy, and money. Think about it. If someone gets in their car to go to the store and ends up in traffic, they are wasting time they could have been spending in the store (improving the economy), money they spent on gas because they are burning fuel, and energy because sitting in a car in stop-and-go traffic is tiring. All of which condenses into drivers who are angry at the waste of time or mad that they are late to something, and drivers who are tired at the end of a day and even more tired because of traffic, all of which means that the road is now filled with reckless, angry, exhausted drivers. Does anyone hear “accident waiting to happen?”

So yes, improving traffic is in everyone’s best interests. But how to do it is the question.

The group decided that, in order to come up with a viable solution, they needed a testing ground. The grounds: Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. By using their solution to reduce traffic in the school community by 10%, they can gauge how effective it would be on a larger scale; after all, if their idea failed at Mount Vernon, it would have no hope in the Sandy Springs community.

Like any good group, they started off by collecting data and soon were able to develop visuals of the data they collected, such as goal maps showing the current amount of cars and their goal of how many cars should be on the road after their solution is implemented, or a map of MVPS family locations to show how far families had to travel. Through this data, they then created focus groups in order to reach out to the MVPS community and try and understand Mount Vernon carpool – an integral part of surrounding traffic (believe me, Mount Vernon carpool lines can stretch outside the campus – definitely not productive to reducing traffic). The results of these focus groups? Mount Vernon carpool traffic – and subsequent traffic in the area – is terrible, and finding someone to carpool is equally as difficult as navigating the long lines. Think Disney during the summer with one lane and everyone in cars. Because of the revelation that traffic is a huge thing to take on, the group realized that trying to tackle it head on wasn’t going to work. This is when they partnered with Georgia Commute Options, realizing that every little bit helps, and began to come up with ways to reduce traffic bit by bit. Soon they had options.

They decided to give presentations to parent and student drivers and get them to download GCO’s app, that gives members incentives and help to find carpool partners to take cleaner routes to school. The group also decided to explore ways to promote alternative travel options like carpooling and social media promotion. The Sandy Springs group already has a presence on social media, with the hashtag #reMoVe10 and blog posts on the Innovation Diploma website. They decided to continue to work with the organization to see how – or if – traffic is affected by these changes and raised awarenesses in the MVPS community, based off the Mount Vernon sign-ups on the app.

I touched on it above, but I need to state the importance of this project once again. Reducing traffic in the Sandy Springs area is critical – without an effort to do so, wasted time, energy, and money will continue to increase, drivers’ tempers will continue to be tested, and driving will remain an unpleasant experience for many people – especially during Mount Vernon carpool, as we can back up the street some days. So essentially, they are impacting all drivers in the Sandy Spring area, but in different ways. Teen drivers get to drive in a safer, less crowded environment, which is better for young drivers. And by encouraging carpool, teens have even more incentive to drive with their friends, making the ride more pleasant which improves their mood which positively reflects in their driving. Mount Vernon parents are affected as well because with more people carpooling, the less stressful carpool has to be, meaning they are in a better mood, not having to wait in as much traffic, and putting their kids in a better mood as well. And all drivers aren’t having to waste time, energy, and gas money by sitting in long lines of traffic anymore. Not to mention, less idling cars means less pollution.

Since joining iDiploma my freshman year, I have gone through two crazy, amazing years with iDiploma, and while sometimes I’m unsure what I’m doing, by the end of the year a sort of “ah hah” moment happens where it all clicks. I suppose this is the “personal” reflection piece of my sideways reflection. This was the year that I was able to take a step back and go “oh. That’s what we are working towards in iDiploma.” Maybe it was because I was able to participate in my first design brief, but I think I understand a lot more of what Innovation Diploma is working towards. When we say we are a start-up, it is because we do so much more than a class. When we say we work on – and want future students to work on – real world problems, it’s because not only do we do them, we get so much out of them. My first design brief was really, really hard, and a lot of that was due to the fact that it was my first, but it was also because I had never had an “actual” client before, I had never had to come up with something that didn’t have a rubric and detailed instructions that said “check off these boxes to complete the assignment” and I had certainly never truly gotten into the mindset of “this is a real world problem” before that moment. There had been brief moments, but never one like that. And I think that is why these types of problems are so important. They teach students like me skills like proper communication between us and the client or us and each other (that was one of the major things my team had to learn, actually) or things like testing out solutions, data collecting, formal presentation skills, and thinking outside the box. But really, it enforces this idea of the real world doesn’t have boxes to check; you are given an assignment and expected to complete it on your own, not with a rubric. It introduces this idea of individuality instead of doing for the sake of a grade. With design briefs, we can’t just Google “How to reduce traffic” or “How to increase brand love in teens.” Why? Because the answers aren’t out there. Believe me, I looked hard too. I, in the beginning, wanted an easy answer – and 3, 4, 5, 6 months in it was still hard to believe there wasn’t one.

So, how does this project uphold iDiploma values? Well, how doesn’t it? It gave the group skills in communication, formal presentations, data collection, creative thinking, solution testing, and many other skills, but it also gave them an experience. It gave them a client and a hard to solve, no easy answer problem. It presented them with a challenge that they had to solve not for a grade or a checkmark but to make an impact on the world and to prove to themselves they could. It taught them the importance of never giving up and how to get through those times when they had no idea what to do next. And with each success these design briefs have – like the Sandy Springs group – the more people become more aware of what teens can do. The more they realize that we aren’t just a group of kids fooling around in school, but a cohort of young adults who want to be challenged simply because we want to prove that we can be, that we want to show what we can do outside of standardized tests. We want these problems because we want that feeling of satisfaction, that moment when we stand around after the presentation and think “Wow, look at what I’ve created. Look at the problem I just solved, and the work I just did.” And that is not only why I participate in iDiploma, but why I continue to. Because of work like this and the impact it had. Not only because I can, but because I should.

 

 

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