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Every high school student in the Triangle region has a real-work learning experience by 2025.


Christopher Gergen on #FirstInTalent

NC State & District C



We have a talent gap. Our young people aren't prepared for real work.

Customer journey-mapping on Launch Day

Customer journey-mapping on Launch Day


The Top 3

essential competencies cited by employers are: (1) Teamwork/Collaboration, (2) Problem solving, and (3) Ability to work with others from diverse backgrounds...

but just 24%

of employers believe recent college grads are well-prepared to analyze and solve complex problems...

and just 18%

of employers believe these grads are well-prepared to work with people from different backgrounds.

[Committee for Economic Development, 2015; American Association of Colleges & Universities, 2015]

This is hitting home right here in North Carolina.  

"... the growing gap between the adaptable, ‘soft’ skill sets modern job creators need and the [actual] skill sets of many new job seekers… continues to be the number one concern impacting NC Chamber members across all industries. It means that many job creators are struggling to grow their businesses not because they do not have jobs to fill, but because they do not have access to the right talent.”

-- Gary J. Salamido, VP Government Affairs, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 2016

A student team workshopping a business solution with the founders of Fit For 90.

A student team workshopping a business solution with the founders of Fit For 90.

We believe this is a matter of opportunity, not student ability.

We need to offer a new mode of learning, one based in real-work experiences.

And we need to start in high school. 

So what if...

we designed an entirely new, real-work learning experience to teach high school students how to collaborate with diverse peers to solve real problems?

What if...

we could train teachers and schools to deliver this real-work experience to every student in the Triangle?

What if...

we built a movement to engage and inspire community stakeholders to partner with us to bring these learning experiences to life?

And what if...

the Triangle region became #FirstInTalent, a national model for developing homegrown talent to drive the region’s businesses & communities for years to come?

If we want to prepare students for real work, we need to give them more opportunities to do real work. This requires a shift in thinking:

+ FROM rigid curriculum TO open-ended experiences.

Step-by-step, linear instructions and procedures give way to learning experiences designed to be unbounded, messy, and self-directed. The real learning lies in this mess and uncertainty, and in figuring out how to keep moving forward.

+ FROM school silos TO purposeful diversity.

Research shows that diverse teams are the most successful teams. The District C experience features Squads of diverse students -- bringing different backgrounds, strengths, work preferences, and perspectives -- from all over the region. These diverse Squads create the right context for learning to appreciate and leverage the power of difference.

+ FROM facts and figures TO flexible mindsets.

In the digital age, knowledge is at our fingertips and can be accessed anytime from anywhere. Instead of focusing on content acquisition and recall, District C emphasizes the development of adaptable and transportable mindsets needed to work productively with others to solve real problems.

+ FROM individual achievement TO collective process

Our traditional mode of schooling is built around rewards for individual achievement, but modern work is collaborative by nature. The District C approach emphasizes collective process and prepares students to optimize their own performance for the good of the team.

+ FROM motivation through grades TO motivation through real work.

Students want their work to matter. Giving them opportunities to create real value for real people is as good a motivator as any.

+ FROM learning at school TO learning beyond school.

Our local businesses, innovation hubs, co-working spaces, and higher ed institutions bring invaluable resources and experience to the table. District C invites these stakeholders to provide real-world problem contexts for student work, mentorship, collaboration space, and a model for what the innovation economy looks and feels like.

+ FROM teaching TO coaching.

If teaching is about dictating the learning experience by explaining the things you know, then coaching is about observing the learning experience, monitoring the process that students use to self-direct their work, and interjecting at just the right time to ask the right question, provide the right support, or suggest the right challenge.

A real-work approach requires more than just committed schools and prepared teachers.

District C's ecosystem of partners brings these real-work learning experiences to life. 

Table containing ecosystem stakeholders and what each gives and gets from the ecosystem. Schools: give students and teachers, get program access and community engagement. Businesses: give authentic business problems and professional coaches, get potential business solutions and community engagement. Innovation hubs: give a home base space and a business partner pipeline, get marketing and the next generation of innovators. Funders and sponsors: give money, get homegrown talent and future Triangle leaders. Higher Ed: give a next step pathway for students, get a student pipeline. District C: gives a program design with coaching and coordination, gets partnerships to accelerate the work. To the left of the table is a sketch of the ecosystem with all stakeholders included.

This is more than a program. This is a movement.

Help us prepare the next generation of thinkers, doers, and collaborators.  

Diverse team of four high school students.