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The Maker Education Initiative, located in Oakland, CA, announced that Kyle Cornforth was selected as Executive Director. (I’m Chairman of the organization.) Kyle was previously Managing Director at Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley where she developed curriculum and organized training for teachers. The search committee valued her leadership qualities, her passion for working with educators, and her non-profit management experience.

I’ll add that I’ve admired how the Edible Schoolyard’s promotion of school gardens was a bottom-up activation — done initially without funding or curriculum support. School gardens spread everywhere and eventually became integrated into the schools. The gardens often received funding as an essential program for students. I’ve often thought there are similarities between the spread of school gardens and makerspaces. I recall visiting Edible Schoolyard’s Berkeley school and loving how the students working in the garden and cooking in the kitchen were highly engaged. They enjoyed both what they were doing and each other’s company.

I asked Kyle a few questions by email.

Kyle, can you start by telling us about yourself?

I’m a native Californian who has lived in Oakland and Berkeley since 2000. I moved to Berkeley to do a year of service with Americorps at the Edible Schoolyard, and ended up building a career in food justice, community collaboration, and organizational development. I live in Oakland with my wife and two kids, Zorah (14) and Ramona (7) and our little dog, Ducky. I’m navigating the desire for a rich and meaningful professional life and raising a family, PHEW!

Can you describe the mission of Edible Schoolyard, your role at that organization and what you are proud to have accomplished there?

The mission of the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESYP) is to integrate a curriculum around food that can change the curriculum to be hands-on learning in a contextual environment. Over the last two decades, I held almost every role! From Americorps service member, volunteer, and program coordinator, I learned the organization at every level. I finished my tenure as the Managing Director, overseeing all programs, communications, and strategy for ESYP. I managed a team of 15 to deliver rigorous and fun curriculum to 1,000 students in Berkeley, and built a national training program for educators to teach the pedagogy and practice of Edible Education. The thing I am most proud of is how I’ve taught teachers from all over the world how to collaborate better with their students. It is my belief that a lot teaching is figuring out how to get out of the way of student learning, how to foster agency, and support taking risks.

While my work has been focused on food system reform in education, I first became aware of the maker movement in 2013, when ESYP was building an open source platform to support the growth of edible education and I was overseeing the project. It was through this work that I became excited about how the maker movement was utilizing similar tactics for education reform as the food movement, but how makerspaces had a clearer justification for college and career readiness for students, particularly for those historically marginalized by the education system. I firmly believe that schools need to provide space for students to develop a growth mindset that embodies playfulness, passion, creativity, collaboration and embraces failure as an integral part of learning and success. If we aren’t able to do that for this generation, our educational institutions are sending our future backwards.

What interested you in the Executive Director role at Maker Ed?

What interested me in the ED role at Maker Ed is the way the organization is poised to really impact teacher practice. In all my years working with schools, I am still trying to get at the core of what we are trying to accomplish with education. When a human walks across the graduation stage in June, what do we as a society hope that person can do? How do they think? What do they care about? What are they going to contribute to the world? The values of making: creativity, failure, invention, collaboration, problem solving, these are all skills that are not yet at the forefront of our educational experiences. As the world changes around us, I want to see adaptive and collaborative skills over content, I want to see lessons that prioritize being present, taking care of the moment you are in, that connect with the human element of thinking and learning.

In supporting schools and community organizations, one of the perennial issues is that grown-ups have a hard time working together. We aren’t modeling the skills of making in our own work as teachers and as colleagues, and that is another thing that drew me to Maker Ed, the potential that we could embody the ethos of making into our work culture and model the way is can support innovation and growth. Maker Education has the power to not only transform the schooling experience for students, but for teachers and administrators as well.

Can you talk about your experience and commitment to diversity and inclusion?

I led the team at ESYP with a laser focus on social justice in all aspects of our work, from hiring practices, training protocols, and policies, to organizational culture. This led to more diversity in not only our staff, but in our training programs. I believe that with work that involves systemic change, the practitioners need to be engaged in fierce examination of all the systemic issues that impact our work. This means exploring power and privilege as a team, as a movement, and ensuring representation along with deep, direct, courageous conversations. The Maker Movement has a lot of growth to do in this area, and I’m excited to roll up my sleeves.

Kyle can be reached at [email protected].