Pittsburgh-area teens make ‘Shark Tank’-style pitches to improve schools
Rob Tennant watched his Carrick High School students pore over their poster board, mapping out ideas to encourage their peers to make healthier food choices.
“We want them to try different foods and experience new things,” student Jake Haten said. “With healthier food, we want them to see how it makes you feel better.”
The group from Carrick planned a healthy-eating initiative, which would challenge students to eat only healthy foods for a week and experience the benefits. Tennant stood by and beamed.
“It’s spectacular. This is why we teach,” the English instructor said. “You see kids in school, and you know them, but to see them outside the classroom, like this, it’s way cool.”
Tennant’s students were among 60 from the region who participated in a “Shark Tank”-style competition Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
The competition, called the Social Innovation Series, challenged students to think innovatively to solve a problem. A partnership between the nonprofit GENYOUth and SAP North America, the series made Pittsburgh its fourth stop nationwide. Previously in Minneapolis, Dallas and Chicago, it heads to Atlanta and Phoenix next.
“It brings kids together, plus they work side by side with mentors to solve real problems in their school buildings,” said Rusty McCarty, chief experience officer of CustomED, an organization contracted by GENYOUth to run the innovation program.
Students work in groups, pairs or individually to identify a problem at their school related to health and wellness. From there, they come up with a solution to the problems and decide how they would put together that solution and maintain it.
“It really brings out that entrepreneurial spirit kids naturally have, the want and need to think big we kind of lost as adults,” SAP spokeswoman Sarah Shorett said.
Students have one minute to pitch their solution to a panel of judges. The judges then pick their 10 favorite ideas, with winners to be announced later. Those students get a $1,000 grant to go back to school and, with the help of SAP and GENYOUth mentors, implement their plans.
Highlands High School student Nicholas Bass pitched raising money to buy equipment for his school’s sparsely populated gym. Yoga mats and other equipment will encourage his peers to be more active, he said, rather than just walking laps around the gym. It also will relieve stress and promote a healthier lifestyle, he said.
A group from the Kiski School pitched bus trips to an animal shelter during mid-terms and finals, letting students relieve stress by playing with animals.
Jeannette brother and sister Jake and Abby Mortimore pitched a food cupboard of sorts that goes beyond canned goods and ramen noodles.
“Anyone can go and get essential things like hygiene products, clothing, a winter coat,” Jake Mortimore said.
“They can get things they normally might not be able to get at home,” said Abby Mortimore, referencing products such as soap, deodorant and toothpaste.
They cited their district’s high level of poverty and homelessness, saying simple things such as nice clothes and being clean can improve all aspects of one’s life. It also would be anonymous, she said.
“So you don’t have to feel embarrassed or if you don’t want anyone to know,” she said. “You go in and sign out what you need.”
This original article is from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer, Megan Guza.