Name: Mary Simon
Hometown: San Jose, CA
Profession: founder and Executive Director, Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT)
“My name is Mary Simon, and I founded RAFT to help educators use hands-on education to transform the learning experience and close the achievement gap.”
Simon is an educator who knows the importance of hands-on learning and has seen it deteriorate with each successive test requirement and government budget cut.
Study after study has shown how essential a quality education is to later success in life. However, these ideals increasingly bump up against the realities of curricula changes that emphasize standardized testing and fiscal crises that force schools everywhere to slash budgets.
17 years ago, Simon decided to give teachers a solution to their classroom challenges by founding Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT). Now, K-12 teachers everywhere turn to RAFT for inspiration, free lesson plans, and hands-on kits to engage their students.
Simon knows from experience how hands-on activities drive home important concepts and help students learn. She also knows how hard it can be for busy teachers to come up with both the ideas to bring concepts to life and the funds for materials for each student.
“Hands-on education is not a 'silver bullet' that can solve all of the complex challenges that the education system is facing,” says Simon. “However, making hands-on learning affordable and accessible for all will certainly help move the needle in the right direction.”
RAFT’s kits align with California’s state standards and run the gamut from abacuses to maracas, and hovercrafts to seed germinators.
And, RAFT, indeed, moves the needle.
"We just received the results of an independent research study demonstrating that RAFT’s approach not only gets students engaged in lessons, which is a critical first step, but also helps them gain subject knowledge, apply that knowledge to solve 'real world' problems, and improve academic test performance,” Simon says. “Even as measured by the same kinds of questions found on standardized achievement tests, RAFT works!"
Simon and her team also help the environment by keeping things out of landfills. They partner with companies to “inventively repurpose” donated items into classroom materials and engage companies to help improve education.
She does all of this with a largely volunteer team who assembles kits, develops lesson plans, and forges public-private partnerships – all with the goal of making the classroom experience more dynamic and improving student learning for the long term.