Going Above and Beyond: How People Are Learning Skills Outside of School

Learn from these incredible young adults and adopt a new hobby or skill set outside of the traditional school books!

We all know them, those overachievers: the ones that push the envelope and are always striving to learn new skills or topics. With the current situation of remote learning and stay-at-home orders, there are challenges but also opportunities to expand our skill sets outside of the classroom.

I had the opportunity to interview various people from diverse ages and skill sets to see what inspiring projects and new lessons they have been creating. I hope that this inspires you to find your “something” and continue to strive beyond the norms of traditional schooling!

Elementary School - Koji & Takao

With in-person schooling off the table, father-son duo Koji Sakai and 8-year-old Takao are working on telling stories through a camera. They have been filming and producing videos, both narrative and non-fiction, to help Takao understand how stories are told.

Scene from one of Takao and Koji's video projects.

Q: Can you walk through what technical skills you needed to learn in order to achieve the goals of your project? What technical skills do parents need to know in order to teach their kids?

No huge technical skills. I first showed him how to shoot things and how you have to shoot from different angles in order to cover the entire scene. We worked on how to tell a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. And finally, we took a look at how to edit the footage together to make a movie.

What’s wonderful about our day in and age is the at most of what you would need we already have or have easy access to. For example, you can shoot with your smart phone and there are a lot of free editing software out there.

I think it’s important to keep learning even outside of school. I’d like to instill that in my child, even if he doesn’t want it at this point!

Q: Please walk through what you and Takao created and what you needed to do in order to accomplish your project.

We shot a horror short film. The first thing we needed to do was come up with a story - which was about a boy sleeping in his room and a monster breaking into the house. Once we wrote out the story, we had to start shooting each scene from different angles. After finishing shooting, we uploaded all the footage and then edited together on the computer.

Q: What are tips for folks who want to get involved and start something similar?

Biggest tip is to assist but not do it for the kid!

Q: Does Takao feel like he is making an impact by learning these skills?

I do want him to be savvier about media and by helping him see how it’s made will help better understand how POV (Points of Views) can influence what people think. I know that Takao found out how much work it is to make even a smaller movie and hopefully he gained a fuller appreciation of what he sees on TV. 

Q: How do you find the drive to push yourself to learn more outside of the traditional school atmosphere? How does Takao continue to be curious of things outside of school?

I don’t think the teachers spend a lot of time working with kids to become savvy consumers of media. Media is manipulatable and only by making your own do you really come to understand that. I think it’s important to keep learning even outside of school. I’d like to instill that in my child, even if he doesn’t want it at this point!

 

High School – Soleil Danico

Incoming senior, Soleil Danico, identifies as a creative person who enjoys working with kids, which has led her to start Zoom Play – a place for K-6 kids can engage over Zoom. She defines Zoom Play as a program where "we taught kids crafts and did sing-a-longs over zoom, hence the name. The program focuses on grades K-6. The projects we did focused not only on having fun and being creative, but also looking into the future and seeing what goals they might have. We also put some emphasis on education and learning new skillsets like poetry and origami.”

Meet Soleil Danico

Q: How did you get interested in learning doing this? What motivated you?

When COVID started, I saw that a lot of people were either really bored or really busy. A lot of people were adjusting to working from home and I wanted to help out working parents or parents in need of a break by entertaining their kids. While getting used to staying at home, I thought of how much harder people have it and that motivated me to want to help out.

I feel like if I can help the kids find joy in the projects they participated in, they might be able to find a passion for something in the future. I think a lot of the projects we did aren’t taught in school or if they are, I don’t think they are as personalized to each student. I think it is important for kids to have fun with their peers even in this time.

Q: Can you walk through what technical skills you needed to learn in order to achieve the goals of your project?

For inspiration, I used old projects from my first-grade experience that I enjoyed. I sent an instructional video of myself doing the projects to the instructors. As for the sing a longs, the instructors I asked had experience in chorus and could play an instrument. I wanted to make everything as easy and enjoyable as possible for the instructors and the students.

Q: Please walk through how created and what you needed to do in order to accomplish your project.

In order to get my project going, I asked a group of people I thought were qualified to be instructors to see if they were willing to lead a few sessions. The next step was getting kids who were interested in the program to sign up. I made a flyer and posted it on Nextdoor and my mom sent it out to a few friends and colleagues to see if they were interested.

I made a Google Form to ask the parents for their information and to answer some questions about their kids and emailed every parent some more information on the program. For the program, I put the kids in groups with one or two instructors leading each Zoom call. Each group was organized by age, so all the students could make new friends. Right before first Zoom session, I sent a script for the instructors in case they found themselves at a lost or in an awkward position. I also sent an email out to all the parents at the start of every week and the day before each session with the schedule and Zoom codes.

Screenshot of Zoom Play in action.

Q: What are tips for folks who want to get involved and start something similar?

Get leaders who have certain skills that will work well for the projects you have planned. For example, if you are going to do a singalong, get people who can sing or can play an instrument. Another tip is to do projects that match the age of the students, and each project should match the maturity level of the kids. You have to have fun with them and interact with them to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

Q: What were some of the challenges that you faced? What were some things that you found joy? Any things you found unexpectedly about yourself along the way?

Some challenges were timing at times. We had kids from all over the country and a few from Canada, so scheduling a time to have calls that work for everyone was difficult at times. I found joy in singing and reading to the younger kids.I found that I really enjoy reading children's books still and a lot of them still hold very important messages.

Q: How do you feel like this work contributes to making a difference? Do you feel like it is important to continue to learn skill sets outside of school?

I think this project helps working parents especially during this time to catch their breath, take a break, and have some uninterrupted time to themselves. I feel like if I can help the kids find joy in the projects they participated in, they might be able to find a passion for something in the future. I think a lot of the projects we did aren’t taught in school or if they are, I don’t think they are as personalized to each student. I think it is important for kids to have fun with their peers even in this time. Zoom is a good way to play with friends while still being safe. Outside of school, I have focused more on creative projects which I didn't get to while in school.

 

High School – Blake & Kenzie

Both seniors in high school, Blake and Kenzie have started their own podcast, Two Peas in a PODcast, which has expanded their knowledge on marketing skills, networking with potential sponsors, and technical skills necessary to run a business.

Meet Blake and Kenzie!

Q: How did you get interested in learning/doing this? What made you want to start doing this? What motivated you?

Blake: When Kenzie and I first met, we realized how similar we are. We immediately bonded over our understanding of being Asian American and student athletes. As we got closer, we began talking about our likes and dislikes and our hopes and dreams. One of those dreams was creating a podcast where we could have honest conversations of the teenage struggles we experience, while also highlighting our hobbies and social life activities. Stuck at home due to COVID-19, Kenzie brought the idea up as a legitimate project for us to start. With some free time on our hands for the first time, we immediately put all of our energy into Two Peas in a PODcast.

Kenzie: Blake and I are avid podcast listeners but there were not any podcasts out there that we could relate to on a personal level. Blake and I basically have everything in common, so if I were to start a podcast with someone, Blake would be the perfect person. So, this past summer we focused all our energy into brainstorming ideas and ultimately turning them all into reality and that’s how Two Peas in a PODcast was made.

From the start, Blake and I created this podcast on the foundation of empowering younger and older girls alike. In our past 17 years, we’ve both experienced many struggles and life lessons that can hopefully help anyone who might be going through what we might have gone through in the past.

Q: Can you walk through what technical skills you needed to learn in order to achieve the goals of your project?

Blake: Luckily, before we embarked on this exciting project Kenzie and I were already skilled in many different areas that are required to make a podcast. Through my photography, I learned how to use Photoshop and Lightroom, so I personally hand draw and design all of our artwork. I also used to have aYouTube channel, so I know how to edit videos. The one new skill we both acquired was working with Garageband. We both learned how to set up our recording “studio” and edit all of the audio you hear while listening!

Kenzie: I took a graphic design class my junior year so I was able to get familiar with all the Adobe applications, such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Luckily, Blake is a pro at anything involving design, which is how we were able to produce our unique graphics. Something new that we both learned was the audio editing and recording part. There are many big projects that need professional studio equipment but everything you see or hear on our podcast is created using two laptops, two microphones, and occasionally a drawing pad and pen.

Two Peas in a PODcast graphic.

Q: Please walk through how the project was created and what you needed to do in order to accomplish your project.

Blake: Before we even began recording, Kenzie and I brainstormed each segment of our podcast. We immediately knew what we wanted to talk about, so we just put all of it into words. Then came the process of coming up with the name of our podcast and we immediately gravitated towards our first idea, Two Peas in aPODcast.

Kenzie then found a hosting site to use (Anchor.fm) and figured out how to use it. Afterwards, I created our logos using Photoshop. Then, we moved onto our teaser where we wrote a script to record. As for our regular episodes, we both outline important topics we want to cover.

Recording each episode is the easy part, but the marketing that follows is a challenge. We both divide the work: Kenzie brainstorms some ideas for cover art, we discuss, and I then execute it. The day before we post, Kenzie creates a countdown onInstagram and posts the preview segment I edit.

The whole process is really a team effort. Since we are both creative people, we really feed off of each other’s energy. It’s great to work with someone with similar interests because we are always on the same wavelength.

Q: What are tips for folks who want to get involved and start something similar?

Blake: If you have an idea in mind, commit to it! There is always something new to learn, so if you are really interested in creating something find out what it requires, what tools you already have, and what you can learn. I am so lucky that I have my best friend to do this with because it makes me feel so much more confident in our work. Another tip is to find someone you work well with!

Kenzie: Any idea or dream can come true with hard work and dedication. You also want to make sure you want to start a project, like a podcast, for the right reasons. Rather than thinking about chasing fame, imagine how many people you could impact or influence for the better. You also do not need anything fancy or expensive to start anything, work with what you have! Another great thing about starting a project is not having to rely on anyone for anything, but it wouldn’t hurt to find a great partner!

Behind the scenes of creating Two Peas in a PODcast.

Q: What were some of the challenges that you faced? What were some things that you found joy? Any things you found unexpectedly about yourself along the way?

Blake: The creating process has brought me so much joy. Every time we record, Kenzie and I always finish with smiles on our faces. One unexpected thing I discovered about myself along the way was the immense joy and excitement I have in my life. I take the people and things around me for granted too often, so listening to everything we talk about has really helped put my world into perspective. It has helped me to understand how lucky I am to be surrounded by such amazing people!

Kenzie: One challenge that I have faced is making sure I think about what I want to say before I say it out loud. In person and on this podcast, I try not to filter what I have to say because I want to keep our conversations raw, so it can be easy to relate to. I’ve found joy in every process of this podcast. From our long brainstorming session to talking into our mics, through this process, I’ve realized the growth that I have undergone all these years. Through my growth as a person, I have realized how my perspective has greatly changed for the better.

Q: How do you feel like this work contributes to making a difference? How do you feel like you’re making an impact?

Blake: When we started our podcast, our first goal was to make a positive influence on anyone who chooses to listen. As young girls surrounded by technology and social media, it is hard to find positive role models outside of our families and coaches. Since we have both felt that struggle, we hope that we can grow our audience and have a positive influence on young girls looking for advice or an “older sister” figure in their lives.

Like anyone else, I am still growing up. I don’t know all of the secrets to lead a perfect life, but the process of failing and trying again holds so much knowledge and power. As Kenzie and I continue our journey together, we hope that we can contribute to an uplifting environment to support young girls.

Kenzie: From the start, Blake and I created this podcast on the foundation of empowering younger and older girls alike. In our past 17 years, we’ve both experienced many struggles and life lessons that can hopefully help anyone who might be going through what we might have gone through in the past. Blake and I, still being teenagers, have a whole lot to learn in life and we may not know what the future holds for us but we plan to share our past and current life experience on this podcast.

Q: Do you feel these projects and skills are things that they “don’t teach you in school”? Do you feel like it is important to continue to learn skill sets outside of school?

Blake: Yes, definitely! Although they do offer media arts at school, set assignments have always restricted us from fully diving into our creative spirit. Through our podcasts, we are our own “bosses,” so Kenzie and I are able to create whatever we want without any guidelines besides our own core values and morals. I definitely agree that it is important to find new skill sets outside of school. Not only will it make learning more fun, but it also enables you to uncover hidden talents and hobbies that could potentially lead to your career field!

Kenzie: Yes! Our podcast has let us fully dive into our creative side which may have been limited in school. Even though Blake and I may not pursue a career involved in media arts, we have both picked up important assets that will be useful in whatever we wish to pursue in the future. In addition, Blake and I have also loved being our own “girl bosses” because we can do everything on our terms and not have to depend on the approval of anyone else.

Q: How do you find the drive to push yourself to learn more outside of the traditional school atmosphere?

Blake: Personally, I have always felt something missing in my education in the traditional school atmosphere. My thirst for creativity was never quenched at school despite the required drawing and coloring projects. From a young age, I was drawn to photography and technology. So, I fully committed myself to learning and evolving as an artist.

Kenzie: I feel like there are so many things that school cannot teach you or may not be available. There are a limited number of classes that are available for students to accomplish their creative endeavors. That's why social platforms exist but these are projects that one must fully immerse themselves to learn all the ins and outs to be successful.

College – Megan Miyamoto

During quarantine, incoming Cal Poly San Luis Obispo freshman Megan Miyamoto started her own sticker company, Hapi Me Stickies. She designs and produces her own stickers that involves digitally drawing designs to cutting, packing, and shipping the orders. She is also in charge of marketing and taking orders via Instagram.

Megan showing her stickers that raised money for the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund.

Q: How did you get interested in learning and doing this? What made you want to start doing this? What motivated you?

I have always loved stickers. I started collecting them from all over the place and putting them on things like my water bottles. One day I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if I could make my own stickers?” and the idea blossomed from there. 

Q: Can you walk through what technical skills you needed to learn in order to achieve the goals of your project?

First, I had to get used to drawing digitally rather than on regular paper, as well as learn how to use all the tools on Procreate. I had to figure out how to size designs so that when I print them out they are not too big or too small. Another important skill I had to learn was how to create a business Instagram account and how to go about managing it. It has been a work in progress and I am still trying to improve on making a pretty “feed” for my account.

Also, I had to learn how to organize the orders and my cost by spreadsheets. Organization is something that I realized is very important to my success. But there is always so much more for me to learn and so many places where I can improve.

My life goal has always been to help the community I love so much, while also doing something I enjoy and Hapi Me Stickies has allowed me to do just that.

Q: Please walk through how your project was created and what you needed to do in order to accomplish your project.

My cousin got me a sticker maker for Christmas so I started playing around with it and making Cal Poly San Louis Obispo stickers. I told my friend about it ands he was interested in paying me to get a personalized one for her college. After that, I told a few other close friends and family about it and they were also interested in getting stickers of their own. I had to figure out how to work online payment methods because that was something I was really new to.

I had to learn about shipping and everything that comes with that. People would post the stickers I sold them on their social media which led to more people messaging me about their interest in getting college stickers. From there I decided to make it into a business and create a social media for anyone to contact me about sticker orders.

Image of stickers from Megan's Stickin with Little Tokyo fundraiser.

Q: What are tips for folks who want to get involved and start something similar?

My biggest tip for starting a business, like mine, would be to just go for it. I was really hesitant to do it because it is such a big time commitment and was afraid how it would be received, so I kept putting off making a public launch. In hindsight, I realized that I was just letting my worries get in the way of something that I really wanted to do. My biggest tip for making your own stickers is to do your research. There are so many little details that will either make your product really awesome or sub par.

Q: What were some of the challenges that you faced? What were some things that you found joy? Any things you found unexpectedly about yourself along the way?

The first challenge I faced was figuring out when to officially launch Hapi Me Stickies. It was during the time when the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protest were super prevalent on everyone’s social media so I was really stressed about determining when would be an appropriate time to launch the business without taking away from the voice of the movement. Another challengeI faced was failing to make any sales on Red Bubble. That is when I decided to give up on using outside sources and produce all my stickers myself.

The thing that brought me the most joy was being able to raise money for the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief fund. Seeing how the Japanese American community as well as my non-Japanese friends rallied up to support my fundraiser was just incredible!

Q: How do you feel like this work contributes to making a difference?

My life goal has always been to help the community I love so much while also doing something I enjoy, and Hapi Me Stickies has allowed me to do just that. So far I have done two fundraisers, one to support the Black Lives Matter Movement and another to support the struggling small businesses in Little Tokyo. In both, I have sold stickers I designed and then donated all the profit I made to those causes.

For the last fundraiser I did, Stickin with Little Tokyo, I was able to raise $951 for the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief fund. It has honestly been the best feeling to finally have my long-term goal be actualized.

Q: Do you feel these projects and skills are things that they “don’t teach you in school”? Do you feel like it is important to continue to learn skill sets outside of school? 

Some of the skills I use now I learned from being in leadership positions in my extracurricular activities such as how to advertise and fundraise, but other than that I did not learn any of these skills from the classes I took.

I think school is there to give you the foundation and good habits, but after that, it is up to you to go learn things outside of what they taught you. It is always great to go out and add to your skill set.

Article featured in this issue:
August 2020

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