When The Bay opened on the edge of the Clinton neighborhood almost 10 years ago as a space for young people, Mike Smith soon noticed a burgeoning trend.
"Kids literally used to skip school to come to The Bay," said Smith, who founded the multi-use, open-concept indoor skate park at 2005 Y St. in 2012.
So, the community center, which also features a coffee shop, media lab and performance venue, changed its hours so it wouldn't interfere with students' classes.
But that got Smith and Andrew Norman — who both lead Rabble Mill, the nonprofit that operates The Bay — thinking.
Why not bring the classroom to the kids?
That's the vision of Bay High, a collaborative focus program between Lincoln Public Schools and Rabble Mill tailored toward Generation Z. It will center on content creation and emerging digital media while also helping students hone skills necessary for college and the workforce.
It's set to open at the skate park in fall 2022.
While courses have not been finalized, some offerings will include classes in digital design, sports and event marketing, video production, web design, programming and entrepreneurship.
There is even a course under development that combines content creation, music and skating in which students would complete a capstone project for the public to see. Other creative endeavors, such as fashion, will also be part of the program.
All in all, it's something you don't find in any school district, said James Blake, LPS' director of Strategic Initiatives and Focus Programs, who will also serve as Bay High's principal.
"This is a very unique thing to Lincoln," said Blake, pointing to a school system in Sweden as the only fitting comparison he could find. "You can't go buy these off the shelf."
LPS plans to hire two new teachers for the program, and they'll work alongside "teaching artists" — staff members at The Bay who are already involved in after-school and weekend programming.
Bay High will initially be open to 50 juniors and 50 seniors, who will also do some core classwork at The Bay, in addition to what they learn at their respective high schools.
A business roundtable is in the works, too, in the hopes of connecting students with local employers and freelancing gigs.
The program gets to the core of The Bay and Rabble Mill's mission of providing upward mobility to young people, Norman said, especially to those who might not exactly fit the status quo — "misfits," as they're playfully called.
"These are the kids that have the high propensity to absorb these skills, and they're already doing them. They're already using their phone, their cameras, and producing content," he said. "They just don't know how to turn that into a career that can potentially change their family's trajectory."
Smith and Norman, the original founder of Rabble Mill, grew up in Imperial together and merged their nonprofits under the Rabble Mill umbrella in 2018, and they both serve as co-founders and co-executive directors. The two have spearheaded projects such as Skate for Change, a network of skaters that helps tackle homelessness, in addition to the various camps and events offered at The Bay.
The conversation about Bay High started about five or six years ago, Smith said, and LPS, which was looking to expand its focus offerings, was soon on board.
The agreement, approved by the Board of Education in April, comes with the stipulation that Rabble Mill essentially will pay for the program. That money is coming from the community — including partners such as Allo and its parent company Nelnet, Spreetail and the Cooper Foundation — and much of the fundraising was done during the pandemic no less.
The Skatepark Project, Tony Hawk's foundation, got involved, too, and Hawk even appears in a promotional video released Friday to coincide with the program's unveiling.
If Bay High sticks around past the 2023-24 school year, the cost would shift to LPS, with the hope community funding would still be a viable option.
The collaboration marks a continuation of LPS' goal to offer more focus programs, said Matt Larson, associate superintendent of instruction, who pointed to the health sciences program at the new northwest high school and one focused on agricultural sciences at Northeast, both set to begin in fall 2022.
"It really does represent a set of great opportunities for students who are maybe not currently being served as well as they could or should be by our comprehensive high schools," Larson said.
The district used to offer an information technology focus program that was later absorbed into The Career Academy, but Blake said there will be little overlap. And some of the coursework builds off concepts already taught in LPS classrooms to a degree, but the district hopes to redesign those classes around The Bay space.
Rabble Mill is still seeking donations for necessary space renovations and is looking for more equipment, such as cameras, which can be donated. Those interested can visit thebay.org/BayHigh.
Students entering 11th or 12th grade during the 2022-23 school year can submit their application in the upcoming year to enroll in what Smith calls "the classroom of the future."
"There's probably no place where your principal is fist-pumping because you landed a skate trick during the school day," he said. "This is very different culture, and we're excited to celebrate that."
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