The 28 Columbus Global Academy at Brookhaven students tasked with helping a local Ethiopian restaurant grow and prosper had a personal stake in the learning exercise.
After all, the manager of Lalibela Restaurant and Bar at 1111 S. Hamilton Road in Whitehall is someone they know. Bereket Gebray has been an instructional assistant for 14 years at the school at 4077 Karl Road for immigrant and refugee children.
"He smiles at them and greets them in the morning," principal Derick Vickroy said. "For them, they don't want to let this guy down."
"The teachers are giving them work that matters," said Doris Korda, CEO and founder of Wildfire Education.
Korda's Cleveland-based nonprofit seeks to help teachers "who are implementing innovative 21st-century teaching methods in a variety of K-12 courses, such as entrepreneurship, science, humanities, technology, global studies, engineering and design," according to wildfire-education.org.
The students, who speak nine languages, spent three weeks late last year coming up with ideas to help Lalibela. The learning opportunities along the way practically were countless, according to Ashley Pence, one of two Global Academy instructors who worked with Korda.
"The list is too long to say all the great things," said Pence, who teamed with Lesley Landis.
"They had a lot of ideas about logistical, organizational things the restaurant might try," Vickroy said. "They had some marketing ideas. They had some ideas about relocation."
"The kids feel they're going out, they're seeing this restaurant, its struggles, how great it is, this man who's given his passion to this restaurant," Korda said.
"What they gave as an idea, there was big room for us to improve," Gebray said. "They have told us certain things that we should do in order to increase our revenue, by starting to have new decorations, some kind of music that will entice the customers and maybe we should have a food truck, as well. Also, we should have another (truck) on the north end."
The project-based approach helped the students with communications and research skills and promoted teamwork, Vickroy said.
"That was a little bit way involved in real life, so I thought it was a big step for them," Gebray said.
Korda's involvement with Columbus Global Academy began after Vickroy approached her following a presentation about her method to a group of district principals.
"We connected right away," Vickroy said.
Korda then connected with Landis and Pence.
"It was a strategic thing to get the right people involved," Vickroy said. "It's truly a mindset for the teacher to reflect on the way we used to do things versus the way we are doing things. All I've got to do is say yes. My job is pretty easy."
Gebray said members of the Lalibela management team are pondering some of the big-ticket items the students came up with, but other aspects of their recommendations are being implemented.
"We are figuring out how to do (things) and some of them we are halfway on attempting, but not on the bigger ones, like having a truck or having another one on the north (side)," he said. "But definitely about the music and the decorations, flyers and things like maybe discounts for professionals like teachers."
"I know that the work of a teacher is heroic," Korda said. "They choose kids as their life's work, and even without any difference in what they're doing or experimenting, it's very hard work. These teachers have been trying for months very, very different things and doing it with enormous passion and energy. They are incredibly gifted teachers.
"The result has been transformation for their students."