A new online platform, BexleyConnect, allows Bexley City Schools teachers and students to connect with community members willing to share expertise.

Since launching in late October, teachers and students have used BexleyConnect to identify potential guest speakers, field-trip hosts, project coaches, consultants, mentors, internship hosts and educational partners to support students' learning, said Steve Shapiro, the district's coordinator of experiential learning.

"Our community's greatest resource is its people. As an educational institution, we want to find out about as many people as possible who can help us with our mission," he said. "It's about providing creative ways to share information."

Bexley High School personal-finance teacher Marybeth Motasem said she helped come up with the idea for BexleyConnect last year by asking the district's technology director, Brad Pettit, for assistance with expanding the database she had assembled to identify professionals in the community who could help students with Capstone projects, which are required for graduation.

"(Students) have to spend 15 hours outside of school researching or interning or creating something," Motasem said. "They usually have to find a mentor to help them guide their projects along.

"Sometimes that can be a little bit of a challenge. I would say a good 50% of them need a little help. That's where the idea of BexleyConnect started for me. I just needed a good database of individuals who could serve as mentors for my students."

Jeff Burger, a Bexley resident and a senior industrial designer with Priority Designs, a Whitehall-based product research and design firm, said he joined BexleyConnect to share his knowledge of industrial design with students.

"The field that I'm in is maybe not known by a lot of people, and kids might be interested in it. It requires a lot of creativity," he said. "There's a lot of ways people can express their creativity and turn it into a career."

Burger said Priority Designs hosted tours by Bexley students and other schools before BexleyConnect went live.

The new platform will allow him to offer guidance to students, such as advising them on how to apply to industrial-design college programs, and to critique their portfolios to increase their chances of getting into the colleges of their choice.

"There's a wide variety of really, really talented people in the community," he said, "so why not use that latent talent and provide opportunities for kids?"

Community members can join BexleyConnect by going to bex.fyi/BexleyConnect, then entering their name, phone number and email address and filling out information about the fields in which they work.

They also can list areas of interest in which they have expertise, such as education, the environment or social justice.

"As teachers, we spend a lot of time in the classroom, and this is a great way to connect with people in the field," Shapiro said. "BexleyConnect is enabling us to have a complete view of all the people in the community who want to share their expertise."

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