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Photos by Jeremy Cohen

Designing a better future

How this ed-tech team helped students learn, worked together, and adapted their work during a year like no other.

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Throughout the U.S., the onset of the pandemic — and the resulting move to remote learning — made the country’s educational divide more noticeable than ever before. Not every student had access to laptops and tablets overnight. Many teachers were on their own to modify their curriculum to go virtual. And parents were suddenly juggling work, household duties, and supervising new at-home “classrooms.”

Dr. Ronah Harris.

Parents and teachers had to change their strategies quickly to make learning more accessible for all, notes Dr. Ronah Harris, founder of the education-tech brand Play Pattern. Fortunately, she and her tristate-area team of educators were able to step in. Last year, they worked swiftly to translate their in-school literacy and math trainings into virtual formats for at-home learning, bring their STEAM programs (like coding and robotics) online, and foray into new initiatives such as educational TV and interactive technologies. The company’s socially minded, award-winning educational programs are designed to be accessible to all (“no brain left behind,” as Harris stated) and taught by teachers whose backgrounds mirror those of their students. “The educators we put upfront need to be changed,” said Harris, who often hires former Play Pattern students. “I realized the only way to reach kids where they’re at is to hire from the same communities in which they live.”

As Play Pattern heads into a new school year with new virtual programming, it’s also relying on technology to adapt and adjust. Strong visual elements encourage students to chime in and engage. Play Pattern has been using Canva, a free digital tool for visual communications, to help everyone — beginner or pro — create striking videos, social posts, presentations, print pieces, and more, with thousands of drag-and-drop templates. “As a team that’s spread out geographically, we need cloud-based tools that work,” she said. We asked Harris and her team how they’re using tech to share new educational offerings, pitch their own services, and streamline work so they can focus on what counts. Here’s what they had to say.

Play Pattern team members working from home.

Creativity in the classroom

Dr. Ronah Harris, founder: “It took some time for our clients [school districts] to pivot to virtual learning. We were able to provide services, virtually, [that are] truly needed.”

Roshni Patel, educator, and creative technology developer: “At the onset of the pandemic, we recognized that children wanted enjoyable and interesting activities, and parents desired educational, stimulating, and safe resources. Our team collaborated to create programs that allowed children to have fun while still learning from their homes.

“Canva has been a tool that we use in order to make programming more digestible for younger audiences and visual learners. It helps us connect with a wider audience.”

Julianna Ketting, creative developer and marketer: “During the pandemic, our team delved into the unknown while remaining driven to engage with young students who were craving normalcy in the classroom. As a team, I believe we continue to achieve our goals and are driven creatives who aspire to be the best educators we can be.”

Quentin Felton, creative developer: “It’s so rewarding seeing our curriculum thrive past the stage of development. Witnessing how students engage with our activities helps to put everything into perspective.”

Bringing big ideas to life

Harris: “A curriculum writer at our company created this pitch [for A Beautiful Country, an educational TV program the team hopes to make with creative partners]. We had the pitch previously built out in [another slide platform], but we needed to find a solution for editing the presentation with our team working from home...

“We’ve used other software, but Canva replaced them for us. Not everybody has complex design software, but everyone has access to Canva. And because it’s web and app-based, that ability to invite someone in, have them quickly look at things, swap them out — that has been major for my team, because we work all hours of the day. I have kids in camp this summer. I was able to jump in on my phone and edit something.”

Maria Yagual, intern: “Canva is the perfect way of presenting your ideas. Without Canva I would not have been able to create many projects inside and outside Play Pattern. This tool allows me to add personal images, templates, and even animations that keep the audience engaged.”

Harris: “What we’re able to get done [in Canva] is bigger than any other [software]. It’s simple. It’s clean. We’re out-of-the-box thinkers who have out-of-the-box presentations at times. When you have a blank canvas, you can come up with those big ideas.”

Collaboration at its best

Quentin Felton, creative developer: “I’ve used Canva to draft graphics for our social media platforms, construct a media kit for in-house review, and compile photo presentations of our Enrichment classes. What I appreciate most [is] how easy it is to use.”

Yagual: “Here at Play Pattern, collaboration is a way of communicating with each other. As the year continues, most of the projects I have worked on have been handled online through collaborative platforms [like Canva] which have been helpful to approach projects, include everyone’s ideas and finalize our creations.”

Roma Desai, marketing intern: “I think the most rewarding part of the job has to be working with students that get to grow their own passions through our programs and being a part of that process, as well as the privilege to work with such an amazing team every day.”

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