Ask questions. Ask for clarification in a sincere way. Avoid declarative statements. And always enter a conversation with the goal of broadening your own perspective and understanding.

 

Marc Minsker is an educator who actively serves the local community through volunteer work and cultural programming. Born in Charleston, West Virginia, he moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1984, where he attended middle and high school. It was during these years, as a student at Lasalle College High School, that he was immersed in community service activities and outreach – experiences that would have a lasting impression.

Attending the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia, Marc Minsker studied literature and become actively involved in radio at the college radio station, WUSC-FM. His interest in exploring music genres, like jazz, blues, avant-garde, and world music, contributed to his own development as a musician, performing with a variety of bands and ensembles throughout the Carolinas, including guitarist Eugene Chadbourne.

After receiving his B.A. in English from USC, he attended graduate school at Appalachian State University, where he completed an M.A. in English, and worked at the college radio station WASU-FM, serving as program director. After graduate school, Minsker returned to USC, taking a job in the Department of English as Assistant Director of Graduate Studies. While at USC in 1997, he founded a new organization at USC known as the Creative Music & Film Society (CMFS), and over the next three years, the organization’s membership grew to over 250 students and faculty members. As the director of CMFS, he organized over 30 concerts by international musicians and jazz artists, produced three film festivals, and presented two literary festivals at USC. His involvement in local arts and cultural programming in South Carolina led to him serving on the board of directors for two non-profit organizations, Nickelodeon Theatre and Gallery 701. Through these avenues and through CMFS, he grew adept at grant writing, securing several large grants for arts programming from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, the South Carolina Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, totaling over $50k for a variety of projects and events.

Moving to Washington, DC in the fall of 2000, Minsker began teaching English at Yeshiva of Greater Washington, an Orthodox Jewish high school in Silver Spring. During his tenure at Yeshiva, he helped develop relationships and programs with several important organizations including Shepard’s Table (at Progress Place) and Arts for Art, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to promotive creative arts in lower-income neighborhoods. In 2004, he married Jia Gilani and accepted a teaching position at St. John’s at Prospect Hall in Frederick (later renamed Catholic Prep). During his 15 years at St. John’s, in his roles as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Minsker spearheaded dozens of service collaborations for students and teachers at the Maryland Food Bank, Frederick Rescue Mission, The Way Station of Frederick County, The San Mar Children’s Home, Faith House, and many local nursing homes. With an emphasis on providing experiential learning opportunities for his students, Minsker found numerous ways to integrate a rigorous curriculum with meaningful experiences outside of the classroom. Understanding the need for providing students with an active path to citizenship and a deeper understanding of social justice issues, he used his role as a high school administrator to build lasting bridges between St. John’s and local community organizations. Along the way, he also served on the board of Seed of Life CSA from 2016 to 2018, helping the fledgling non-profit improve its services and outreach for the food insecure of Frederick County. He organized and produced two successful 5k Charity Runs, raising over $7000 for cancer research through the Hurwitz Breast Cancer Fund in Frederick.

In 2018, he accepted a teaching position at Wilson High School in Washington, DC, where he works with an extremely diverse student body of over 2000 students. Located in northwest DC, Wilson is DC’s largest high school. Connecting students to meaningful service opportunities, Minsker implemented a new service-learning program at Wilson in January of 2019 known as TigerServe. The first of its kind, TigerServe is an innovative e-learning platform that connects students to meaningful service opportunities and provides local community organizations with valuable feedback through student reflections and dialogue. He currently lives in Bethesda with his wife and two sons, serving as President of the Parkview Neighborhood Association for the past three years. In his spare time, he works as a DJ and fundraiser at Takoma Park’s community radio (94.3 FM WOWD). He also produces concerts and arts events locally with several organizations including Arts for Art, Institute of Musical Traditions, and We Are Takoma. In 2019, he has several planned collaborations with DC Public Libraries special collections focusing on preserving oral histories from underrepresented communities and musicians, artists, and poets outside of the mainstream. Currently, he is completing his M.S. in Educational Studies through the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

In my first year at Wilson High School, it became clear to me that many of the seniors that I teach needed additional support to not only fulfill the 100 hours of community service required for a diploma but to find ways to make their volunteer experiences more purposeful. TigerServe was born out of my desire to help students develop more meaningful service learning projects and to help the school better understand the work being done by students. Wilson’s mascot is the tiger so the idea of synthesizing our fierce school pride and the strength of our mascot made perfect sense to me in striving towards a more robust service program with an e-learning platform that I have branded TigerServe.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I teach senior English and roughly one-fourth of the senior class (450 students in the Class of 2019) are enrolled in my classes. In addition to teaching writing and literary analysis, part of my job as an English teacher is to expose students to a diversity of perspectives and people, hopefully generating productive dialogues and promoting empathy. Starting in the fall of 2018, I began encouraging students to work with me after school at a variety of local organizations, including work through the National Park Service at Fort Reno, which sits adjacent to our campus. We also are working with local food banks, homeless shelters, and nursing homes.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Getting students out of the classroom and building relationships through extracurricular collaborations can be extremely enriching. Seeing students getting their hands dirty, working with those in need, and feeling the joy of giving back to the community are all valuable experiences that are not often seen inside of a school. Experiential education is not limited by a textbook or a curriculum: it relies on authentic constructivist learning practices and autonomous exploration that allows students to connect their own dots and assemble their own meaning, all while giving back to others.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited about the power and potential of e-learning.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an educator?

Working to be an active parent with my two sons (both in grade school) has helped me to become a stronger teacher in my own classroom and a more active listener. This involves attending PTO meetings, volunteering at school events, assisting with scouting and sports, and being present in our greater community. Knowing that there are a wide variety of parent types, (i.e. authoritarian, helicopter, permissive, lawnmower, etc.), it is crucial that we all broaden our experiences working with all types of adults both in and out of school.

What advice would you give your younger self?

There are people in need all around us so we should always try to reserve judgment. Often we are not aware of the little ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Teenagers have an amazing capacity to affect impactful change and be truly empathetic; they just need greater exposure to people who are different from themselves. I’ve seen it happen many times over the years, even with the seemingly “tough” or “cool” kids who appear more preoccupied with social status than social justice. A teacher can’t plan to change students, but it can happen in an organic and genuine way through real interactions with others.

As an educator, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask questions. Ask for clarification in a sincere way. Avoid declarative statements. And always enter a conversation with the goal of broadening your own perspective and understanding.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In my graduate coursework at Johns Hopkins last semester, I developed a comprehensive plan to design and launch an innovative smartphone app called X-OUT. The assignment asked students to think outside the box and develop something not yet available on the market but which could have the potential to revolutionize technology use in schools. My vision for X-OUT has a simple goal: to eliminate unwanted distractions, such as social media apps, gaming, or other peripheral sites. During class, students would voluntarily log into X-OUT and their smartphone would block access to all other apps installed on the phone, allowing only a single stream through the phone’s browser so that students can access only the teacher-directed relevant websites for research, class activities (such as with Kahoot or Socrative), or online assessments through educational sites like Google classroom, Blackboard, or Canvas. There is no violation of student privacy: the teacher can’t view the content or screen of a connected phone. All the teacher can see is who has voluntarily logged into X-OUT. If a student gets sidetracked or off-task by trying to launch other applications or accessing social media, the teacher receives a notification and the student is temporarily kicked out of X-OUT.

Within most public school systems, a 1:1 platform with laptops is not feasible. But when all students bring smartphones to school every day, X-OUT could have a tremendous benefit in the classroom, if such an application were developed by a software company.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A donation to Manna Food Center, a local 501 (c)(3) organization that feeds over 32,000 food-insecure families in Montgomery County each year. Making a difference since 1983, Manna has made incredible strides in providing for those in need who reside in the largest and most affluent county in Maryland. Food insecure families need more support than most people realize, and I believe wholeheartedly in providing relief and assistance locally.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google Classroom is one of the most intuitive and user-friendly learning management systems, which is what I use for TigerServe. Many Wilson students already participate in Google classrooms for their academic classes so using a known entity like Google classroom helps ease potential student anxiety or apprehension about using the platform. Because it is linked to their personal Gmail accounts, communication between the school, exterior organizations, and students is seemingly effortless. It also comes at no cost to the school.

Students log into TigerServe as they would log into any of their history, math, or English classes and there they find a variety of modules, each centered on a different service activity. Within the modules, students are able to sign up electronically for service hours, to learn more about organizations and their respective missions, and most importantly to leave student reflections based on the work they have completed. Before TigerServe, students at Wilson would fulfill community service hours and simply submit proof to the school. Now with TigerServe, the student’s attention is directed toward the essential post-service component: individual reflection. Student reflections provide valuable interpretations of events and also provide a means through which community service can be studied and better understood as an integral part of the school’s mission to provide students with an active path to citizenship.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. This novel has helped me see humanity with new eyes. Because it so poignantly identifies many of the world’s problems, Ishmael is a book that I believe every person should read.

What is your favorite quote?

One of my heroes is Marshall McLuhan, the great Canadian philosopher and critic of 20th century media. His ideas on humanity and the role of media in society are more relevant than ever. One quote that I use in my classroom (attributed to McLuhan) that sums up my approach to education, to service learning, and to our general responsibility as humans is this: “There are no passengers on spaceship Earth: we are all crew.”

Key Learnings:

  • Often we are not aware of the little ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Teenagers have an amazing capacity to affect impactful change and be truly empathetic; they just need greater exposure to people who are different from themselves.
  • Experiential education is not limited by a textbook or a curriculum: it relies on authentic constructivist learning practices and autonomous exploration that allows students to connect their own dots and assemble their own meaning, all while giving back to others.
  • Always enter a conversation with the goal of broadening your own perspective and understanding.

Connect:

https://www.marcminsker.com/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/marc-minsker-7708021b
https://twitter.com/marcminsker
https://www.pinterest.com/marcminsker/
https://medium.com/@marcminsker