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Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D.

Ryan Jackson refers to his arts-driven, tech-centric brainchild as a “zone,” and the name seems apt. More than just a classroom, this is a campus, with some 1,200 students ranging from pre-K through high school all learning at the intersection of art and technology.

Jackson says schools need a deeper dive into art if they are going to develop whole and complete individuals. “So often we miss this pivotal rung of ‘belonging,’ making kids feel like they are connected to their learning environment,” he said. “The arts piece breathes life into the soul of a school, driving that sense of belonging. It also feeds esteem, getting kids to perceive themselves as good enough, creative enough. That also correlates to achievement.”

With one eye toward a growing regional tech community, Jackson layers a technology component on top of this arts core. Students take on complex engineering tasks: They built an escape room with sensors integrated into the walls and designed a tiny house project. “These are real-world scenarios that turn into tangible trans-disciplinary projects,” he said.

Past experience in a large inner-city school helped Jackson to formulate this particular vision of a STEM-driven pedagogy that integrates arts and creativity at a fundamental level. “I saw what these kinds of platforms could do for kids who had historically been underserved, who were beyond jaded by what public education could offer them,” he said.

When those kids were exposed to the twin powers of technology and art, magic happened. “I saw more than education. I saw empowerment,” he said. “Kids need this. They need a full, holistic approach.”

Before getting into education, Jackson worked as an independent filmmaker, an experience he says gave him a profound appreciation for the value of an interdisciplinary approach. “The art director has to work with the screen writer. The director has to work with the actors,” he said. “Nothing good gets done in silos.” — Adam Stone