Project Update: The Wheaton High School Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab at Wheaton High School started spinning its gears this summer (pun intended) with the start of two projects. The program pairs rising juniors and seniors at Wheaton High School with Dan Hoffman, Chief Innovation Officer of Montgomery County, and Senior Innovation Fellows specializing in the Food Truck Regulation and Market Research and yAPPer projects. The Innovation Lab currently in Wheaton High School is a partnership between MCPS and Montgomery County Government to pilot an Innovation and Leadership class this upcoming fall.

What were trying to do: pilot project-based learning as a means of teaching students, while giving students the professional and organizational skills needed to be successful in a professional environment. The pilot course offered in the fall at Wheaton High School will meld PMI (Project Management Institute) curriculum with project-based learning. At the end of the course, students will be eligible to take the exam needed to receive a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). Within the course, students will apply the skills acquired within the PMI/PMP curriculum to projects with real-world impact. Students working on the Food Truck Regulation project will develop a firmer understanding of the legislative process within Montgomery County. They will also be given the chance to interact with government officials within the County Government. Meanwhile, students working on the yAPPer project will be given experience in data collection and marketing strategy. Students also reap intangible benefits of the course, such as the development of interpersonal and leadership skills, through their experience with the course. They will learn to be teammates, professionals, and also project managers.

What the pilot of this class means for education: the project-based learning class at Wheaton begins to redefine the definition of a “real-world”education. Whereas so many students are pigeon-holed into taking classes that appear “rigorous”to appear “competitive”for the college-application process, the project-based learning class at Wheaton encourages students to take classes that are most engaging and meaningful to them. The class changes the meaning of “competitive,”by giving students an academic and professional edge over their peers. The project-based learning class taught at Wheaton High School will not only teach students fundamental management concepts, but also give them the “softer”skills that students need to be successful adults. The class embraces the leadership and professional skills that students can bring to the classroom; it prioritizes engagement and real-world action over multiple-choice questions and hypothesized problem sets. Furthermore, the students will be mentored by leaders throughout Montgomery County, who will serve as weekly guest speakers in the class. Within the class, the students will acquire the connections, professional skills, and personal skills to have a firmer grasp on success after graduation. They will redefine their competition.

Nightlife in Montgomery County

For the past six months, Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has been holding public meetings and discussions regarding nightlife in Montgomery County and how it can be improved. Residents gave their input on what they would like to see and experience to liven up nightlife and gain more County revenue from it. On October 28th, 2013, these recommendations were sent to the County Executive. The recommendations were categorized by department and improvements that involve each department.

Department of Economic Development:

-Develop a plan for marketing and attracting new companies

-Promote venues that pay musicians to perform

-Promote positive customer service

Department of Environmental Protection

-Establish Urban Noise Areas surrounding town centers to allow musicians to play for a larger audience

Department of Housing and Community Affairs

-More housing options

Department of Liquor Control

-Develop an educational Patron Responsibility Program.

-Extend hours alcohol sellers on Fridays and Saturdays to 3AM, and 2AM on Sunday-Thursday

-Modify the alcohol to food ratio under Class B licenses from 50/50 to 60/40

-Create a study with the Office of Legislative Oversight to improve the Department of Liquor Control’s services

Department of Permitting Services

-Make it easier to create an arts/entertainment venue or production

Department of Transportation

-Food trucks can operate after 10PM

-More taxis and parking

-Better late-night transit services

-Pedestrian and bicycle access

Office of Management and Budget

-Better public safety resources

Parks Department

-Allow public space to have multiple uses and attract people with design elements

Planning Department

-Incentives for allowing open space for arts groups or performers

-New zoning standards so public/open space requirements are easier to meet

-More density of people in popular nighttime areas

Police Department

-Decrease crime by using Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.

-Decrease drunk driving by extending “Safe Ride” all weekend long

Urban Districts

-Increase funding

-Maintain public spaces

-Dedicated revenue to events

The task force was made up of residents and business leaders and was staffed by representatives from the Department of Liqour Control, the Mid-County Regional Services Center, the Department of Recreation and the Chief Innovation Officer. Now that the recommendations are finalized, the task force will disband and the focus will be on implementing the recommendations. For more information on the task force and more detail on the recommendations, click here.

Project Update: Wheaton Innovation Lab and Food Trucks

On July 8th, the Wheaton Innovation Lab launched. It has two components: an Autism Technology and Innovation Pilot and a Food Truck Catalyst Pilot. The latter is discussed below.

The county to assist a work-study group geared toward creating a food truck friendly environment has recruited Wheaton High School students. The students, along with the guidance and supervision of several Innovation Fellows, have immersed themselves in one of the first steps of this process– identifying optimal locations for the food trucks.

Although this program is in its infancy, food trucks have been around for a while and this is the time to welcome them as an integral part of our business community. For the past few years, the rise of food trucks in nearby cities D.C. and Baltimore has shown to be a boon for their communities. However, this does not mean Montgomery County cannot offer an additional home to these small businesses. But there is a lot to learn from the experiences in both areas and even across the nation.

As a result of our research, we have noticed some trends in concerns among the public and governing bodies of various cities. Some of the major obstacles include interactions with established brick and mortar restaurants, public rights of way and pedestrian safety. In our role, we have taken these concerns seriously and incorporated these factors into choosing the best possible food truck sites. The guidelines we have created for spotting these sites include the following factors: distance to restaurants, proximity to foot traffic, vision of signage and access to unobstructed sidewalk or open space.

The objective of this initial stage is to meet these challenges by striking the right balance between food truck and restaurant owners. We want to attract a wider range of food options that would be successful on their own and not compete with already established food venues. The first week of scouting locations appears to have been successful, as we have produced a list of 20+ workable sites in just the Wheaton, Silver Spring and Bethesda areas.

The Fellows at Wheaton High School are helping drive this project. Ultimately, their findings will lead to the formation of a more stable and consistent operating environment for food trucks.  Updates will be posted—stay in touch!