Forging a community

By Casey Stegman & Beau Vorous

What gets lost when a school disappears for a decade?

That's one question Franklin Middle School principal Karon Cunningham faced when her school reopened in fall 2015. And the answer only raised more questions.

"We were really struggling with not having an identity," she says. "Because we were a new school we didn't have a shared history we could fall back on."

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Cunningham had led Franklin's renovation effort since 2013. When the district decided to renovate and reopen the school—located just outside downtown Minneapolis—Cunningham was charged with not only hiring all of the faculty but also bringing in students from other middle schools throughout the area.

Cunningham knew that forging a sense of community among this disparate student body would be difficult. But as the school year went on, and as disciplinary issues grew, she realized the students needed a sense of belonging.

And so she called in Mr. B.

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Michael Bratsch—or "Mr. B" as he prefers to be known—

was among the inaugural faculty at Franklin. In addition to teaching English as a second language, Mr. B is coordinator and co-founder of Franklin's afterschool program, The Futureboys & Girls Club.

The club, which Mr. B first started at a previous school and then brought to Franklin, teaches leadership principles. But unlike other clubs, it doesn't teach those values in a top-down fashion.

Futureboys & Girls uses an open framework.

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We're all equal

Forging a Community video
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Students learn to develop creative projects by contributing individual concepts and collaborating to bring them to life. This process shows the students that good ideas can come from anywhere—and that sharing those ideas improves them exponentially.

When Cunningham met with Mr. B about the lack of community at Franklin, she said to him: "We don't even have a school song." Mr. B, who has a background in music, immediately grabbed hold of this idea.

"Let me see what Futureboys & Girls can do," he said to Cunningham. "I think we might be able to come up with something." Over the next seven months, the club members devoted themselves to the project.

Because Franklin's mascot is a rocket, they decided to use that as a basis for the song.

Listen: Principal Cunningham on why Franklin is a STEAM school.

Students began writing verses based on the concept of "taking off like rockets." They then workshopped their lyrics with Mr. B and Futureboys & Girls co-founder, Andre "Mr. Dre" Hudson.

Each student would come in with his or her own initial ideas for the song. They would propose them to the rest of group. And, instead of outright rejecting or accepting a single contribution, Mr. B would encourage the other students to take that idea and build upon it. Through this open process, students recognized how collaborating improved their ideas—and the end result.

"The most important thing for us is to empower the kids—make them feel like they're a part of something bigger," Mr. Dre says.

When the students had a song they liked, they took it to Cunningham and sang an acapella version in her office.

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I cried like a baby

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With their principal's approval, the club decided to level up the song by also creating a music video with the help of the Minneapolis Public Schools' communication department.

In May 2016, the club unveiled the final song and video. Students, teachers, parents, and local community members packed the school auditorium to hear the new anthem.

The response went beyond what Principal Cunningham could have hoped for.

"It really just kind of transformed the school community," she says. "People started feeling proud to be a part of Franklin Middle School."

"It was like a fever broke," Mr. B says. Students throughout the school immediately found inspiration in the song's main chorus:

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The Franklin school song drew coverage from several news outlets and went viral, netting more than 10,000 views on YouTube.

In addition to feeling a sense of pride in having helped to create their school's newfound identity, the students in the Futureboys & Girls Club learned a valuable lesson: An open development process can lead to amazing outcomes.

And that process starts with sharing.

As Mr. Dre says, "Futureboys & Girls helps change these students' definition of sharing by showing them how to work together and collaborate on ideas."

In this way, Mr. Dre says the club's philosophy is in line with the principles of open source. "Open source is about opening up your mind and sharing your ideas with the world," he says.

And that is precisely what Futureboys & Girls did with the Franklin School Song. They continue to do it today.

Words by Casey Stegman
Visuals by Rachel Ertel, Liz Wetzel, & Aaron Williamson
Video by Beau Vorous
Photography by Jason Arthurs
Audio by Brent Simoneaux
Editing by Jimmy Ryals
Code by Ryan Altvater
Executive production by Kim Jokisch

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