Few things hang above me like a guillotine, ready to slice away the future I want for my kids. One of the most frightening questions: What school should I choose? Parents love to idealistically think it won’t matter where they go. Our children will blossom and flourish in any environment, but we know the truth. Schools matter. The teachers inside those schools matter. The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America shows us the what amazing things can happen when those two things come together.
Author Heather Won Tesoriero recounts her year embedded with a science research class at Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut. While the location comes with its own advantageous trappings (being housed in a very affluent area,) recently this class garnered a legendary status on the science fair circuit. In fact, they’ve won so many awards for some it changed their opinions from revered to antagonistic.
The kids are the main ingredient in the mix, but they have a secret ingredient. Grown and honed over decades in hallways and labs of private chemical engineering companies, it’s their teacher, Andy Bramante.
Andy is a rare gem inside the often craggy landscape of the education profession. Teachers all over the country are constantly having to fight, lobby, and beg for more funding and higher salaries. It truly is one of the most under appreciated jobs you can take. At times Andy’s class has sustained or grown because of parents, even those whose children are not in the class. They can see beyond any barriers they have in order to focus purely on the opportunity for their next generations.
Andy hates to beg for money or resources and he’s absolutely within his rights to feel that way. At the time of this books writing, his class got a stipend of $1,200. Let’s ignore the straight number of awards and accolades his class brings to GHS. Let’s just look at a sampling of the inventions his students brought into being.
Olivia Hallisey created a “pregnancy test for Ebola,” which can rapidly test a potential carrier with only a blood sample. Yet, her main breakthrough was the test itself, which carries a substantially smaller cost and requires no refrigeration. That last point is huge when considering outbreak in places like West Africa.
William Yin created a sticker you could put on the back of someone’s neck and detect the presence of atherosclerosis. It is a plaque that forms, breaks off, and can cause clots leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Then there’s Ethan Novek, who advanced in the Carbon XPRIZE contest in 2016, only to later be told to withdraw from his lawyers to protect his intellectual property. Ethan designed a carbon capture device that can operate at lower cost, higher output, and create new energy from the process.
The current industry cost-benefit standard for carbon capture is $70 to $100 per ton of carbon caught. Ethan’s device can do it for $8. He ended up finishing high school remotely and now lives in Norway working at a power plant continuing to develop his ever-evolving device.
That’s only three of the dozens and dozens of students who created incredible solutions to the world’s growing list of critical issues. Everything from climate change to Lyme disease, Andy’s students are passionate about helping society. The fact they are kids is not lost on people hovering at the top of the related industries.
One of the founders of Regeneron, the new top level sponsor for the STS (Science Talent Search), recently said:
Who’s going to save us? Whether you’re talking about cancer, whether you’re talking about Ebola, any other epidemic that might come out of nowhere. Now we’ve got to worry about bioterrorism, let alone climate change and the environment, new forms of energy. Who’s going to do that? It’s not going to be the hedge fund managers who do this. It’s going to be some brilliant young kids who are attracted to science and recognize that they might have the ability to solve the biggest problems facing mankind.
People talk about the war on this or the war on this, this is the biggest battle mankind has to fight. We have to win this war against disease, against aging, against all of these obesity-related epidemics, against climate change, against limited resources, everything that’s changing about our world. I mean, if we solve everything else, if we win the war against this, if we win the war against terrorism and cyberwarfare and all this, we’ve still got to solve all these problems and who’s going to do it?
I think the best that we can do is to make sure the brightest, sharpest young minds get attracted to science and fall in love with it and realize the power of what they could do, how they could really change the world. It’s not like the world will be better for it. We are absolutely one hundred percent dependent on it.
This is where The Class takes us, to a place where we nurture and support those young minds. They are growing in a world where social ills are no longer purely cultural or topical. Their problems are the world’s problems and we need fresh minds for fresh approaches to the solutions.
Tesoriero and her book, The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Students, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America, exists as more than a story of Andy Bramante and his students. It’s also a roadmap to improving our educational systems and the unimaginable bounties waiting if we do.
*Reviewer’s Note: This book was sent to me for the purpose of writing a review, but neither the publisher or the book being sent to me affected the outcome of the review.*