Riley Johnson’s experience at Leo Middle School was a positive one. He excelled in meeting the requirements and getting good grades so he could get into college.
He graduated in 2004, in what he called “the era when everyone goes to college.” Although he is very grateful for his experience, he can’t help but wonder about another style of education that is guided by skill-building and hands-on training rather than traditional classroom learning.
“As an educator, I strive for that,” he said. “I always think, ‘Is it possible to create a truly authentic experience, driven by children, as opposed to content and standards?’”
Johnson graduated from Ball State University in 2009 and launched a career in teaching with a mission to provide authentic experiences for students. He’s making his dreams come true as the first director of his Amp Lab, a new immersive learning program at Fort Wayne Community School.
Electric Works’ Amp Lab is a half-day learning experience for juniors and seniors. Johnson said the institute focuses on problem solving using entrepreneurial and industry-based skills. Students are given real-world problems that affect their communities and are tasked with presenting concrete solutions.
In an interview on August 23rd, Johnson said:
Amp Lab has approximately 350 students. According to Johnson, some students were nervous about entering the lab as a completely new experience without a blueprint.
“They took the bull from day one and never stopped leaning into a new culture. We know their voices are just as important as adults,” he said. No, but our students know to make something different, and they approach that challenge with responsibility and respect.”
This lab has four studios: Create Studio, Make Studio, Grow Studio, and 3 Rivers Credit Union Venture Studio. Amp Lab community coach Geoff Roberts says students work in his lab on what he calls the 3 P’s: problem, process, and people.
“We want the organization to give our children real problems to solve,” he said. “The process was that they would come in and do workshops on what they were good at. It is more organic, such as
Encora partner Jeff Kingsbury, lead developer at Electric Works, said he’s excited about Amp Lab.
“I think this is a unique and innovative way to meet the needs of the local workforce by offering young people a career path they don’t normally see,” he said. “It’s about talent, attraction, retention and development.”
On August 25th, students held their first community day, with over 80 community members visiting Amp Lab to give feedback to students. The challenge was to select a problem, whether local or global in Fort Wayne, and propose a solution to make it happen. Roberts said it makes the community better.
Community members were instructed to provide feedback to the students, but refrained from suggesting solutions. The students were apprehensive about the adults coming, but Roberts said it was fine.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is going really, really well,'” he said. “It was exciting. The way they looked yesterday wasn’t horrible.”
FWCS Director Mark Daniel says Amp Lab is a game changer, giving students the skills and knowledge every employer wants.
“Amp Lab is a great opportunity for students,” Daniel said in an email. “Nowhere else is immersing high school students directly in this kind of entrepreneurship.”
Sixteen staff members are either FWCS teachers or industry professionals who have chosen to become Amp Lab teachers.
“I’m biased, but we definitely have the best classroom teachers in the city,” Johnson said.
Daniel called Johnson’s enthusiasm for teaching, learning, and building partnerships contagious.
“Riley is a real educator,” he said. “He believes that students learn through hands-on experience. His experience focuses on making education relevant to students to inspire them to work hard and solve problems. “
Roberts attributes the lab’s success to Johnson and his passion for solutions and experience-based programs.
“I think Riley did a really great job,” he said. “This is all Riley. It’s been in his head for five years. Over the last few years he’s been developing all this on his own.”
Johnson’s foray into project-based learning began in 2009 with her first teaching position at Wayne High School’s New Tech Academy. There he met his Roberts. According to Roberts, Johnson recognized his role at Amp Lab, the ability to involve his members of the community in his classroom.
“It was a very progressive, in-school, project-based learning school,” he said. “From day one, I think I knew what it would be like if school were done differently. I fell in love with the education fringe because of the New Tech culture, the people I worked with, and the students. “
He returned to Ball State University in 2013 for a Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision, and in 2014 was Assistant Principal at New Technology High School in Napa, California. A year later he became the principal of the school.
Johnson’s time spent in Napa further confirmed his passion for project-based learning.
“Living in a culture as highly innovative as the[San Francisco]Bay Area has had a big impact on the way I’ve chosen to lead Amp Lab,” he said.
FWCS started talking about the possibility of a STEAM school that eventually became Amp Lab in 2017. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, but today the lab is centered around entrepreneurship and innovation.
Johnson said knowing the project was in the works was a big factor in his family’s decision to return to Fort Wayne in 2019, but there was no guarantee he would be involved. did.
After a year as an Assistant Director at the FWCS Career Academy, Johnson was quickly promoted to lead Amp Lab and joined immediately.
“He’s a very intelligent man,” he said. “He’s a learner. Today all of a sudden he was talking about the educational podcast he was listening to last night.
But Johnson quits. He is deeply rooted in his friends and family and cherishes the time he spends with his wife Sarah and his two sons, 6-year-old Frog and his 2-year-old Kai.
“I think my biggest hobby is spending time with my wife and kids. I try to spend as much time with them as possible,” he said. “We love the outdoors.”
And Johnson can still find time for others. For the past about three years, partly because of the pandemic, he met weekly with a group of childhood friends to watch horror movies from the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve seen
“We joke that we’ve seen more movies that we shouldn’t have. It sucks, but we love it,” he said.
According to Roberts, staying connected to a core group of friends reflects Johnson’s educational philosophy, including Amp Lab, of caring for people and building relationships.
“(Johnson) is the quintessential servant leader. He knows there are children who need us, so he really needs us,” said Roberts. I think the goal of is to ensure that every child who sets foot here is not only valued and cared for, but challenged.”