A Detroit Mom’s Quest to Breathe Innovation Into Young Minds

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graduation rate of 27 percent.

In 2006, she founded Hustle & TECHknow Preparatory High School, which was housed in the Compuware Building and received support from Compuware founder and Detroit booster Peter Karmanos. Byrd-Hill describes Hustle & TECHknow as a cyber school for dropouts ages 16 to 19. She wanted to take the kids’ natural entrepreneurial inclinations they were already using to sell drugs or carry out other street hustles and channel them into something positive. She wanted to prepare her students for a better life not only by helping them to earn a high school diploma, but also by indoctrinating them into a corporate mindset, teaching them about business etiquette, technology, and how to thrive in the workplace.

The students, she says, loved the tech-heavy approach. The kids weren’t too interested in reading books, but if they were e-mailed the same books in PDF form, suddenly they were interested. Her unconventional methods earned regional accolades, but they also inspired plenty of tut-tutting from traditionalists. Byrd-Hill was undeterred. Of the 10 seniors who attended Hustle & TECHknow, eight graduated and went on to post-secondary matriculation before the school was shut down a year after it opened due to a bureaucratic misstep: the school hired its own teachers, which angered the unions.

If the story ended here, it would be just another Detroit tragedy involving a resident who takes on the Sisyphean task of effecting change in one of the city’s institutions. But, luckily for all of us, it’s not. Byrd-Hill is at it again with a new board game called Fluke: The Wealth Building Game of Accidental Inventions, which is meant to teach its players about the “wild, wild world of intellectual property” and hopefully inspire them to think innovatively about their futures.

“Corporate America revolves around intellectual property,” Byrd-Hill says. “Companies will do anything to protect IP. I’m trying to get kids interested in research and development, because that’s where the money is made. We praise people like Steve Jobs, but we don’t groom kids to be like Steve Jobs. Fluke is the answer to … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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