With backgrounds in tech, education and business, five women have joined forces to create technology-based educational experience to impart lessons on black culture.
Last month, the V Form Alliance received a $19,000 grant from Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund to fund the group’s inaugural project: Virtual Realities in Culture: Explorations of the African Diaspora Project. With technology built by high school students, this project will allow elementary and middle school students to take a virtual reality “field trip” exploring landmarks in Kansas and Missouri that are relevant to black history.
“It’s imperative that we tell the truth of our history — the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Catina Taylor, a co-founder of the V Form Alliance. “Our story should not be hidden, even if it makes people uncomfortable.”
Also the founder of DREAMS KC, Taylor knew that she could capitalize on the opportunity that Mozilla was offering. In hopes to collaborate on a project, Taylor gathered some friends to form the alliance. Other alliance members are: Urban TEC founder Ina Montgomery; Youth Powered founder and member of the Lean Lab’s 2014 cohort Lynessa Cook; digital marketing professional Tammy Buckner; and expeditionary learning expert Meru Nombeko-Aisha.
Taylor said she wanted to launch a project that was culturally relevant and that brings together the multifaceted talents of each individual. She added that the name, V Form Alliance, was inspired by the pattern that birds take when traveling in a group.
“The one at the lead generally is doing most of the work, but those that follow offer the support to hold the formation together,” Taylor said. “If the leader at the front gets tired and falls back, another bird takes its place. With V Form Alliance, we will each have the opportunity to lead at some point.”
Students from Wyandotte High School will take the lead in producing the project’s VR content. A group of students has already traveled to the three historical locations in Kansas — John Brown House Museum, Quindaro Ruins and Brown and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site — and are currently clipping together VR footage to launch the project in late March. As students virtually wander the historical sites, Taylor said that supplementary information will pop up to help students learn.
With experience in curriculum building, Ina Montgomery will work with students to complete the finished product. The virtual reality experiences are set to be piloted with elementary and middle schools in the Kansas City Public School District as early as April.
Due to strapped education budgets, Taylor said it’s not possible to fund a field trip for every student in the metro. But through the power of technology, Taylor said that her hope is every Kansas City student will be able to learn from and experience these virtual history lessons.
“All students need to learn about black history, but specifically students of color,” Taylor said. “Students of color haven’t been able to see themselves in the curriculum that is being taught. There is a disconnect between the curriculum and their actual history — which is rich and full of superheroes that they can possibly identify with. Their story is not being told.”
Taylor added that through her experience as a school teacher, lack of “superheroes” to identify with is one of the main reasons students of color may disengage. She hopes that exposing students at a young age to the VR experience will empower them and validate their self-worth.
In addition to the VR experience, Taylor — and the rest of the V Form Alliance — aims to act as role models to the students.
“If we’re teaching students that it’s important to collaborate, we have to be modeling those things for our students,” Taylor said. “We’re going to need to collaborate ourselves.”
V Form Alliance is looking for corporate sponsors or partners to help cover the costs of this project as well as future projects.