Mary Simon, executive director of Resource Area For Teaching, with some of the recycled products her nonprofit uses to create its hands-on teaching kits.
After 20 years running an organization that provides hands-on learning resources to educators looking for creative ways to inspire their students and foster critical-thinking skills, Executive Director Mary Simon is retiring.
The English born and raised Simon started Resource Area For Teaching, or RAFT, after teaching math and science to second and third graders for 12 years and having her two children. RAFT is a nonprofit that gives teachers access to ready-made, hands-on teaching kits, more than 600 idea sheets for activities in math, science and art, a resource room staffed with education specialists who can help teachers plan their projects or lessons, teaching workshops and affordable teaching supplies. Locations include Redwood City and San Jose.
“I wanted to create something I’d love to have as a teacher,” said Simon, 62. “I created a wonderful place in which the minute teachers walk in the door they feel very respected and are celebrated professionals. They also find things at a very low price; it’s sad teachers pay for things out of pocket.”
Her favorite part of RAFT has been hearing teacher’s stories as they wander around RAFT.
“Listening to their challenges and how RAFT inspired them and their kids,” she said. “It’s important to me that teachers are re-inspired to be what they imagined when they were in college.”
RAFT serves 10,000 educators each year who teach more than 825,000 students. RAFT also has a processing facility in Sunnyvale, where volunteers process materials donated by local companies and assemble kits made up of cardboard tubes, rubber bands, CDs and many other items.
“You’re limited only by your imagination,” said Simon about what students and teachers can do with the materials.
The transition to Common Core curriculum, the statewide shift to more project-based learning, challenges educators to offer practical and engaging activities that help students develop critical-thinking skills, she said.
Project-based activities, like those provided by RAFT, have been proven effective in helping students achieve a deeper understanding of complex math and science concepts, she noted.
“Technology is changing and how teaching is happening in the classroom is going to change,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how RAFT’s real world, tangible resources can compliment technology. For the first time the administration is recognizing the importance of project-based learning and having students ask questions, not just answer them.”
Why retire now?
“It was a big decision,” she said. “There comes a time in life when you have to make a decision like that. I know I will miss it.”
Although she has lots of little hobbies that will fill her time when she officially leaves in March 2014, Simon plans to learn who she is outside of RAFT. As RAFT is already well-established, she’d potentially like to get back into a startup type environment.
“People will sometimes call me Mary RAFT,” she said. “I will take at least six months to find out what will my next passion be. I’m not the kind of person who sits at home. I want to go back to get involved in an operational type thing. I like to be in the trenches.”
Others from RAFT praised Simon’s work.
“Under Mary’s leadership, RAFT has become an invaluable resource for educators and a hub for community involvement,” Jon Flaxman, chair of the RAFT Board of Directors, said in a prepared statement. “RAFT would not be what it is today without Mary’s vision and creativity. We look forward to celebrating what she has accomplished over two decades and welcoming a new leader to grow RAFT’s impact on education.”
RAFT has not yet hired a replacement for Simon.
For more information on RAFT visit raft.net. RAFT also has an online store.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105