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A Spotlight On Outside the Box

Outside the Box is an education and community partnership program engaging Central and Western Duluth middle school students in opportunities to introduce them to the fields of design, construction, and environmental sustainability. Our programming focuses on reaching students that are historically underrepresented in the design and construction fields.

Much of the inspiration behind Outside the Box came from learning about the disparities within our community. The first recognition we had of these disparities came from our own experiences working as women in the male dominated design and construction field. From there, we listened. We spent one year interviewing teachers, community leaders, out of school student support and program leaders and others, to better understand the need and how OTB could make the biggest impact.

Our current focus is to serve the 504 students who attend the Lincoln Park Middle School for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Lincoln Park Middle School has less than half of its students being rated as proficient in math (44%) and reading (47%).

Many of our community’s most pervasive problems intersect at points of challenge and opportunity. Duluth has a housing shortage, high levels of poverty, and significant disparities in health, educational achievement, and employment. White children in Duluth graduate at a rate 40% higher than children of color, unemployment is 3 times higher for people of color, and there exists a continued east/west opportunity gap.

Lincoln Park Middle School has 56.7% of students on free/reduced lunch and is ranked in the bottom quartile of state middle schools compared to Ordean with 21.9% free/reduced and top 10.8% of schools. Outside the Box sits at the nexus of community challenges and offers a research-based solution to engage youth during a critical “identity-formation” stage of development.

In Duluth, the graduation rate for children of color goes from roughly 50% to over 80% if a student takes two or more career/tech ed classes. It is through engagement in these courses that youth open themselves to lucrative career paths in the trades, design, and engineering. Yet data show low participation of girls, non-binary students and students of color in industrial technology, CAD, graphics, business, and career readiness courses (CTE classes).

Our goals include encouraging and stimulating students to take CTE (Career & Technical Education) classes when they enter high school, to participate more fully in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) related coursework and activities, and to consider careers in STEAM trades and professions. The number one takeaway we want for students is creative design thinking skills.

It is our goal that our instructors represent the diverse students we hope to reach. We recognize that representation matters and we'd like to show students a variety of professions and diversity in our instructors.

Instructors share stories and skills with students based on their background of making and creating for a living. Programming is currently delivered as hands-on take-home activities that do not require digital access. As gathering safely allows, in-person activities will resume, following safety protocols, at local youth centers.

Activities we provide blend creative, technical, and leadership exercises to give young people tools to develop and practice creating problem solving. Activities do not have one outcome, there are often many solutions and the opportunity for failure and learning from what didn't work out the first time.

In 2021, founders Rachel and Tiersa merged Outside the Box with the youth education program at the Duluth Folk school non-profit, who are dedicated to continuing the mission of OTB to bring quality opportunities at no cost to students. Check out the new OTB page here.


We'd also love to direct you to a special project by Outside the Box, called Solar Storytelling, which consists of three short videos and features BIPOC practitioners in the solar energy sector. You can learn more and watch the video series right here.


Outside the Box was featured on WDIO News on October, 11th 2022 as a Touchstone Honoree. You can view the article and TV news story here.



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