TedxKids comes to East County

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What makes for a happy, successful life? The organizers and participants at the TEDxKids@ElCajon event agreed that the key to living well is to express one’s self in a good balance of work and social experiences. The gathering, which was open to the public, was hosted at Greenfield Middle School in El Cajon, taking up most of Saturday, April 21, for a widely ranging series of speakers on topics centered around the theme of “Beyond Infinity.”

What makes for a happy, successful life? The organizers and participants at the TEDxKids@ElCajon event agreed that the key to living well is to express one’s self in a good balance of work and social experiences. The gathering, which was open to the public, was hosted at Greenfield Middle School in El Cajon, taking up most of Saturday, April 21, for a widely ranging series of speakers on topics centered around the theme of “Beyond Infinity.”

Tamara Otero served as a co-organizer of the event. She is also one of five members of the governing board of the Cajon Valley Union School District. “Out here I’m just a volunteer,” she said. And she further explained that the children in the district had done most of the organizing to stage the event.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and began in 1984 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to conferences spreading ideas that promote a deeper understanding of the world. TEDx@ElCajon appended the “x” to denote that this was an independently organized event in the spirit of TED. This year’s TEDx@ElCajon was the fourth annual event in this series.

“This has doubled every year,” Otero said. “We expect to have between 2,500 to 3,000 people attending here today.” The formal speaker sessions were divided into four breakout sections, with most of the presentations from district students and with each session including an entertainment feature and at least one outside speaker. Otero noted that one objective of the program was to teach every child learning in the district about presentation skills and to provide every child the opportunity to present. Student presenters ranged from kindergarteners through high schoolers.

Student speakers delivered brief speeches about general subjects or personal experiences. For example, fifth grader Bella Valdea-Olmedo from Chase Elementary spoke on “Finding a True Home,” as a foster child. She described the statistics on foster children and the circumstances that they have encountered. After her three years as a foster kid, she was adopted in 2017. “That was the best day of my life,” she said. “My story has a happy ending. But not everyone’s does. You were born with the ability to change someone’s life. Don’t ever waste that.”

A standout among the featured outside speakers was 12-year-old Carson Kropfl, who traveled from San Clemente to the TEDx event with his parents, Carrie and Keith. A year ago, when he was 11, young entrepreneur Kropfl appeared on the business reality television show “Shark Tank,” on behalf of his sustainable skateboard company Locker Board. He earned investment support from Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. Kropfl’s innovative design is the first non-folding skateboard that can fit into a locker or backpack. Kropfl further uses recycled materials in the manufactured skateboards.

Carried Kropfl watched her son’s presentation from the Troxell Gym video area. “This has been an amazing honor for Carson to be a part of this,” she said. “Carson loves to inspire other kids to follow their dreams.”

Carson Kropfl shared his three secrets of success during the speech. “Seize the moment,” he said. “Never give up. Invest in yourself and believe in yourself.” He discussed having experienced social media threats and how to overcome bullying. He noted that disrupters and innovators are often targeted. He said, “Take it as a compliment.”

In an interview after his presentation, Carson Kropfl spoke about a boy he had just met named Jose, who is seven going on eight. Jose told Carson about being bullied for being different. “Don’t be afraid of what other people say,” Carson said to him. “That doesn’t matter.”

This TED event was the largest gathering Carson Kropfl had addressed. He discussed his marketing approach using every social media platform, and he stated that his company grew 300 percent after the appearance on “Shark Tank.”

“What is most important to me,” he said, “is to inspire others to follow their dreams.”

Along with the speaker presentation sessions in the school theater, there were three other areas for exploration of the World of Work curriculum that is a central element of the school district’s vision of education incorporating career exposure for student learners. The “Mission Control” entryway area provided posters and information about the curriculum and careers. The “Troxell STEM Playground” featured robots, basic robotic elements and interactive science activities. “Infinity Park,” on the outside lawn, showcased live entertainment performances, fun activities, games, food trucks, and community partner exhibits.

Ed Hidalgo is new to the district, after working in corporate hiring for Qualcomm. “I hired thousands of engineers from around the world,” Hidalgo said, “but not from East County. We intend to change that.”

Hidalgo started with the Cajon Valley Union School District in August 2017 under the title of Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer. He spoke of the benefits of teaching kids about the career paths they might choose among. “How does a child aspire to a career they don’t know about?” Hidalgo asked.

“We emphasize the uniqueness of each child to give them hope and provide them engagement,” he said. “This also gives the teacher a new lens to see students.” He noted that each district student was projected to learn about 54 to 58 careers from direct experiences offered by professionals in various work fields.

Terra Norine, an account executive with Troxell, also volunteers teaching robotics classes. She was on hand in the gym to guide interested youngsters in a few basic robotics tools. “This is hands on and engaging,” she said. “We teach children how to fail. This is about trial and error. Failing doesn’t mean you should give up.”

One hands-on experiential learning exercise she guided was with basic robotic components called Cubelets, which invite children to play with electronic cubes that can connect as sensory, brain and motor elements. Norine described one boy who had visited the Cubelets table that morning and discovered the functions of the elements simply by playing with them. “This is tinkering and innovation, based on intuition and personal gifts,” she said.

The TED umbrella organization hosts an annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, where current leading thinkers and doers deliver short, powerful talks. The organization can be followed on major social media platforms.

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