Challenge: Queensbridge is home to the largest public housing development in North America. The average family income is $23,000 a year. And like all parents, these families want the best for their children, but often struggle to provide it. English may be a second language, job time can push family time, helping with homework is tricky if the child’s curriculum surpasses a parent’s education. And then there’s summer. The NYC Department of Education needed a low-cost, high impact idea to keep kids from losing ground during the break, or better yet, to keep them learning.
Story: In May 2014 we gathered in Queensbridge with the Department of Education’s Family and Community Engagement team and Lonni Tanner, chief at the Office of Public Imagination for the NYC Department of Probation (yes, this is a real, and really cool, department). We began by simply walking around the neighborhood with our team composed of educators, designers, parents and neighbors. We wanted a solution that came from the community itself, to ensure its success.
As we walked the streets meeting local leaders, librarians, business people and kids, it didn’t take long for the idea of basketball to emerge. Courts and the kids who want to play on them are everywhere. With basketball as our inspiration, we used Think Wrong drills to arrive at the breakthrough idea of a hack to the classic game of HORSE.
The team took the classic kids’ game of accuracy—where you shoot from various spots on the court to spell the word “horse” – and turned it into a game of literacy. The initial iteration reinforced the alphabet and Fry sight words. But as enthusiasm took hold, the scope quickly grew to include math and even geography as well.
Result: By July, Faceball (named for the Family and Community Engagement department) was being played on courts across the neighborhood. And when September came around, teachers enthralled with the game’s potential kept it going on school playgrounds and gyms, too.
Rather than hunkering down behind closed doors in a fluorescent-lit conference room, the team immersed themselves in the community for inspiration. And in just two months went from a disparate group of folks facing high odds and seemingly few assets to an affordable solution the entire community has rallied behind.