District C Immerses Middle Schoolers in Real-World Thinking

  • Voices
District C Immerses Middle Schoolers in Real-World Thinking
Lindsey McKearney and Greg Anysz

The framework, adopted by schools and community programs, uses a team approach and design thinking to help local businesses solve often-complex problems.

District C is a program, created here in Raleigh by a husband-and-wife team with deep experience in education, that prepares students for success through a unique experiential learning framework. Students work in teams tasked with developing a solution for a complex problem that is challenging a local business. In the process, they learn how to research and develop a solution and how to effectively communicate their solution proposals. Certified course facilitators introduce and help students refine best practices in design thinking in order to lead them to a certain level of professionalism, problem-solving and interconnectivity. 

The District C model has been used in myriad ways in schools and communities since its inception. In our Middle School — currently the only middle school implementing the program — District C: Collective Problem Solving is open to seventh- and eighth-grade students. Our students rely heavily on the design process, empathy and teamwork as they assess the partner organization’s challenges and work together to find proposed solutions. Groups then present their ideas to the business partner in the form of a corporate “pitch.” 

The fall semester has been a productive and exciting one for Middle School students enrolled in District C. Here, seventh-graders in the class share reflections on different aspects of their experience.

What makes District C interesting/different from your other classes?

  • Ashvik Poli ’28: District C is different from the other electives because it provides an opportunity to solve real-world problems companies face. That experience is important because in the future if I open a business then I would need to know how to solve these problems. 

  • Chip Gehring ’28: District C is interesting because it’s so different from other classes and it has more real-world situations than the other classes. We actually get to see businesses and their problems and see if we can fix them. These are real-world skills that we actually use. 


What specific skills do you feel you have developed from taking it?

  • Maddie Jelovsek ’28: I feel like I have learned to develop skills and strategies when working with different people. Most of the time I choose my friends to work with in other classes. I’ve learned to be more communicative.

  • Chip Gehring ’28: I have learned communication strategies, independence and confidence.


Why would you recommend other students take District C?

  • Lilly Ramsey ’28: I would recommend this to another student because it is a good way to build communication and partnership skills.

  • Maddie Jelovsek ’28: I would recommend other students to take this because it’s a chance to see how different people see things and think of things compared to you. It’s a way to learn to problem solve. 

Students visiting a business and making a pitch in a conference room

Clockwise from top left: District C students arrive at Boxyard RTP, home to startups and a food court; team members talk to Jackie Morin, founder and owner of Wonderpuff, which is located at Boxyard; the team comprising Gabe Loyola ’27, Chip Gehring ’28 and Ashvik Poli ’28 make a pitch to representatives from business partner Uncompany as co-teachers Greg Anysz and Lindsey McKearney, at left, and guests look on.

What has it been like meeting with different businesses in person so far?
  • Ashvik Poli ’28: Meeting in person with the business partners really makes the meeting feel more casual than it would be on a Zoom or a video conference. That is because you get to see how they react to each question and to see if they truly like the idea you pitched.

  • Chip Gehring ’28: Meeting different businesses has shown me how companies work. Also meeting totally different people and how they work differently.

  • Maddie Jelovsek ’28: Meeting in person with different businesses has been a really interesting experience for me. I have been able to see deeper into how to help people and what to look for. Leaving campus [to meet with the business] was very fun

  • Lilly Ramsey ’28: It has been different because you can really understand the person you are trying to talk to better and you can read their body language.


Describe what it was like going off campus to visit vegan cotton candy company Wonderpuff, our previous business partner.

  • Lilly Ramsey ’28: It felt like I got to know the business better being at the current shop, which also helped give me perspective of where it was located and what [the business leader] wanted help with.

District C Design Process

Students enrolled in the Middle School District C course explore design thinking, which is often nonlinear and iterative, as part of their work in teams to propose solutions to real-world business problems.