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Former teacher brings project-based learning to classrooms

ENCINITAS — Former teacher Jenny Pieratt says staying actively involved with teachers and advocating for their support has led to the success of her business CraftED, which provides professional development to teachers on project-based learning.

“I’m definitely not the only provider for project-based learning in professional development but I think what has kept me different is I have stayed in the trenches with the teachers,” Pieratt, 38, said. “That’s how I’ve kept my edge. I understand what they’re going through and what they really need, and it allows me to really be empathetic and listen to them.”

Pieratt taught for 10 years, working with fifth- through 10th-graders, before taking a position for a national company supporting teachers. She said she enjoyed her work in schools across the U.S. but with two babies under 3 at home the traveling that her job required began to wear on her and her family. She started CraftED four years ago, out of her garage, as a way to continue doing the work that she loved, only locally.

“I call it my third baby,” said Pieratt, who lives in Cardiff. “For me, why I’m so passionate about it is all the learning is grounded in real-world context, so it gives (students) that want to learn and need to know, that makes them engaged out of the gate. The wonderful thing about project-based learning is that it’s open-ended enough that students can take it in a lot of different directions.”

She said her aim is to give students a meaningful learning experience that sticks with them into adulthood.

“We’re hoping to develop projects that truly transcend context so that when kids are in college, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what we learned about when we were in that seventh-grade class,’” she said. “That’s my dream for students to be able to make those connections.”

Along with CraftED, Pieratt recently had two books published with Corwin Publisher — “Keep It Real With PBL, Elementary,” published this past October, and “Keep It Real With PBL, Secondary,” published just this month. She said the books are based on a book she self-published a couple of years ago. She said early projections for the books have far surpassed even what the publisher expected.

“I had an author event at Barnes and Noble the last two weekends, it’s fun to see them in actual bookstores,” she said. “It’s been cool to see the reach that they’ve gotten already in such a short amount of time.”

Pieratt said in her career she’s worked hard to stay relevant and be flexible, which has led her down paths she never could’ve envisioned for herself.

“I’ve been able to be very responsive and change my business model a lot as time has gone on,” she said. “What I started out thinking I was going to do and what I do now are two very different things. Not drastically different, but different. My No. 1 goal really is to stay relevant so that I can be flexible and continue to evolve in whatever direction the work might lead me into.”

She said the work that she does is both challenging and rewarding, and she works hard to tailor it to the recipient, instead of a more generic style of professional development that doesn’t necessarily result in improvements.

“So much professional development now is like very cookie-cutter, it’s a standard three-day workshop, you get it, you go, and maybe it gets fixed, maybe it doesn’t,” she said. “My work is much more about listening to what people need and modifying things so that it suits their needs — whatever curriculum they’re being required to adopt, if their students are high needs or if they’re in a rural community and they don’t have access to things, whatever it is my work is really about making project-based learning work for their community.”

Pieratt said education “is a calling, it’s a service” and the concept of improving a child’s education motivates a lot of what she does.

“I think if we can engage kids in school more it can only lead to good things for us universally,” she said.

Pieratt said being a good example to her two kids, now aged 10 and 8, also serves as motivation.

“They see it day in and day out, they see my drive and my work ethic, and they’ve been part of the whole journey of building my business,” she said. “One of my favorite things in my office is a canvas that my son, when he was 3, he painted of my logo. He was at school and he painted it all on his own and that to me just kind of said it all, that it was so much a part of what was happening in our household.”

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