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Kids Connection: Kylan and the Magic Longboard

This is a story about American manufacturing, honoring heroes past and present, and teaching children in ways that text books and rote regurgitation cannot.  This is a story about why I am optimistic about the future.

This is also a story about Kylan.  He's 8.  Before I tell his story, though, I need to give you some background.

In Westminster, Colorado, a third grade class at Adams 12 STEM Launch School regularly invites a manufacturing CEO to come into the classroom to talk about, of all things, manufacturing.  It’s done in conjunction with a program called Kids Connection, which was designed to form a bridge between kids and technology through bringing industry leaders and hands-on learning into the classroom.  Although the program is less than a year old, manufacturers are already queuing up for the chance to enthuse young minds and inspire the future   As a result of this program, the students have learned about aerodynamics and flight from Falcon UAVs.

Kids Connection: Kylan and the Magic Longboard

And, through SparkFun Electronics, an online retailer and microcontroller development board manufacturer, they’ve seen how to make the bits and pieces that make electronics projects possible.

Kids Connection is now a formal program of the CAMT, the Colorado MEP center, and, according to STEM coordinator Michelle Priola from Adams 12, the program is helping students see the world in a new way.  Kids Connection is working.  Kids Connection has a logo. Kids Connection has a brand.  It also has a beginning and that beginning is where Kylan’s story enters our narrative.

Back before Kids Connection existed, Kylan wanted to build a present for his grandfather.  He wanted to make something wholly unique for his Papa Mike, an AARP-card carrying Army veteran who served with 589th Engineer Battalion / Mountain Movers in Vietnam.  Naturally, that present was a long board skateboard with Papa Mike’s military unit’s insignia in the design.

However, what Kylan possessed in enthusiasm, he lacked in money (and haven’t we all been there).  He needed cash--three hundred dollars, to be exact.  (That is a common problem for entrepreneurs.)  Oh…and he had neither design nor manufacturing experience.  He solved the first problem collecting scrap metal, selling it, as well as doing odd jobs and helping others in the community,  saving all the profits in the Great Bank-of-Mom,  He solved the second problem by partnering with Denver-based KOTA Longboards to design and build the perfect present for Papa Mike.

The owners and employees at KOTA include among their ranks Army, Navy and USAF tactical aviation veterans as well as graduates of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). They are veterans of tours in Iraq and Somalia. They are veterans.  They are entrepreneurs.  They like to go fast. (I’m struggling to resist putting a cheap “need for speed” reference here.)

The KOTA name and those of all their decks are inspired by the heritage of the “historic military aircraft flown by the intrepid Knights of the Air. The Knights of the Air pushed the limits of their crafts’ performance while maintaining honor and respect. At KOTA we’re inspired to do the same.”

Working alongside the graphic designers at KOTA, Kylan learned about print layouts, typography and the computer programs that enable such things.  After weeks at the drafting table, the design was finished. As you can see in the photo, the design includes pictures of Mike, the Mountain Movers logo, and an homage to the American flag.  The Mike Commemorative Board was taking shape. Now, with drawing in-hand, Kylan’s board needed to be made, a custom production run of one.  The wood needed to be cut, formed, and finished.  In keeping with a Buy-American theme, all of KOTA’s board decks are handcrafted out of hard rock maple from Wisconsin.

The owners at KOTA were so generous with their time and sharing their story that naturally they were asked to talk to other aspiring creators at Kylan’s school.  With the help of Kylan’s mom, a top-notch MEPer, a date was set to have KOTA and Kylan address the classroom about his experiences in raising capital, graphic design and manufacturing.

The day was a hit and not only was the seed for Kids Connection planted, it germinated.  Kylan is the Johnny Appleseed for the entire thing.   It’s now a regular program among the school, MEP and area manufacturers.  That’s really sensational.  But not nearly as sensational as a grandfather that longboards...


About the author

Mark Schmit

Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP), since 1988, has been committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing, continually evolving to meet the changing needs of manufacturers. As division chief for regional and state partnerships, Mark is the lead for division policy and has assisted in the development of programs supporting manufacturing and industrial extension technology-based economic development, and entrepreneurship practices with state elected officials and policy makers, including the MEP policy academies, which were designed by MEP and partners to help states build upon existing strategies, leverage available resources, and spur creative new ideas about how to address major challenges or leverage opportunities around the manufacturing sector.  Mark is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. He was an MEP co-lead for the creation of MFG Day, an outreach program held on the first Friday in October to show students, parents, and the public what modern manufacturing is all about, with growing annual participation across the United States. Mark was a 2001, 2005, 2014, and 2020 recipient of NIST’s George Uriano Award.  The George Uriano Award recognizes outstanding achievements by NIST staff in building and strengthening NIST extramural programs and partnerships.

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Great post, Mark! What a great way to engage kids about all the positive attributes of manufacturing! Could the Kids Connection model be incorporated into any MEP? Imagine the education, stories, excitement that could be generated as a result...Way to go CAMT!
Dear Mark, We represent ThomasNet, a free product sourcing and discovery platform. We would like to be in touch with you to discuss our latest news and a possible content sharing relationship. Please let me know the best way to reach you. Many thanks for your interest. Thanks, Danielle
Great story - very inspiring. I'm a science teacher (secondary) of ten years and love science fair time because kids get to explore, experiment, and really dive into what they are passionate about. I fully support project based learning. Getting to know kids' passion, interests, and home life is a great opportunity to see how to apply science- technology- engineering- math PLUS it builds a strong rapport. Once they realize that you support them - their imagination and creativity is limitless. Please let me know if I can be of help.
Great motivation story. Tnx Mark, you made my day.
Thanks everyone for your feedback. Kylan's story really is amazing, and it's only grown since I wrote this blog. He's been interviewed by Carrie Morgridge, of the Morgridge Family Foundation, to be featured in a chapter about starting small in her new book. She wanted to tell others about how one little idea can change so many lives and how even a gift as small as $200 makes a difference. Carrie is also sponsoring a trip to Uganda for Kylan so he can meet his pen pal. This entire experience will be turned into a documentary, which will be shared with kids at Kylan’s school and get others interested in helping. This one idea now has so many people inspired that Kylan's school plans to connect all 100 of their students with students in Uganda to all be Difference Makers.
Longboarding is yet another totally awesome sport that has swept adrenaline seekers coast to coast. Nathan Smith
kids love playing with..
Great motivation story. Thank you.
Great story! It is very helpful for me. In fact I still research about longboard as a beginner and try to reach some great story like this.
Great Post. It is really a helpful. Thanks for sharing :)
I really appreciate your thinking that how innovative way you engage the kids in learning. I always dream such kind of education where kids learn practically rather than memorize the topic. I have a kid and he has great passion on skateboarding. Obviously, I will apply this method to make his own skateboard.
Nice moves of skating and nice pictures.
Really inspiring story. I'll never give up learning new tricks from now on.

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