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Schafer Park teacher receives tech award
Posted 6/27/18

Teaching the next generation is an awesome responsibility and public service, one that fifth grade teacher George Kwong of Schafer Park Elementary in Hayward takes very seriously. His dedication to his students was recently honored during the 31st Annual Tech Challenge in San Jose, when Kwong was awarded the Bob Grimm Award for an Extraordinary Educator.

"This is my 15 year of teaching," Kwong said of his long career, which wasn't his first career at all. "It was a change, I used to be an accountant in the restaurant business," he explained, adding, "but I went back to school to become a teacher." He hasn't looked back yet, and his mentorship has done wonders for the students of Schafer Park. Alongside the school's science teacher Isabel Suoto, they have arranged for the school's participation in the annual Tech Challenge engineering event. "When I moved to fifth grade," Kwong said, "I started doing the Tech Challenge." In the eight years since, he's been an integral part of assembling the teams, fundraising, and keeping the school's teams on track with their projects.

Tech Challenge is held at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. Grades 4-12 can participate in the event, which creates an engineering challenge for the teams to solve using basic materials and their knowledge of math and science. Each year, specifics of the challenge change, with this year's theme being "Drop and Dash," meaning that teams would have to develop a container with one U.S. penny inside of it. That container would be dropped from 10 feet in the air onto a target, earning points for landing in a specific area of the drop zone. But the challenge wasn't over with a successful drop; the container was then required to launch the penny onto an adjacent ramp. The farther up the ramp the penny landed, the more points earned. The challenge was divided into three groupings based on age. Each team was allowed two attempts.

"Inspire the innovator in everyone" is the challenge's motto, which could be Kwong's motto as well. "I had learned about the Tech Challenge when I was attending a class in Milpitas," he said, "and I was like, "Okay we can do this!"

Tech Challenge kicks off in October when rules for the new challenge are released. Kwong springs into action, organizing teams and, with the help of Suoto, finding space for the teams to design their solutions. "The kids sign up and form their own teams. This year, we had five teams, a total of 24 kids," Kwong said. "A lot of kids may want to do it, but don't have the resources to travel to the Tech Museum," He added that each student must commit to meeting on Saturdays.

Another challenge is funding. On occasion they are able to secure funding, as they did one year from the Hayward Education Foundation with a $1,000 grant. "Besides that, pretty much anything the kids want to use, Ms. Suoto and I buy for them," Kwong said. It's this spirit and dedication that drew the attention of Tech Challenge personnel who selected Kwong for the Bob Grimm Award. "Bob Grimm was one of the founders [of the Tech Challenge]. He was an engineer superstar in the Silicon Valley [and] designed the tech challenges. He passed away three years ago," Kwong explained. He had no idea he was even nominated. "I was just watching to see if our kids won anything and then all of a sudden, I see my name on the screen and I was like, Whoa! I was just in shock."

Though Schafer Park didn't place in any of the Tech Challenge's categories this year, Kwong's recognition is a testament to the wonderful accomplishment of being part of the challenge. For Kwong, the entire experience is much more than participating. "We just want people to open their eyes and see that there's a lot more out there in Hayward. I wish more schools in Hayward participated in the challenge. Mrs. Souto and I are just teachers, we don?t know that much about engineering," he said, laughing, "we'll just keep trying because that's what engineers do!"