After 22 years as a CTE teacher, Stuart Foster fell during a ski accident and during recovery had time to reflect on teaching, his students, and what mattered most to them. Countless times he came back to what really inspired his students and helped them prepare and find a career. He realized even as he ran into former students, they’d ask him if he was still doing the same type of programs and using the same curriculum that they loved. They’d share with him how his class had impacted their careers.
Stuart shares his journey as a teacher, and some inspirational student stories, and how he went from educator to employee of Knowledge Matters.
Buzz: Hey, this is Buzz with the Buzz of Education. Thanks so much for joining me today on the broadcast. Here, I talk all about ideas and insights and inspiration, all around technology. And today, specifically, we’re going to talk about education technology. Every day teachers are working tirelessly to encourage students who feel disconnected from school, or they find that what they’re learning is totally irrelevant. Nothing unusual there, right? Connecting students to their interests is no easy task. But I have with me today on the show, someone who has a unique understanding of what it takes to lead students to discover what they’re interested in and potentially what they even might be doing as a career.
Joining me is Stuart Foster. After 22 years as an educator and career instructor, the misfortune of a severe broken leg brought him to a crossroads, a decision that he had to consider in the past. But during this recovery, he came to grips with it. [00:01:00] He has now joined Knowledge Matters, a company that is impacting students with a virtual and interactive learning experience that provides simulations for students to develop their talents in all sorts of industries like food service, hospitality, retailing, sports management, manufacturing, and many, many more. And as he put it, there was only one company I would work for if I wasn’t teaching, and that one was Knowledge Matters.
Hey sir. Welcome to the show.
Stuart: Hey Buzz. Thanks for having me. Yeah. It’s been a great ride being in education all these years. And just like you said, there was only one company I was looking for to work for and that was Knowledge Matters. And boy, it’s just been a great decision to come here so far.
Buzz: I know that you went out to St. Louis for a spell and then came back to your home state and ended up working for Woodburn school district. Talk a little bit about that.
Stuart: Yeah, so out of college, I was an economics major and ended up working [00:02:00] in the financial sector. I worked for a brokerage firm back in St. Louis. and just after my wife got through her grad program, I just sat there and thought, what did I really want to do? How can I really make an impact? And a lot of us at 24, 25 years old, we think we want to change the world and do what we can. And so, I had the call to go back to teaching and it’s been in my family for a long time. I think I’m a third or fourth generation teacher as well. One room schoolhouse kind of stuff is where my family has come from. And I made the decision to get into education and go back to Oregon. And I just really felt like that was something I wanted to do. And when they called me up for student teaching, they said, hey, where do you want to student teach? I said, hey, give me the most challenging situation. And that’s kind of how I ended up in Woodburn.
Woodburn is a cool place. It’s definitely a [00:03:00] different part than the rest of the state of Oregon. My classes were traditionally somewhere between 85 and a 100% Hispanic and English Language Learners; students that had come up from families who had immigrated from different parts of Mexico, different parts of Central America, including El Salvador and Nicaragua. And so it was just a very interesting place to work and teach and try to bring my students at Woodburn into the life in America to how to be successful in the United States.
Buzz: I think you told me in one of the conversations that we’ve had recently, that you felt like you were kind of a football coach through it because you came through middle school for sixth and seventh grade and then ended up in high school, teaching, marketing, and business and that was a really cool jump in your whole continuum of teaching. Talk a little bit about that.
Stuart: Yeah, the thing about high school football coaches that most people realize [00:04:00] usually you’re really busy. Those high school football coaches, they work their tail off all the time and they’re working, staying late, watching film, they’re doing everything.
And as far as a marketing and business team first of all, I spent several years teaching middle school and really kind of got my feet in my bearings and me and education. And then I got the opportunity to take over the business program at our high school. And I really began to equate the level of work I had to do to that high school football coach.
I mean we were running not only six, seven classes a day but we were also running a student store. Basically, I would run that student store with students; I never had a lunch. And then on top of that, we did the CTSO organization which is DECA in this case. And that is another, just another, just huge commitment. So, shout out there to all my business and marketing teachers [00:05:00] that you guys do it all. It’s a tough job.
Buzz: The story about the student store was a whole lesson on self-sufficiency and just gritten it out. Because you guys had a bit of a problem at the school where you went under water a bit. Was that the case?
Stuart: Yeah, so initially there wasn’t a store situation set up. When I first, back in 2009, started doing this position I was teaching business and marketing, we were on a cart that my father-in-law and I built together. And then the next year they put us into a situation that was the store actually. Yeah. And then we were in that specific space for a couple of years. And then in 2012, there was a major fire at the school while we are on campus and by putting out that fire, there were about eight feet of water in my student’s store. So, I lost the space, lost all my inventory and [00:06:00] that was a super big struggle, but just like contingency plans you couldn’t have predicted that one, but a contingency plan. We ended up working out of out of a closet for a while. And then we got kicked out of that and then we even moved back into another cart again.
Buzz: I like the mobility idea. That’s like you’re bringing it - the store to the kids. But I think it teaches also perseverance, which is a tough thing to teach because you can talk about it but humanly, when you go through trials and tribulations they grow us. And that certainly must’ve been the type of thing that grew those kids dramatically, because when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And that was where, they didn’t quit, right?
Stuart: No, they didn’t quit. They, we couldn’t quit. As a title one school district, we struggled, you know, coming up with funds to have kids go on trips or go to conferences to further their education [00:07:00].
And so the key to making all that work was that student store, because we were able to make enough money to be able to pay for those kids to pay for the registration fees or help them pay for a flight to an event somewhere, which is, in a lot of cases across the United States and these business clubs like DECA, a parent will just write the check.
Buzz: Yeah, definitely. And just to jump in so that the listing audience might have some context. If you don’t know what DECA is, they’ve been around for awhile. It’s the distributive education clubs of America is what it stands for. It is a student organization seventy-five years old and growing. 175,000 members and they’re in over 3,200 high schools across the country. So that is a pretty big deal. Right?
Stuart: Yeah, it’s a huge deal. And it’s not even just in the United States, it’s Canada and Mexico, Japan. There are these people from around the world. Now they call it the [00:08:00] international ICDC the international conferences really where students go compete on an international level.
And I was super fortunate to have at least one of my kids in the years that did qualify for the internationals. Some schools have kids qualify every year, but in my case, I only had one group qualify and go and compete over several years.
Buzz: Wow. So, let’s push forward a little – in 2009 you became acquainted with a product called Knowledge Matters and began running simulations for your students and light bulb on, huh?
Stuart: I found Knowledge Matters through DECA and Knowledge Matters partnered years ago with the founder and the president of DECA came through and was watching some students play in this simulation and he was just like, man I’m sold this is great. And so DECA combined or works with a Knowledge Matters now and does these Virtual Business Challenges where they compete. And so I learned about [00:09:00] Knowledge Matters through DECA and so I decided, okay it’s good enough for DECA, I’m going to try it. And my kids back in 2009, 2010, man, when I first started this, they were just jumping in gangbusters.
So I was like, I got a winner and I’ve got something here. That’s going to work with kids. Even the first year I did it. I had a state champion from Oregon in there. And he realized, his name was Alex, he realized just how much hard work it is, to actually compete and win and be successful. That guy later now has a thriving accounting business. And it all goes back to sorta that beginning sort of, it’s a super visual, super interactive simulation where it teaches kids quite a bit.
Buzz: Also, it’s a great vetting tool because it makes, what know what you like and what you don’t like and what you’re really good at and maybe what you’re not so great at. So, suffice it to say you found a real jewel in this terrific tool, right? [00:10:00]
Stuart: Yeah, it’s been one of those things and Knowledge Matters has just grown from a, just a few simulations that originally they would send you the discs in, and now it’s a web-based simulation program with nine different simulations and man, it’s so cool because the kids get a chance to try out like a hotel simulation or try out a restaurant simulation to figure out what it’s really like to be in those shoes; to be the manager of that type of business.
Buzz: Now we have the tendency from the outside looking in that go, oh, I can do that. That’s easy. And then when you get in it and you’re like, whoa, wait a minute. Not so easy. No?
Stuart: Yeah. It’s a gem I used in my classes ever since, because I would literally have kids come back to me and I’ll run into them at Target and you’ll say, Hey, Mr. Foster, how are you doing? I’ll be like, great.
Hey sir, are you still running those business simulations in class? I can remember working on those so hard to try to make sure I hit my profit numbers and hit my goals. [00:11:00] And I, that speaks to itself. A kid that’s been out of high school three or four years coming back to me and saying, and remembering that.
So I really knew I had a winner this whole time. Even during COVID, you know what I’m on online with my students, I had, kids spending six, seven hours trying to get through the simulations and some of the projects at the end. It’s just like the kids are really into it. And I, so I really enjoyed it.
Buzz: As we push forward a little bit more on the timeline. About a year ago you had a bit of a problem a broken leg and to be specific, a spiral fracture, which takes a while to heal to say the least. Talk a little bit about what happened there, and we’ll get to the backside of the, just a second.
Stuart: So, my son and I went up and skied all morning and I skied all afternoon. And then the last run of the day, of course, the last run of the day, I as I’m heading down a black diamond, [00:12:00] I just in some powder and got myself, turned around a little bit and as it happens in skiing and my binding didn’t pop up. And I was alone. My son had already retired for the day. And so I said, oh, I’ll do this last run and then I missed something. The binder, the ski boot didn’t pop out and my leg snapped and went right up. It literally, the brake went right up the tibia and 16 screws and a metal plate later, I have dealt with all of this, and it’s been a pretty big trial and we’ve gotten through it though.
Buzz: And during that convalescence you’ve got thinking about this company Knowledge Matters and how fond you were of them. That led to a different decision.
Stuart: Knowledge Matters was acquired by a company called eDynamic Learning this year. During that time, I contacted their eDynamics person and said, hey, Knowledge Matters is great, tell me a little bit about your company. [00:13:00] And that was eDynamic Learning, which is more of an online textbook sort of situation for business and CTE programs. And I was like, hey, if you guys are lining up, let’s see, let me hear your pitch. And he walked me through his pitch and I was just like, hey, this is great. Man, this company Knowledge Matters has got where it’s at. If I ever have the opportunity to work with that company, I’m going to, and I would like to work for that company someday.
That’s the kind of things I hear from my students all the time about, oh, I want to go work for Nike or I want to go work for the Dallas Cowboys or, and I was like, yo, gosh, I really believe in this product. And so the position wasn’t posted or anything like that, I just sent, happened to send my resume on and just said, hey, I love your guys’ product. I’m not interested in working for anybody else right now, but, and you know there we go.
So, 22 years. It was like serendipity or fate [00:14:00] or something. I just decided it just came down my way and I was like, hey, absolutely. These guys know what’s going on. They are creating these amazing products for kids around the country.
Buzz: Yep. I think it it’s a great one two punch when you think about the eDynamic Learning in combination with Knowledge Matters. One of the considerations that you’re probably thinking about is I think you saw in both companies is continuous improvement and updating of their products to meet the changing needs of students, it wasn’t static or stale.
A lot of times you see people create products and things and they go, it’s good. And they don’t really have a muscle that twitches that says, how can we make it that much better? Because it feels like it’s done. It doesn’t, both eDynamic Learning and Knowledge Matters don’t have that approach. They’re constantly re-evaluating and future-proofing, if you will, or beating down obsolescence on their products, And I think you, and I talked a little bit about that as it impacted your students; [00:15:00] the literacy toolbar for students that needed a text-to-speech, read aloud options and dictionaries and highlighters and things of that nature. Those really made big improvements, right?
Stuart: Yeah, so that was the main reason I chose to add that eDynamic part to my classroom because, everybody’s got a textbook to sell, and everybody’s got some different things but that are there but there are bells and whistles but with eDynamic, what I really liked was that idea that I could, my students could press play and listen to it being read to them. And again, and if you look at back at my school district with all of our English language learners, that was so so important as well with some of our special education students that are struggling with reading or struggling with dyslexia or all sorts of different things. They’re able to still learn [00:16:00] and access the curriculum really, really well. And then with the Knowledge Matters part, the piece that the visual stimulation of these simulations is like oh my gosh, this is where kids want to be, and kids want to be actually interested in doing it.
Buzz: Well, I think one of the other pieces that again, that you and I touched on in a previous conversation was around WCAG compliance, which meets the 508 requirement that people want to fulfill, and it serves students who are deaf or hard of hearing or blind, or have some visual impairment as well as those that have dyslexia or cognitive challenges.
And that’s a big deal. In fact, I think it’s one of the standout things – talk about equity and access and inclusion. There’s a fair population of students, as you know, you’ve dealt with them yourself that this really meets them at their most critical need, right?
Stuart: . Right, yeah and I was supposed to have a student even this semester, this time, this year [00:17:00] in my class that was blind. And I was really worried at first about how I was going to allow that student or serve that student in a way that was going to be realistic and helpful. And as soon as I found out about those, I was like, oh my gosh, we can apply the JAWS which was basically what the program that allowed him to access everything on Knowledge Matters and the EDL websites. It was, it allowed them to just see everything. Absolutely what we should have for everybody – equity across the board.
Buzz: It’s sometimes difficult to look back at the impact that you have on your students. And it’s not because you don’t want to its sometimes you don’t have the scale of time to do that, as you inherit new kids every year and at different times of the year, and sometimes it’s hard to follow where the students go after you’ve influenced them. And I wanted you to touch on a story that you were kind of sharing with [00:18:00] me about a student who joined a marketing company in Oregon and the whole thing took a completely terrific turn. I wanted you to go ahead and tell that story real quick.
Stuart: This student’s name is Miguel. Miguel’s family came to Woodburn and his mom was an undocumented person that didn’t have the correct documentation. And so during his later part of elementary school Miguel and his family, it wasn’t just Miguel, but they, all of them were deported to Mexico or his mother was deported to Mexico and they all had to go back.
Meanwhile they tried to get the right documentation to get back into the country to, to fulfill their dream of being in the United States. And they ended up going back into the United States, coming back into Woodburn again, several years later. And I met Miguel as a middle-schooler initially when I was teaching middle school.
He’s this great guy. Great smile. Great personality, worked really, really hard. Had a good relationship with all of his, with his teachers [00:19:00] and just a good overall guy. And then as I moved into the high school and took over the business position, he had also moved in. So, I really got to know him over the years.
And as he competed in and played sports in high school, did DECA was a 4.0 student, ended up getting a nice, huge scholarship into a college and then eventually he, and he was in that business class and did all of my curriculum, but then he got, got into college. And then he was a marketing and business major and he just like every kid today, he thought I really want to go work for Nike.
Well he got in, sometimes in these situations, students of color need - have gotten opportunities to. And so, he got an opportunity to interview with three companies out of college. And one of the two companies happen to be Nike. Two of the three companies happen to be Nike and Weiden + Kennedy.
And if you’re not familiar with Weiden + Kennedy, [00:20:00] that is the famous advertising firm that has done all of the Nike marketing for the past gosh, 30 years. And so Miguel ended up getting an offer from Weiden + Kennedy first and he had 24 hours to accept. Which is crazy because he was able to tell this story and he was able to communicate and able to talk and explain all of his life and then he accepted because he had to, and then the next day, of course, he got the call from Nike that he got the job offer from Nike as well, but he had already accepted at Weiden + Kennedy.
And so the thing about Miguel is that Miguel had all of these experiences and these really hard things happen in his life. His family used to play soccer and soccer was a very big passion and his father would always say, guys we haven’t been scoring many goals lately but then once [00:21:00] he started working for Wieden + Kennedy, those goals really came in. They started hitting, he came in and he started, just being super successful at Weiden + Kennedy. And then eventually, while he’s at Weiden + Kennedy he decided, you know what, I need to figure out how to not just help the best and the coolest companies in the world with their ad campaigns. I need to jump in and start looking at how I can help Hispanic businesses grow in the United States. And so, he actually was, he had handed in his resignation letter or was going to hand it to his boss at Weiden + Kennedy, tell them that thanks, it’s been a great ride, but I’m going to try to do something else where I’m really wanting to go a different direction and Weiden + Kennedy said, Whoa. Why don’t you do this for us? And so they actually gave him a full, you know an idea in his own kind of pilot program about [00:22:00] how to help Hispanic communities.
And then, sadly Miguel lost his mother to cancer about a year and a half ago. Miguel again, they were feeling like they were just down and struggling, but Miguel and his friends from high school these same guys that I watched grow up through seven years of high school, they decided to give back to their community and in memory of Miguel’s mother.
And so these 25, 26 year old guys are starting to; they started an annual scholarship. It’s only 5,000 bucks, but between these guys, they’re giving out scholarships now at 25, 26, 27 years old, giving back to their community so kids can have the same opportunities that they had in college, and they had in life just to help a little bit more help pay for college.
And, that’s that idea. You could say, it’s a…. Miguel was just one story, [00:23:00] but there I have, dozens and dozens of more stories like Miguel, these kids that have just been really, really successful because they have had this introduction to CTE and CTE programs and just making them feel really comfortable, so yeah.
Buzz: Yeah, I think sometimes people like to think that well, you’ve made something from nothing, and I would argue that CTE teachers and those instructors out there reveal to kids that they have something. And then at that point, these kids like Miguel make something of something and that’s not from scratch. It’s not from zero. They have it in them. And you guys do such a great job of revealing it. And in no small way, the tools that you’ve used with Knowledge Matters and eDL helps reinforce and empower that, and the emotion and heart you put into it. That just goes above and beyond anything that that anybody can create, and I think kids feel that authenticity of care [00:24:00] and direction and guidance.
And once they feel like you’re on their side, you saw what happened? You’ve seen what happened; that this is just really a cool thing that you allow kids to see something and make something of something. And again, I just appreciate, what you’ve done and now I think at scale, you get to impact a lot more kids.
I just can’t wait to hear what’s the, some more stories from Stuart. So, my thanks to you for sharing your inspiring story today with everybody.
Stuart: Shout out again to all of those business, marketing, CTE teachers, the cabinetmaking teachers, the automotive techs, the diesel techs, the cosmetology teachers, man, they’re out there every day, trying to make sure that kids have a future that is something that they want to do, they’re excited about. And boy, it’s been a great ride and I’m just excited to continue it on the next chapter. [00:25:00]
Buzz: That’s a wrap on this episode of the Buzz in Education. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Stuart Foster and listening to his inspiring stories and journey. And for more information on Knowledge Matters, go to knowledgematters.com, that’s Knowledge Matters.com where you too can learn more about providing insight and discovery into student careers and simulations that they do so well. And until next time, this is Buzz with the Buzz on Education, and we’ll be talking with you soon.