When I left New York City and the world of Finance in 2011, I was excited, nervous, and fearful. I was moving to downtown Las Vegas with the dream of making an impact on education, but I didn’t exactly have a plan yet. I was excited about the possibilities, but also nervous because I had no experience. And I was fearful of failing and not living up to people’s expectations of me.
In fact, the only thing my plan consisted of was my conclusion that the “real world” was very different from what school had prepared me for. And that my fondest (and most informative) memories of school were ones in which I was engaged in interesting, interactive, and meaningful learning experiences.
In mid-2011, I unexpectedly received the opportunity to move to downtown Las Vegas and open a school as part of the Downtown Project. Initially, I dismissed the idea (I didn’t have a degree or any experience in school-building), but I nonetheless decided to visit for a week. I ended up meeting countless people that were passionate, creative, happy, and entrepreneurial, and I started to become inspired to follow my passion and to believe that I could make an impact. I had never met so many open-minded and collaborative change-makers who wanted to positively contribute to the community, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.
But, I had a lot of self-doubt, mainly around not having a background and experience in education, and concerns that the school would be a failure. But people believed in me and assured me that I would figure it out (and scolded me for even thinking about failure). I was still hesitant, but the defining moment came when I was introduced to Sal Khan, who I found out had also come from Finance and had little prior experience in education. Meeting Sal gave me the self-confidence that innovation and change can come from people outside of the industry, and that perhaps I could create an impact as well.
After I moved to Las Vegas, I spent six months just meeting people, visiting schools, reading and researching, and forming a team of experienced educators and administrators. While I initially came to Las Vegas wanting to create a school that was relevant, engaging, and meaningful for students, my time in downtown Las Vegas helped me evolve the idea even further. Downtown Las Vegas is transforming into a dynamic and diverse community driven by an entrepreneurial and creative spirit, and I came to realize that many of the skills that make someone entrepreneurial are also ones that make us successful in life.
My take on being entrepreneurial means having insatiable curiosity, passion, initiative, determination, courage, creativity, optimism… the list goes on and on.
And with the world rapidly changing (it’s no longer about what we know but about how we learn and being driven and adaptable), the leaders and influencers of tomorrow will be those that make their own path.
So I started thinking more and more about how closely being entrepreneurial aligned with my vision for a school. School should be a place to learn self-awareness and self-confidence, not just language and cognitive skills. It should be a place that exposes us to varied experiences and cultivates creativity and passions, with the goal to make us all into life-long learners. It should be a place that teaches us that we can all create our own paths and have the potential to be impacters.
These are the reasons why I wanted to build a school that places as much weight on social-emotional learning as academic skills, that encourages creative expression, that exposes our students to a myriad of ideas, perspectives, and experiences, and that has at its core a focus on happiness, play, and hands-on learning.
I also didn’t want a school that was confined to the four walls of a building – instead, I envision our city as our classroom. With the collective knowledge and experience of our entrepreneurs, creatives, neighbors, visitors, and supporters, an infinite number of learning experiences are just waiting to be unleashed.
I’ve learned more about myself in opening this school than I have in all my previous years combined. I learned that I had within me some of the building blocks that led to successfully opening a school: hard work (i.e stress and sleepless nights), determination (road blocks and roller-coasters aplenty), self-confidence and courage (staying true to my vision despite the naysayers), and creative problem solving (too numerous to list). But, there is no way I would have been able to get to the first day of school without reaching out for help and collaboration, as there were a plethora of skills that I needed from others that I did not have.
It’s been a journey of self-awareness, humility, and gratitude and as difficult as it was, I wouldn’t change a single thing — not even the parts that didn’t go well as those have been the ones that I’ve learned the most from.
I am most proud and filled with love when I see the smiling, happy children at 9th Bridge, and of me becoming an entrepreneur. My journey of starting my own venture from the ground up has reinforced in me the skills that I believe are valuable to our students.
I invite you to come visit us and allow us to share our love of 9th Bridge with you!
Connie Yeh, Founder