How Digital Literacy Can Also Build Business Skills

Inside Rêve Academy’s bright orange walls, I’m frantically drawing a Minnesota-shaped scribble on the whiteboard. Luckily, my team yells out their interpretation of the scribbles—”Minnesota Vikings!”—before our opponents can do the same.

We’re playing an impromptu round of Pictionary, led by 17-year-old intern Hnia Xiong. He introduced the game as an icebreaker for our business meetings. When it was over, Hnia conducted a brief brainstorming session and a review of the team’s progress.

Hnia and the other interns in his group began three weeks ago at Rêve Academy, but they already display impressive leadership skills. Intern Adil Abdirahman quickly picked up on the connection between our Pictionary game and his current project: designing brochures in Adobe InDesign.

Rêve Academy interns Hnia, Adil, and Alberto

Rêve Academy interns Hnia, Adil, and Alberto.

“You have to help other people understand what you’re trying to say, and then send them in the right direction,” he said. It’s not the first time the word direction has been brought up today. Rêve Academy’s mission is to help students dream with direction as they build digital literacy skills. But what does that look like in action?

How Students Grow Along With Their Work

The students toggle between InDesign files to show me. Their goal is to craft a full-color tri-fold brochure using this industry-standard software—not an easy feat for most adults, much less high-schoolers. They’ve gone through several iterations, but have now landed on a striking design that puts the most important information first. Two weeks ago, they presented their work to a panel that included Amber Gunn Thomas, founder of The Patchery. and Carter Romo, senior designer at Rêve Consulting.

Carter explained, “Even seasoned designers know how challenging it is to translate business needs into engaging creative work. So the skills these interns are building go well beyond making a brochure. They’re exploring concepts like systems thinking and branding, as well as learning the basics of InDesign. At the same time, they have to build prototypes and mockups while presenting their concepts and rationale—all in a few weeks. That’s a lot to put into practice, but they’ve done so with awesome attitudes. Their growth has been fun to see.”

Alfonso Mayfield, Director of Student-Run Businesses at Rêve Academy, agreed with Carter’s assessment. “This group has been incredible at accepting feedback and making adjustments,” he said. “Not just with the brochures, but with everything—they’re able to listen to feedback without taking it personally. They’ve been getting rid of bad habits, making sure they talk loud enough and engage everybody. When compared to their first presentation, this is a transformation.”

Alberto presenting to a panel of industry experts

Alberto presenting to a panel of industry experts.

Intern Alberto Diaz agrees that his presentation skills have improved. In the past, he struggled with class presentations, sometimes covering his face because of nerves. But the opportunity to engage with peers and industry experts has taught him how to speak up. He said, “The more I got into it, the more comfortable I felt. Now I still need help making eye contact, but I’m doing a lot better.”

Both Alberto and Adil heard about Rêve Academy through school counselors. Adil said, “I had a lot of free time at school, and I would usually spend it helping with gym classes. But my counselor asked if I wanted to do this instead, so I had a FaceTime interview with the instructors. I still remember my answer to their last question, which was about how you would teach someone a new skill. I said, ‘First they must have the loyalty to learn.'”

What a Commitment to Learning Means at Rêve Academy

Although a commitment to learn is important, Rêve Academy students don’t have to be digital prodigies. They may not even have a burning interest in digital careers prior to interning here. The goal of the program is to show them that these skills are within reach. That’s when the idea of pursing a digital career becomes real to them.

Hnia explained, “I was at a standstill once the second quarter started and didn’t know what do with my time. So I called up my old supervisor from a work-based learning program and he told me about Rêve Academy. I skimmed through the site and was somewhat interested even though technology wasn’t an area I thought I’d go into. But my teacher, Mr. Sylvester, said, ‘You never know when those skills will help you in the future.’ So I took the opportunity and came here.”

When I asked whether their Academy skills were applicable to other situations, the students agreed unanimously. Adil said, “Anything you learn here, you go teach outside, or you use it outside. Hnia said, “What I’ve learned here is to be professional with the way you act, the way you speak, the way you present yourself. With the communication aspect and leading the business meetings, I’ve definitely thought about the future. What can I be doing in the future with those skills?”

The kids also told me about the importance of starting meetings on a positive note, how they dealt with a team member not showing up for an important presentation, and strategies for building soft skills like communication and teamwork.

Rêve Academy students working on brochures and leading an icebreaker activity.

The Philosophy Behind Dreaming With Direction

Throughout the conversation, it becomes clear that Rêve Academy instructors aren’t going to give their students all the answers. When interns stumble over their words or lose their train of thought, Mandy, Andrew, and Alfonso don’t jump to the rescue. But they do give the students encouragement when they get it right, and they happily make themselves available for questions and guidance.

This style of engaged, student-led mentorship is exactly what these kids will encounter as professionals. Academy instructors know that students will grow when they’re given space to experiment. And growth is the best way—some would say the only way—for their dreams to take flight.

If you’d like to volunteer your expertise at Rêve Academy, please contact us.

To learn about implementing Rêve Academy’s curriculum in your school, get in touch with Director of Academic Excellence Amanda Janssen.

Rêve Academy

Rêve Academy helps students dream with direction by providing pathways to digital careers. We create marketable talent by combining immersive coursework with real-world experience.