These Fresno Tech Entrepreneurs Are Launching A New Mobile App for Teachers – GV Wire

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Quiq Labs is launching a mobile app for teachers to use for after-school activity lesson planning.

The company’s focus has expanded to providing tech educational opportunities.

Its partnerships include the Fresno County Office of Education and Patiño School of Entrepreneurship.

Audience members at Friday’s California AfterSchool Network Conference in downtown Fresno will get the first look at a new mobile app created by a Fresno tech company to help teachers with lesson planning for after-school activities.

Damon Thomas

The mobile app is rePo! and was created by Quiq Labs and the company’s co-founders, Damon Thomas and Curlen Phipps, who also will speak at the conference.

It’s the latest educational tool developed by Thomas and Phipps, whose company has been steadily building partnerships with the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools office, Patiño School of Entrepreneurship, and local school districts to introduce youngsters to the world of tech — and their potential future role in it.

The new app builds on an existing web-based lesson-planning platform that’s already available to teachers. RePo! is short for Resource Portal, which has been up and running for three years.

Resource Portal contains “a lot of resources to help educators do what they do in after-school programs, such as creating lesson plans …  or using the library of lesson plans that we already have,” Thomas said. “And then, of course, the Resource Portal community, which is kind of like a private social network where everyone who is a part of it can communicate with what’s happening in their school, one on one.”

Sharing Information Improves Education

The Resource Portal has been a boon to schools and districts, especially where the instruction staff are part-time tutors or paraeducators who might only work a semester on after-school enrichment programs, said Luis Bravo, area supervisor with the Safety and Healthy Kids Department of the Fresno County Office of Education.

“Now they get to see examples of what lessons potentially could look like before they start developing their own,” he said. “They can take some from the Resource Portal already, and then when they feel like they’re prepared enough, they can develop their own lesson plans and share them with their colleagues. So, you know, it’s just sharing the ideas, an ecosystem of sharing information.”

Having rePo! as a mobile app means instructors don’t have to be sitting in front of a computer to access lesson plans, and gives them more flexibility, Bravo said.

Shared access to lesson plans has enabled after-school teachers to pick up lessons seamlessly, allowing schools and districts to do more long-term lesson planning, he said.

It also provides clear evidence to board members and administrators of how resources are being utilized, Bravo said.

Becoming Tech Educators

Quiq Labs’ work with educators is part of the company’s business model and stems from Thomas and Phipps’ desire to improve educational opportunities, particularly in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) for Fresno County students. It started when they partnered with the Clovis Chamber of Commerce to teach businesses how to use social media.

“That’s kind of where some of the education part and technology blended and mixed for us,” Thomas said. “People started recognizing, these guys make learning fun. Like, we play music in the classroom, we engage a little bit differently. … We keep it real and just have fun in the classroom.

“All of a sudden we started getting these invitations from business organizations and schools — ‘Tech is the future. And, we like how you guys approach teaching and education and being yourselves. Can you teach the stuff that you guys make money doing?’ We’re like, yes, we can definitely do that. And we got pulled into education and pretty much haven’t looked back.”

Role Models for Black Kids

Thomas and Phipps, boyhood friends from Cincinnati, Ohio, know that as Black men they are role models for students of color in Fresno County, many of whom come from similar inner-city, low-income homes.

Curlen Phipps

Phipps said he and Thomas met at their high school, Computers Unlimited, an alternative program that focused on computers in an inner-city high school. He said he’d had some experience with computers in middle school, “so that was the perfect place for me to go.”

Thomas, on the other hand, didn’t have any exposure to computers or video games at home, so the school “was an opportunity for me to get exposed to technology and learn how to code and learn how to design and then see what these things could do,” he said.

Blair Sagaria, Patiño’s principal, said that the school developed a “graduate profile” that would help determine which students would be a good fit to be successful. School officials soon realized they also needed a “teacher profile,” someone who “incorporates things like an entrepreneur mindset and believing in application-based learning and project-based learning and design thinking,” she said. “Damon and Curlen embody those things as well, so I do really think of them as educators.”

Having Black men as tech industry role models has attracted more Black students to enroll in Patiño, a Fresno Unified magnet school, Sagaria said.

“I think that it’s critical that they’re here to be examples of what you can do in life and within our community, Fresno in particular,” she said.

Quiq Labs’ History

Thomas and Phipps came to Fresno somewhat coincidentally — Phipps had moved here when his wife was getting medical training at the old University Medical Center, and Thomas decided to move his family westward as well. They teamed up in an old company that provided website development, using a grant from Year 1 of the 59DaysofCode contest. They won a second grant in a subsequent 59-Days-of-Code contest that gave them the resources to start Quiq Labs. 59DaysofCode was a community-based nonprofit that helped support and promote Fresno’s technology industry.

The company has gradually expanded in both size as well as the number and types of projects. They’re still working on website design but they’ve branched out into books, after-school programs, and in-school programs that focus on STEAM. They’ve started up Hero Academy, where the community can come to Quiq Labs for after-school activities.

Because of their expansion, last summer they moved from their old space of 372 square feet to a 2,000-square-foot space at the 41 Factory at Ventura and R streets in downtown Fresno. It provides more space for their expanding staff, some of whom started as high school interns, as well as their equipment.

Sagaria said she’s excited to see how many of her former Patiño students are now on the Quiq Labs staff: “What a great opportunity for everyone involved!”

Quiq Labs staff and crew in their downtown headquarters on Wednesday. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

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