The Boy Who Bought His School

From the 1950’s to the 1990’s, HM Perry School served elementary children from Davenport, a river town on the Mississippi in Iowa. In the 1970’s, one particular student, Steve Grubbs, was traversing its hallways learning all the basics.  Miss Ellis would teach him to read, Mr. Christman demonstrated the basics of square dance and a proper pull up and Mr. Sharp explained the mysteries of the Solar System as well as some basic chemistry.

Of course, learning was done with chalkboards, books (with real paper pages) and of course, the inimitable #2 pencil. It was good. It was a different time.

Changes in demographics ultimately caused the school to close and transfer the remaining students to other buildings – but as they say, when one door closes, another opens.  On a September day, 25 years later, Steve took his YMCA flag football team to the school’s grassy field to practice. It was then he noticed a small piece of paper: SEALED BIDS DUE OCTOBER 20TH.

When the bids were opened, Steve Grubbs, the former HM Perry pupil would now be the new owner of his boyhood school.

Steve Grubbs at Perry Elementary in 1975

This story might be entertaining in it’s own right but it doesn’t end there. Steve’s father had been a lifelong teacher in the school district. Even more, during a six year span when Steve served in the Iowa Legislature, he spent four years as Chairman of the House Education Committee. His proudest piece of legislation was a technology school fund that allowed districts to buy computers, connect their buildings to the Internet or use it for other transformational technologies.

Steve Grubbs at the same location at Perry Elementary in 2015

So, it’s not a surprise that Steve’s focus inside this new building eventually turned to transforming education through technology.

In 2016, Steve put on his first virtual reality headset and he knew that this technology would change the world. Many early developers were furiously focused on gaming, and expectations were high that gaming in VR would quickly transform the marketplace. Steve had a different view. Recalling his time in the legislature as they sat for hours and days trying to determine how to motivate students to love learning, he immediately began to consider how VR could foster a love of science.

Within a few weeks, he had conferred with experts in the industry and developed a plan to create education content in virtual reality. That’s how the company, VictoryVR was born.

The former school library was now a large conference room and coffee shop. It was here the strategy sessions would play out. The gym was now, well a gym, but also a place to pace around while talking on the phone with others in the field. The upper grade math room became the place the engineer’s and developer’s would code the product. And the principal’s office – that place with both good and bad memories – is where the operating manager would sit and execute the marketing and sales plan. As for Steve, he planted himself firmly in the teacher’s lounge, the only room with a private bathroom.

The plan called for supplemental science curriculum for both middle school and high school students. Rene Gadelha, the curriculum specialist, created a plan to align everything in the virtual reality world with the newly defined Next Gen Science Standards. This gave teachers the ability to sync VR experiences against their lesson plans.

Next, there was a need for on-air talent. That’s when Wendy the Science Teacher came to be. Wendy had been a finalist on ABC Television’s national Top Teacher search. She was a natural in front of the camera and enthusiastic about new technologies.

With the team assembled, the final piece of the puzzle was creating a green screen studio in the 1st grade classroom. By the middle of 2018, all 48 units of supplemental virtual reality curriculum had been completed. One publication listed VictoryVR’s content among the top seven education VR apps in the world, alongside the BBC and Discovery.

Even more, Intel brought the company into its mentorship program and Microsoft licensed the content to provide to its users of Windows Mixed Reality.

At the end of the day, we all know a school is not a building, but rather the students, teachers and curriculum that come together in their individual parts to make up the whole. Today, the Victory Center no longer acts as a school building for almost 300 students, but rather, an incubator for the creation of cutting edge content that will transform learning around the world.

And that boy who carelessly moved through HM Perry School, now gets to spread his love of learning to students in countries everywhere.

Copyright VictoryVR, Inc. 2019

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