Backstory of My Seismic Shift
When I recognized that the scope of students’ true needs would never be sufficiently met in traditional educational institutions, my perspective underwent a seismic shift. No longer tethered to the standard singular structures, I found it possible to think more broadly and to reverse the standard education paradigm by imagining schools designed to meet the career and educational aspirations of students as the most important priority.
But let’s pause for a moment to consider another essential area 21st century schools must include to ensure students have the best chance to achieve optimal success in school. While attending school, students have to be seen as holistic human beings; and as such, their emotional, mental, psychological, and physical developmental growth is at least as important as – and under some circumstances, such as a crisis they may encounter, even more important than – being a student.
How Real-Life Circumstances Created the Need to Bend the Arc of Educating Students Beyond Traditional Boundaries
Having been a not-so-ordinary student myself throughout my years in education, I was pleased to now be able to inform students that their decision to attend their new school gave them the opportunity to press a “reset” button and experience education differently from their previous school. I was leading an alternative high school, where students were in search of a second chance. Their challenge was magnified by the many obstacles outside of school they were trying to deal with while working on their education. Their struggles followed them to and through the school doors. Often it was the biggest contributing factor of what is commonly known as school hopping, a common practice for many of our students.
At the start of my tenure as school leader, the staff and I were determined to educate the students within the traditional guidelines followed by other high schools. Offering the same menu of courses, class schedules, and school policies was intended to mirror the practices of traditional high schools. You didn’t have to be very observant to notice the variety of ways in which students were repelled by (and in time rebelled against) the fact that “norms” from their previous school were being replicated in their new, and what they had hoped would be different, school.
How Measuring The Circumference of a Circle Was Not Going to Equip Students To Meet and Overcome the Challenges of A Different Test: Their Ability to Survive..
Always high on the list of challenges was the complication of inheriting academically struggling young adults with very low attendance rate in their former schools. An inordinate amount of time was needed to build trust, while constantly cajoling students to continue coming to school. If you’ve often experienced only failure, your decision to stay away from an institution that reminds you of failure is far easier than summoning the courage to address learning gaps, many, but not all, of which may have rose from poor attendance in previous schools. Convincing students their journey does not have to continue on the same trajectory became a multi pronged process.
First, we had to revamp our assumptions and instructional model. The distribution of a tenth-grade math, science, or history book based on the grade level designated in each student’s official record, proved to be an inaccurate, and most times detrimental, way of assigning students to classes. Although we believed that, eventually, with quality instruction, students would achieve and then surpass the grade stamped on their record, we found we could not assume that, upon their arrival, they were all reading or able to understand the content at the tenth-grade level.
How Did the Collaborative High School Campus Model Happen?
Sounds like quite an adventure, right? It wasn’t. I researched architect firms and then summoned the courage to call and schedule a meeting with a reputable architectural firm. Imagine my surprise when the CEO, who happened to answer the phone, graciously granted me time to meet with him to discuss my vision of a new high school.
At that time, I was imagining one mega-sized high school building. So, in preparation of our meeting, I searched and found several images of a state-of-the-art high school building his firm designed and constructed in an urban community. Having a one-dimensional school building in mind, that particular design was a replica of what I thought I wanted. I was so naïve. Still, I felt fortunate that my inquiries were taken seriously; at least, that was the appearance of a very renowned architect and CEO who may have found my presence quite amusing.