Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Big Picture

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy Bain from The Met School in Rhode Island this week.
The Met School is the first Big Picture School, and they are doing incredible things. HoneyFern has been moving inexorably (and happily) towards this model for two years; essentially, students design their own work and an internship based on their interests. Their work comes directly from the needs of the internship and is authentic; there are no artificial projects here. One teacher has an advisory of no more than 15 students, and this teacher is responsible for the same 15 students for all four years, helping them to identify their passion, set up and internship and get the skills they need to complete their work (including any standard academic skills). Big Picture schools like the Met also work on soft skills as a part of internships and focus on interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. There are no scheduled classes, no bells, and no rigid, linear curriculum, and yet somehow all students thrive. Students who have struggled in traditional schools thrive, and students who have excelled thrive.

I don't know if Georgia can handle this. Apparently, several years ago some people tried to open a Big Picture school down here and were met with extreme resistance. Big Picture schools are generally public and open to all applicants (there is usually a waiting list, as the schools are small as part of the model; in this case, a lottery is used). Big Picture schools do not have set classes, and yet 98% of their students apply to and are accepted by colleges and universities across the country, including the Ivies (if ou care about that sort of thing).  I believe they said that 75% of those students actually finish college; the others are more entrepreneurial and branch out into business earlier. I cannot quite see what makes this so threatening, except perhaps the fact that kids are empowered to make decisions regarding their education, and people out of the box are harder to predict. Adults have difficulty with this type of uncertainty, and it seems that down in the south we are married to the idea of linear predictability in our education systems. It isn't about money, or it shouldn't be; this can function as a program within a school, and a team of teachers can work together in one area of the school without any additional funding required (just pay the salary they normally get).

Not sure what it will take to help the south move toward a more progressive model that is more student-centered. Common Core standards don't do it, and more testing is not the answer. Perhaps this is part of HoneyFern's mission: identify and partner with a forward-thinking school to implement this on a small scale to show what can be done.

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