Making school ‘relevant’ to bored teens
Schoolwork is “irrelevant,” San Diego-area teens said in a series of interviews. Vista High hopes personalization will engage students, reports Hechinger’s Mike Elsen-Rooney in The Atlantic.
Senior Hernan Hernandez, 17 (left), and junior Ray Garcia, 15 (right), hope to design a new skateboarding course at Vista High School near San Diego. Photo: Mike Elsen-Rooney
For example, Principal Anthony Barela has agreed to let skater Hernan Hernandez, 17, design a skateboarding course at the large comprehensive high school, which primarily enrolls working-class Latinos.
With help from a $10 million XQ Super School Project grant, Vista High is revamping to encourage “more cross-disciplinary, independent projects; enhanced access to technology; and close attention to social and emotional skills,” writes Elsen-Rooney. “In September, Vista’s entire incoming freshman class of about 700 will be split into five “houses” of between 130 and 150 students and four teachers each, with the teachers trained to home in on the students’ strengths and preferences.”
A personalized-learning pilot at the high school, open to students who opt in, has shown promise: Sixty percent of students raised their grades and 70 percent improved attendance. But there are challenges.
Hernan, the skater, participated in the pilot and found the freedom in class disconcerting. He . . . once spent the better part of a class Googling “Supernovas’’ during a unit on the Big Bang theory. His grades slipped over the course of the year. Jeb Dickerson, who teaches American history to juniors in the pilot academy, found his students growing restless while working on independent projects he’d designed to give them more freedom. . . . “The direction I’m headed [in] is more structure,’’ he said.
Principal Barela will focus more on teacher training this fall. Eventually, the district plans to take the model systemwide.
Hernan, the skater, didn’t sign up for this fall’s academy, fearing the freedom would prove too tempting and his grades would continue to slip.But he did come away from the experience with a better sense of how he works as a student. “Whoever you are and how you work with others and with yourself,” he said, “that’s basically what it all comes back down to.”
As a senior, he’ll take vocational-tech courses in graphic design and photography to help with the skateboard-apparel company he started with friends in addition to more structured classes for his core academic subjects.
Redwood City-based Summit Public Schools, which pioneered a fast-replicating personalized-learning model, will launch a teacher-residency program this fall. Twenty-four teacher residents will train at Summit’s eight Bay Area campuses.