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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Modeling high school on preschool

Sophomore boys weaving baskets at City Neighbors School said they’d prefer more tests. Photo: Sarah Garland

High school should be more like preschool, writes Sarah Garland in the Hechinger Report. That means more focus on relationships, play, projects and personalized learning.

At City Neighbors High School in Baltimore, ninth graders discuss their favorite color and debate the merits of Cool Ranch vs. Nacho Cheese Doritos. It’s a “break” from academics and a chance to learn public speaking skills, writes Garland.

Deborah Meier, the godmother of the progressive education movement, borrowed from early education ideas when she designed Central Park East High School in 1985. The small “hands-on” and “child-centered” high school on New York City’s Upper East Side sparked many copies and fueled a small schools movement that dominated education reform for a decade. “Most of my ideas about education were realizing that a good kindergarten education is really the epitome of what good education should look like, kindergarten to age 90,” she said in an interview.

Project-based learning got its start in the Montessori and Reggio Emilia models, writes Garland. “Students embark on long research or art projects, science experiments or even writing books.”

Bobbi Macdonald, a former kindergarten teacher, modeled City Neighbors on a Reggio Emilia elementary school.

. . .  10th graders in Lindsey Winand’s biology class were making clay models of human bodies. Each student had chosen a disease to research. The assignment was to craft a clay model exaggerating the symptoms of their disease — Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, SARS and HPV were among the choices — using Surrealist techniques. Winand encouraged one student to twist the neck of a clay model whose symptoms included a sore throat. “Remember, your figure shouldn’t look like a normal person because it’s got a disease,” Winand said, looking admiringly over a student’s shoulder. “Oooh! That’s an ugly person.”

“This is my favorite class,” said Kinanna Young, 15, who wants to be a doctor.

However, sophomore boys weaving baskets said they’d prefer more tests.

“Instead of tests we have to stand up in our class and talk about what we learn,” said Elijah Thomas, 16. “I don’t like all the attention.” “I don’t like that we do projects in every class,” added Ben Mutombo, 15.

To raise low math scores, “the school is doubling up the math time some struggling students receive, and doubling down on its workshop model, in which teachers give a short lesson and then break students up into small groups,” writes Garland. “They’ll also be administering a new computer math test to track how students are doing.”

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