Taking Risks

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Young Man Diving into Sea at Pirate's CaveMy family and I have just returned from spending our holiday in El Salvador. When I told friends and colleagues that we were going to El Salvador, the unanimous response was, “Is it safe?” Having never been there before, I couldn’t answer definitively one way or another, but from everything I read, it was clear there was some risk involved.

Of course, there are risks everywhere you go and with everything you do, but we don’t let the risks stop us from going where we’ve gone or doing what we’ve done; we only let risk prevent us from trying something new.

One of our slogans at LiHigh School is to “let your passions take flight.” There’s something very adventurous about that, but also a bit daunting. Pursuing your passions is both awesome and scary. It takes courage to explore your passions. There’s always the risk that you may find out that the truth behind the dream isn’t quite what you thought. Or that failure is easier than you imagined. Sometimes the fear of failure can be enough to stop some folks from ever trying to achieve their dream.

In traditional education, students are seldom asked to take risks with their learning, and they’re rarely asked to pursue their dreams. They’re more or less expected to digest the information they’ve been given and demonstrate through a test or paper that they understand the content. Our version of education is different. Ours is one of adventure and exploration. And with that comes a certain amount of risk.

Through a process of self-exploration, students explore their passions and interests by first making contact with an adult in the community who is an expert in their field. Then comes a shadow day where the student spends time with a potential mentor to see firsthand what and how they do their job. If the student is interested in exploring further, we help them set up an internship.

It takes courage to do something like that: to ask someone to teach you something you don’t know, and to ask them to take you under their wing.

We also have our students taking classes at Green Mountain College and coming out with high marks. It takes courage to do that too: to feel comfortable, as a high-school student, sitting among college students, all of whom are older, some significantly so, and then to come out of that doing well both academically and socially.

We also ask our students to take the risk of standing up and explaining what it is they’ve learned. One of the main components of our student evaluations is a series of exhibitions, where students present their projects to an audience of peers, community members, and family. It’s scary business. There’s always the risk of bombing. But since our students are passionate about the work they’re doing, the risks are minimized and the rewards are tremendous.

I’m constantly amazed by the courage our students display, and incredibly proud of the risks they choose to take.

Thankfully, El Salvador is a reasonably safe place to travel. The people, food, beaches, jungles and night skies are all exquisite. I’m so glad we forged on with our adventure. It was well worth the risk.

I’m certain that LiHigh School is as well.

2 Comments

  1. Courage is definitely the driving force for our students. However, we need to remember the crucial adults’ support by modeling and believing in its value. The staff, the parents, and the mentors all have to believe in the students’ right to access the courage within. Good article Greg

  2. There was a program in N. Carolina/atlanta(?)– where they selected randomly about 20(?) students before 9th grade. These students were from inner cities/ lower soci0-economic, parents who had not gone to college, and probably not finished HS. they took this group of students and skipped them over FOUR YEARS, passing high school and placing them directly into college. there were NOT honour students or accelerated students in any way. NOT ONE student dropped out or failed out- and by the end of freshman year, this group of students was out-performing the traditional college student.

    Generally, the younger student/ scholar is more committed and dedicated to learning than the traditional 18-20 year old learner. this has also been found in schools such as Simon’s Rock. Where professors noted that they had to work harder and be more on their toes with the younger scholars, as they were far hungrier for knowledge and learning.

    Also- the public model fails to understand that the vast majority of deep learning, comes out of the experiential model, where it is facilitated in such a way that builds reflection and connections:) We, as adults, cannot coerce learning. We can, however, incite curiosity.

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