Last night, we invited the parents of the students in our Social Entrepreneurial program to attend a special meeting to discuss some important changes to our school that are all aimed at empowering the students to take more control of their learning and their school. But because it was a Tuesday evening with a wind chill far below zero and icy roads all throughout Vermont, not every parent was able to attend, and so we thought we’d share some of the highlights of the evening’s discussion here on our blog.
This year, we’re discovering that more and more of the students are mentally checking out during our scheduled seminars. There are several reasons for this, ranging from maturity to ability to stress levels to student interests, but of those reasons, the one we can control for the most is the students’ interests.
So starting next term, we are going to scrap the idea of compulsory seminars and replace them with more interest-based seminars. Instead of the advisors creating lessons and units based on what we think is interesting and important for the students to know, we’ll now be partnering with smaller groups of students to develop seminars that speak to their specific needs and interests.
It’s not as big of a change as it may sound. It’s really just an extension of what we’ve already been doing when it comes to their independent projects, with the only difference being that none of the students will be forced to sit in a seminar where they have no interest in the topic and are not willing to put forth any effort. With the new system, almost everything the students will be doing at the school will originate with them.
Staff from both programs will continue to offer seminars and workshops as well, ensuring that each student has the opportunity to be exposed to ideas and skills beyond their core interests, but the students will still be able to decide whether they participate in those seminars or not.
This next change attempts to solve two different challenges we’ve faced this year: first, the lack of usable space in our building, and second, the fact that the students spend a majority of their time with their faces in a screen.
Currently, the six rooms we occupy in the Poultney Small Business Center are divided like this: two rooms reserved for the Social Entrepreneurial program; one room reserved for an administrative office; another room reserved for a therapeutic student who needs his own space; a music room; and a movement/pottery room. The two rooms reserved for our program are essentially just big classrooms.
What we plan on doing at the start of the new term is creating specific themes for each of the rooms, and then providing plenty of opportunity based on those themes for the students to do something other than look at a screen.
For example, one of our classrooms will be converted into a “maker room,” with areas for sewing & crafting, woodworking, pottery, painting & drawing, etc. One of the other rooms might become a kind of game room, where the students can explore the intellectual challenges that come from classic games such as chess or cards, strategy games such as Risk or Settlers of Catan, party games such as Jenga and Scattergories, or video games such as Civilization, Sim City, and Mine Craft. Another room might become the library, with plenty of books at hand and the kind of quiet necessary to do prolonged and intense work.
(Of course, the actual makeup of the rooms will be decided by the staff and students together.)
But by giving the students more and better resources, we hope to draw them away from their devices and get them engaging in a healthier and more social manner, as well as provide them with the kind of spaces they need to feel inspired.
School Congress & Judicial Committee
This year, we’ve instituted a School Congress where the students participate in a formal, democratically run meeting to discuss a variety of issues. For the most part, these meetings have been relatively uneventful and ineffective, focusing primarily on fundraising issues, but starting last week, we decided to give the students more control by empowering the School Congress with real authority over the way that the school runs.
With the new model, every student and staff member — every member of the LiHigh Community — has an equal amount of power over the school: everyone gets one vote.
But with that power comes responsibility, so as the community members develop the rules and regulations of our school, they’ll also be responsible for enforcing those rules through the creation and operation of a Judicial Committee.
The School Congress will have to come up with the actual rules and procedures of that committee, but the general idea is that members of the community will be required to sit on the committee in the same way that citizens are required to participate in jury duty, and during their tenure, the committee members will be responsible for investigating complaints, determining verdicts, and setting the consequences (serious offenses/consequences will be sent to the entire School Congress for decision).
As the School Congress proposes and approves various rules for the school, we’ll update parents and other interested community members via our blog, so be sure to check back regularly (or to follow us on Facebook to get notified about when they’re published).
If you have any questions, or would like to add your thoughts and suggestions, please share them in the comments below!