Can high school be more than the sum of its offerings?

Our local high school recently announced a new partnership for offering advanced manufacturing education. There was a quote near the end of the article which said “[the program] will provide students with another opportunity to succeed and find their passion.” At Imagine!, we talk a lot about students finding their path in life, and on the surface this sounds similar to the district’s goals. But the difference between our educational models isn’t in the “What” that we respectively offer, it’s in the “Why” and the “How” we each do it. Our district high school has an internship program, a co-op program, an early-college program, a CTE program, and now a manufacturing program (not to mention the “regular” college prep program and for good measure, a credit-recovery program.) What a menu! But there are three gaps in how these are implemented that prevent these learning opportunities from truly allowing students to find their path. The first is that these programs “dabble”. In most cases, they don’t begin until 11th grade; in most cases, they are a limited part of the school day (one or two periods or perhaps a half day at best). Why do they merely dabble? Because of the second reason — these programs add, but never subtract. All (or nearly all) of the traditionally taught classes must still be taken. The clear majority of time is dedicated to the traditional model; only when the traditional credits earned in the traditional way are met, is there time to do other things. The third and final gap is the lack of personal guidance and feedback. Attending an information night on a specialized program and then signing up for it at course selection time, or perhaps having a 15-minute advising session with a guidance counselor to whom you are one of a 400+ student caseload, is minimally helpful to figuring out who you are and what you want to do in life.

At Imagine!, our vision is to support students as they gain the knowledge and experience to construct (for themselves!) a life of meaning and purpose. It’s all based on design thinking — a supportive, iterative process of trying things out, reflecting on them, and then deciding how to adjust course and what experiences, development, and learning are needed next. When you then align your educational model to that vision, everything about the school experience changes. And the prominence of relationships, the use of time, and the commitment to putting each student at the center of their own learning change everything for the learner.

Other schools in our area are innovating by adding to the menu. (It’s the Golden Corral, now with unlimited shrimp!)

We’re aiming for a wholly different dining experience.