Posts Tagged 'High Tech High'

Reflections from Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia

I recently traveled to Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia for the EduCon 2.3 conference with Monika Aldarondo, BAA Senior Project Coordinator and Visual Arts Teacher, and two seniors, Duke and Xavier. Both students have been funded for their senior projects and were selected to speak at this conference about the senior project experience.

We flew down Friday morning after a big Thursday snow storm (which is becoming redundant to say!). Our first stop was Temple University, where we met Matt Clauhs, former BAA music teacher, and Kelechi Ajunwa, former BAA intern.

Former BAA Faculty Matt Clauhs and music student Xavier

We presented in three different Urban Education classes; I gave a brief overview of the school, the students talked about their experiences, and Monika talked about senior project. When we finished our presentations, we had a great tour of the new Tyler School of Art at Temple—amazing! Duke, whose senior project involves 3-D modeling and printing, was thrilled to go into the 3-D printing room and actually show me the results of this technology… I can see why he’s so captivated by it all!

Duke, Xavier, Matt Clauhs, and former BAA intern Kelechi Ajunwa

The next day the students presented a superb workshop on senior projects at the EduCon conference. Duke’s project involves teaching 3-D modeling and printing to a group of ten year olds; he feels strongly that most elementary art programs are lacking in exposure to new technologies. Xavier’s project is a one day benefit concert to raise awareness about youth violence and to give teens a positive way to express themselves. Xavier lost his brother to street violence, so this topic is very close to him.

The students had developed four questions: 1) How is Senior Project innovative? 2) What skills does the senior project process teach that help students after high school? 3) How do you think technology can be used in a meaningful way? 4) Who are the best people to judge this project?

Amazing Xavier presenting

There were about 40 people (all adults) in the room and what I loved more than anything was how Duke and Xavier handled their questions. For the first question, the students asked the participants to form groups and talk together. Like trained facilitators, they moved about the room listening to various groups. Then, they asked for folks to share out. I was the note-taker. Here are some of the answers from the teachers to “How is Senior Project innovative?”:

  • “This project really matters because it’s real world.”
  • “No one will ever take this experience from you.”
  • “You have empowered me, as a teacher, to think about how I can do this differently with my students.”
  • “By doing this, you empower others in your community to think differently.”
  • “The project requires entrepreneurship which is barely taught in schools with all the testing today.”

For the second question, “What skills does the senior project process teach that help students after high school?” participants said:

  • “You are learning the important skill of working hard for something you believe in, and what it feels like to really slog through something. That is so important since so much of school is about quick answers.”
  • “You are changing communities and changing yourselves!”
  • “You are learning the skill of networking—such a lesson for young person to know.”
  • “This is all about writing and communication skills.”

    Duke having a teaching moment

Others suggested that the ability to take a project from idea stage to final production is something most adults never do. A teacher asked Xavier how he was managing the entire concert. Would he be delegating responsibilities to others? Xavier smiled and nodded gravely. “I am not really diva, but I have to be responsible for everything, so, yes, I will be delegating a lot. I need to have my hands and mind free to run the concert. Time management will be critical for me!”

“Well, that is another important skill—time management!” a participant said.  “I wish all my students could learn that skill.”

There were a number of suggestions about the third question, “How do you think technology can be used in a meaningful way?”, including blogging throughout the process. Some suggested that the final projects needed to be available online to inspire others. Others shared ideas of different web-based programs for sharing the work. One idea that resonated for all of us was to have students do a 30 second promotional video about their project. This would help students articulate the main themes and also advertise their work.

The final question, “Who are the best people to judge this project?”, elicited all sorts of responses, from getting the corporate leaders of Boston into the school to including the entrepreneurs at MIT. Duke and Xavier listened to the suggestions attentively and made sure I was writing down these ideas. Clearly, they had already started to network!

We all went to a couple of different workshops during the course of the conference, and I found the entire weekend very stimulating. Although EduCon is billed as “not a technology conference,” as a digital non-native, I would have to disagree! I was initially very put off by walking into a workshop with everyone’s laptops open and no one looking at the presenters, but then I realized that there were participants who were not physically present but participating digitally. Fascinating!

Surprisingly, we even found time to visit the Liberty Bell!

I also loved the fact that the conference was in a school. SLA is in its fifth year and it’s one of the few Philadelphia schools mixed by neighborhood and socio-economics. The head of the school, Chris Lehmann, is a young, dedicated, bright and inspirational leader. He used to teach at The Beacon High School in NYC, but wanted to return to his hometown to start a school. It would be fun to think about exchanges with SLA… Much of the energy feels similar to BAA and to High Tech High. Students were very serious about their roles in running the conference (coat checking, technology assistance, directing lost folks, giving workshops, etc…).

I’ve made tons of new friends on Twitter and learned even more about the importance of blogging, so I felt that I made a small step forward in my own digital journey. But by far the best part of the trip was being with the kids and Monika!

Duke, Xavier, and Ms. Aldarondo

Raleigh and Durham, NC (a slightly delayed post)

In February I visited the Raleigh/Durham areas of North Carolina all by myself-not nearly as exciting as traveling with kids and teachers! I was hosted at two bookstores—Quail Ridge in Raleigh and The Regulator in Durham. Lots of books were sold in Raleigh! And, my picture was put in the bathroom (I hope near the photo of Tomie dePaola!). Many fabulous authors have been featured at Quail Ridge and the bathroom is where the author photos are framed and hung!

Alice Verstrat (read a nice article about her here), who did her student teaching with us at Fenway High School many years ago, helped set up the Quail Ridge event, and the book store did tremendous outreach. There were over 40 people there; teachers, administrators, and other various interested folks (including someone who had worked at BAA years ago helping in Development). But the most exciting guest was current BAA intern Pete Shungu’s MOM! That was so cool. I usually open my talks by asking what has brought people to the event: are they a teacher, parent, alum, interested community member, politician or policy person? Mrs. Shungu introduced herself as “the mother of one of your interns.” The audience also included members of the North Carolina state-wide PTA, who asked excellent questions about ways we involve parents/caregivers at our school. I was impressed with their organization and determination to find new and innovative ways to involve parents/caregivers.

The next night in Durham, three of six local school board members came and asked excellent questions about issues related to achievement, student engagement, and development of a professional learning community. I was impressed by how seriously they took their elected positions as leaders, and had to wonder about the wisdom of our appointed school board in Boston. I remember being in favor of it back in the 1990’s when we abolished the elected school board because they seemed to be more interested in political-not educational-agendas. But, if done well, elected school boards are a way for a community to experience living in a democracy. It can be messy and consensus is hard, but if one understands ones roles (as they appeared to do in Durham), perhaps it is a valuable exercise. One of the best questions of the night came from a community member who asked: “Do you think there is such a thing as a good school SYSTEM? There are NOT systems for independent schools, or really even for Charter schools: is it an oxymoron to think of good school systems?” The question gave me pause and I am still thinking about it. Other folks of interest included a teacher from Durham School of the Arts which sits on a huge campus and includes 6-12 grades (edifice envy again!). It has lottery-based admissions as with the other high schools in Durham. There was also a person who had studied with Ted Sizer, and was a founding teacher at a local charter school.

I continue to be perplexed by the world of charters and public schools, and of course the role of private schools (though those seem clearer to me—you pay!). Charters don’t have to provide bus transportation, so in many instances their population ends up being skewed towards those able to get their children to the school (we saw this phenomenon in San Diego at High Tech High School). In addition, a lottery system means that those in the know pick the school and so there is no sorting down for special education, ELL students, etc… One charter in Raleigh is decidedly middle class and white. I thought that in a county quite mixed by race and social-class, this seemed wrong. How can you use public money and not reflect the district from which you draw? And yet, if I were there and fed up with the public schools, would I start my own charter, too?

As I wrote in my LA/San Diego reflection, I struggle with the balkanization of the community. But maybe, if excellent systems are so hard to come by, at least in urban areas, this balkanization provides good schooling for some…

I also continue to struggle with what it means to work in a non-union state, like North Carolina. Often one hears that it’s because of the unions that there is such entrenchment and that unions impede school change. But North Carolina doesn’t have a union and I wouldn’t describe school politics, policies, hiring, or curriculum as any more enlightened than in Massachusetts. Perhaps even less so.

The issues of segregation by race and class seem exacerbated in North Carolina because of how county school lines are drawn. There is some bussing across the counties, but folks also choose to send their kids to schools closer to home. So in the end, you get schools that are segregated by neighborhood. Sound familiar? This is the story of “desegregation” in Boston.

The story in North Carolina is a story of tobacco and slavery and more recently, the research triangle. It is a story of urban decline and attempts to bring vitality back to cities that have seen better days. It is the story of newcomers coming South and “old timers” wondering about better and worse times. It is the story of folks committed to improving their schools and longing for vibrant and workable ideas. It is the story of committed teachers like my friend Alice (who is Teacher of the Year in her school), who asks hard questions about practices that might not be good for kids and figures out ways to bring her colleagues into the discourse. It is the never-ending story of trying to find better ways to ensure that kids get a good education. But there must be some givens, and these givens may be eluding some of the state policy makers in North Carolina and elsewhere:

•    If testing is the only way to deem knowledge and learning “stuff” worthwhile and important, we are in deep trouble;
•    Accountability can’t just mean more tests;
•    Teachers need time to work together collaboratively on curriculum and on issues of teaching and pedagogy;
•    Huge schools of 3,000+ students mean that most students won’t be known well;
•    If students aren’t known well by many adults, chances are they won’t feel particularly engaged in school (and therefore probably won’t do well);
•    Teachers, parents/caregivers, students, school board members need to develop language and structures to talk about the inequities in front of them in their schools/classrooms/communities that polarize them by race, class, language and gender

I worry that the miracle Arne Duncan proclaims to have had in Chicago is not nearly as neat and wonderful and pretty as he claims. It’s like what we heard from Papa Bush about the Texas miracle, and that was a lie.

L.A. and San Diego-with Photos!

Just as I’ve written many other times, the best part of this book tour is the opportunity to spread the BAA word with students and teachers. Thank you to science faculty member Ramiro Gonzalez for joining me on this journey and doing ALL the driving. Thank you to Corey Evans from our Center for Arts in Education for doing fabulous ambassador training (Gustavo, Katy, and Yolandi were amazing!). And thank you to BAA’s incredible Susan Werbe for organizing all of the trip logistics and then some!

As I posted in my previous update, we had a wonderful time at the book party and met all sorts of different folks, including a former HGSE grad student, Agustin Vecino. Agustin is now working on the pilot school expansion project in LAUSD and with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE here in Boston) helping out. A bit odd to have an organization 3,000 miles away doing this work, but pilot schools are a concept born in Boston in 1995 because of our BTU-BPS contract. Even though it feels like many of the original autonomies are being eroded, it is exciting to see the work beginning in LA. My friends, Ed Redlich and Sarah Timberman did a phenomenal job inviting all sorts of people who were involved in charter schools, public schools, private schools, and other interesting jobs in the TV and movie industries. Mass College of Art and Design President Kay Sloan’s nephew and wife came to the party and so did Mike and Kitty Dukakis, which was just so cool! Kitty even stood up at the end and told the crowd that “BAA is a gift to Massachusetts.” What a way to end the event!

With Mike Dukakis at the Book Party

After the brunch, we headed out to Venice Beach to ride bikes and people-watch. So much fun!

Having a blast on Venice Beach!

The following day we visited two different charter schools. The Partnership to Uplift Community (PUC) Charter Schools and Animo Film and Theatre Charter High School. The PUC school is about 30 minutes or more outside of central LA and is considered part of the city, although it feels rural. 100% of the students are Latino and all talk about going to PUC because it is calm, focused, safe, and students feel that they have more opportunities after high school. PUC schools also embrace the arts as a central component of their educational philosophy. Ed Vanderberg hosted and welcomed us into a circle of teachers and student ambassadors.

At PUC Schools

Animo is located in South Central LA—and has a more urban feel to it. Animo used to be with Green Dot, but have since gone their separate ways. Green Dot (and founder Steve Barr) was written up in the New Yorker and I’ve always wanted to know more about the organization, thinking that perhaps this approach to unionism was a possibility for schools. I didn’t get much of a sense that teachers in LA have embraced it as a workable alternative. (You know me: I’m always looking for alternatives to the antagonistic relationship that unions/central office seem to have). The school has crammed 125 students into a makeshift warehouse. Steve Bachrach is a dynamic, driven, and magnanimous principal. He embraced us both literally and figuratively, and devoted much of the morning to us. We all felt very much at home. They are a Big Picture Project school and so two days a week are spent in advisory groups pursuing projects that the students are interested in. Big Picture is a very different kind of educational philosophy and it was fascinating to see this in practice.

The kids at Animo were much more forthcoming and direct than the kids at PUC. The PUC kids seemed quite humble. (Perhaps it is because the closer to the center of the city one gets the “harder” one becomes? Or perhaps it is because the Animo kids know they are in a school that is somehow a second chance for them?) I could never quite discern why I found the difference in the kids so remarkable but we all felt it.

The next day we finally had the chance to visit two high schools I’d heard lots about: Los Angeles High School of the Arts, and Central LA HS #9 (run by Esther Soliman who has visited BAA, and Suzanne Blake respectively).  I was so happy to see Esther in her element. LAHS of the Arts is on the campus of Belmont High School.  There are five schools there and they are all trying to become pilot schools. It is an exciting experiment!  The theatre class we visited was in their second or third day of the semester and the kids were shy and not yet familiar with theatre terminology. We finally got them to ask some questions and to answer some of ours. It was amusing to see the LA kids’ reactions when Yolandi and Gustavo spoke Spanish. The Caribbean Spanish accents were very new to them as LA kids come primarily from Mexico and Central America. Athough this is also a city school, the kids seemed also much less confident and aggressive than our students (and I’m not saying aggressive critically). None of the students audition and arts is an elective. We met students who had just gotten into CalArts on full scholarship. Very impressive!

Central High School #9 is an enormous new $400 million facility that has been much talked about in LA.

What an AMAZING building!

It is right down the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Mark Taper Forum-DOWNTOWN in the arts district, but also bordering on a very poor area of the city. The hope from LAUSD is that the school will serve a mixed population of students (much like our school’s demographics), but the fear among many educators is that since this particular area of the city is being gentrified it might come to serve only middle and upper income students. We were BLOWN away by the facility. It is almost too big, but then again, it is meant to house nearly 2,000 students when at capacity. It has a somewhat-bizarre outdoor spiral staircase that snakes around a tower portion of the building. It is purely decorative and we understood it was supposed to lead to a restaurant at the top of the building, but the city ran out of money and it remains unfinished. The building towers over the downtown. Each arts division is its own school: theatre, music, visual arts, and dance. Students do not audition but select a major through a lottery process and then they take all their academic classes in that school or wing. Suzanne (the principal) has her hands full opening a new school and dealing with the politics of the district and the community. I’m hopeful that we can be helpful and have her bring her team to Summer Institute. We all had “edifice envy” at this school and had to control ourselves!

Hannah MacLaren was an incredible host for almost all of our school visits. She runs the Los Angeles Coalition of Essential Schools. It was wonderful to see Ted Sizer’s work influencing so many different schools.

The high point of this day was going to Walt Disney Concert Hall and participating in the Fidelity FutureStage kick-off event taking place across the country in Houston, Chicago, LA, and of course, Boston. We saw Keith Lockhart conducting our BAA students who were all waving American flags, and we watched Mr. Holt playing with the Pops band backing the performing students. I am so grateful for the funding and new instruments they are providing us with this year.

BAA music faculty Matt Clauhs with Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart and BAA Students.

The hall is absolutely spectacular. This is where Gustavo Dudamel (the wonderchild of El Sistema from Venezuela) conducts. There were four LAUSD schools there and one school sang Carl Orff’s O Fortuna accompanied by at least 30 student string musicians. Quite impressive. But the best was meeting Dominic Monaghan (Charlie from “LOST”—yes I’m a diehard fan—I know it’s a surprise to many of you). Dominic hosted the event and was very cool and told us about his theatre training in Manchester, England. Jamie Foxx (who head-lined the event) gave us a friendly wink and a nod before he went into the media event.
With Dominic Monaghan at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
We then spent time with former BAA faculty George Simpson and Cara Livermore at LA County School for the Arts, where George, Cara, and the LA Principal Residency Network (PRN) hosted a wonderful book event for us. George’s school is on the campus of California State University, which brought me back to the days of running Fenway High School at Bunker Hill Community College. There is such amazing potential for high schools based on college campuses. I know George is trying hard to make some in-roads here. It was also great to see our work with PRN expanding to the West Coast. (CCE is spearheading both the PRN work and the LA Pilot work). Mostly, it was great to see George and Cara at their school which is incredibly vibrant and stimulating.

BAA students with LACHSA students

We are bringing many ideas back from their Leadership Class. For example, each sub-group is responsible for one aspect of the school, i.e. freshmen, sophomores, juniors, senior programs and events. We were there on a school spirit day where everyone had to dress like a “traditional high school student.” The get-ups were ingenious, ranging from cheerleaders, to Goths, to jocks. I was impressed with the way the juniors took learning from the seniors very seriously.

Ramiro, Cara Livermore, myself, BAA students and George Simpson outside of LACHSA

We left George’s school and headed to San Diego for our evening presentation at High Tech High Graduate School of Education. My friend, Larry Rosenstock, is the founder of HTH (there are about nine of them now in California—elementary, middle, and high  schools). I have wanted to visit for the past 12 years and it was great to finally see the amazing work he’s been doing with his faculty and staff. Again, our “edifice envy” was in effect. The schools are located on a former naval base, so the buildings are huge and spacious.

Again, we were filled with ideas for BAA: most notably the idea of the entire building serving as a gallery and one of the teachers acting as curator for the building, changing the student work (and art) every two to three months. It was so cool to be in a space that worked so well with the educational program. I had the sense that their space helped create their program and vice versa. (Very different from BAA’s squished and cramped quarters). Projects are displayed everywhere—including the bathrooms (!) and are often three-dimensional.

Examples of the art found in unexpected places at HTH!

The intersection of student work based in engineering, arts, writing, graphic design, and film is everywhere. I truly hope that as we get closer to our new building, we can incorporate some of the ideas about space and student outcomes that mirror what we saw at HTH. I also hope we continue to think about ways to meld disciplines. so that students are truly living, breathing, and working as artist/scholars. I would really love to send more faculty members to HTH to learn about their curriculum. It was very exciting!

We did a great presentation at San Diego State University, where I found out that the dean is a former student of Vito Perrone’s. It has been so moving to find common threads from my colleagues and mentors Ted Sizer and Vito woven through this journey.

My travels have made me realize that BAA must continue to share what we do with others. I know that we sometimes feel that we don’t have the answers, but we are asking the hard questions and that is a big part of the process. I am also convinced, as I see first-hand how things are in schools around the country, that we are doing a whole lot better than many of our colleagues out there. So we won’t rest on our laurels, but I do hope we can begin to strategically think more about how to share our practices more widely —both the successes and challenges—through our Center for Arts in Education.

My amazing BAA Ambassadors, Gustavo, Yolandi, and Katy.


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