Dennis Littky: Just do it!

One of my complaints about my education is that I learned later in life that I would have liked, that I was extremely passionate about education policy. There was absolutely no way to embrace that topic and passion in my high school. The Met School, which I talked about in this last post, would have been ideal for me to start exploring education and discover how to demonstrate my passion for education. It would have been just a coincidence that the type of reforms I want to do are embodied in The Met school. I could have really spearheaded my education policy career in a school like The Met.

Anyways, instead I launched into a political science degree and while I knew I wanted to get involved in education and grassroots organizing, I had little idea about how to do it. I landed my first “real” job as the executive assistant to the Executive Director of a national progressive grassroots organization, USAction. What I love about the experience is that I saw first hand the power grassroots organizing can have, when done correctly. Problem was, I was in Washington, DC and all the organizing was happening in the states. After I was not accepted to the UMD Masters program for education policy, I just up and left my job and moved back to my parents house. I was determined to get into education policy grassroots organizing and just couldn’t figure out how to get into it. I was one of those people with all the great ideas, passion and will, but not on paper experience to back it up.

When I was back in RI, I got more and more interested in The Met school. I even landed myself a phone call with Dennis Littky, one of the co-founders of Big Picture Learning and The Met. Here I was going to get to talk to someone I deeply admired and I had little idea what to say. I simply wanted to find a way to impact education policy and couldn’t figure out how to get started. Dennis tells me “just do something.” And I’m like…do what? The call didn’t last long and I wasn’t sure what to do.

Today, it reminds me of the famous Art Williams speech “Just do it!” which I’ve embedded the related segment here:

Just today, I found this video of Dennis Littky talking about how he started the idea for The Met. I’d never heard this story and it made me feel better that I am still in the infant stages of my plan to reform education policy. But I know I am on my way.

What does “Just do it” mean?

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I was working at a liquor store, which was what I could get for a job while I was deciding on my next step, and a previous guidance counselor of mine told me I could be a guidance counselor in MA without having to teach first. This struck me as the very way to impact students in one of the ways I wasn’t – offer support and guidance early about what a student is passionate about and how they can build a future around that passion. After a graduate program at Assumption College in School Counseling and an opportunity to serve as a parent organizer in Worcester with Stand for Children, I’m finally on my way to my goal. I will be opening a community based school counseling nonprofit geared towards preparing middle school students to be fully prepared to engage in high school from the first day of 9th grade.

One of the resources that helped me drive this project, was Dennis Littky’s book about Big Picture Learning schools, where I first learned of his strategy of building a curriculum around a student’s passion. I also learned through this book that its not necessarily about the topic of the work at hand, or the outcome, but learning process that can be applied to any future project, need, or passion.

The BIG Picture book

While I never quite understood what Dennis Littky meant when he told me to “just do something” it always stuck with me and it looks like I’ve finally started to figure it out, several years later.


What does your high school graduation say about your school? A look at The Met charter school

I know that my mother was considering The Met school for my younger sister but I feel like I have some responsibility in helping her attend the school because I pretty adamantly recommended that she take a look a the school before making a decision about where to attend high school. I still remember that day when we toured The Met. Almost a year ago, this last May, my sister graduated from The Met school in Providence. Even though I no longer lived in RI, I made sure I could attend her graduation. And I am so glad that I did! I think the enthusiasm exhibited in the graduation is a testament to the school experience as a whole. Two things stand out in my mind from the graduation. The first was how the students walked across the stage. This is what we are used to….mundane, walking appropriately, receive your degree and walk off. Maybe a photo is snapped while you are standing there.

© Paynich

© Paynich

During the Met graduation, maybe one or two students walked traditionally, every single other person, my sister included, skipped, jumped, ran, or otherwise enthusiastically crossed the stage. They were hugging their advisors, and not just an appropriate hug, but over the top enthusiastic embraces. To me, this embodies the goal of The Met by demonstrating that students are encouraged to be who they are and develop their passions at The Met. They learn their academics through the lens of their passions – through independent projects, dedicated time for internships, and classes like math that are integrated for their individual learning. The Met kids looked like this:

© Paynich

© Paynich

© Paynich

© Paynich

I also got the sense that these kids wanted it and earned it more so than other students in traditional public schools. Usually students who look for a different school environment do so for two reasons – either their parents are well informed and want to offer their child something different – or the student is not being successful in traditional public schools and they are looking for an option that is going to allow them to be successful. I saw many of those kids as students who may have dropped out, may not have graduated, may not have found their passion, may not have become contributing members of society, and attending this school made it possible for them.

The second thing that really stood out to me was that as each student came to the podium, there was a big screen that indicated the student’s name, school small at The Met, what they are passionate about, and what their future plan is – most if not all has some level of college as their next step. Intermingled in the graduation were student performances and a student who was aiming to accomplish a Guinness Books of World Records record. The student speeches were compelling. This was the best, least boring graduation I have ever attended. Here is a video of students and staff talking about The Met School: