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.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret 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:

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is antiquated about our schools?

When I returned from Washington D.C. to my home state, Rhode Island I remember a distinct interaction. One of the first meetings I went to in 2009 was a public meeting about the potential creation of the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy. What became very clear to me while teacher after teacher talked about why the school shouldn’t happen – this is about self preservation. If this public charter school group (or anyone for that matter) comes in and says “What you’ve been doing for 30 years is not working,” it leads to instant feelings of defensiveness. No one wants to be told that everything that they have done for their career has been a waste. Even if it were true, no on would choose to believe that.

When it was my turn, my comments were along the lines of: “Our school system is over 150 years old. The schedule is based on students being able to pick crops over the summer. We have been making modest (at best) changes to our school system but it is largely an ancient design. Our teachers have been doing the best they can with the system they have been given. Our schools are not performing as well as we need them to but it’s not entirely the teachers fault. It’s an antiquated school system. Let us work to provide you a newer, better functioning school system based on modern day needs and we want you to be a part of the discussion. But we can’t continue with the structure of the school systems we have today.”

Everything needs to be re-evaluated including:

  • The school year – move away from an agrarian system and into one that doesn’t foster loss of education over a three month break.
    • I would suggest a year long school year with some combination of more frequent breaks of either 1, 2, 3, 4 weeks long.
  • Time of the day that students attend class. I know one argument is that older students need to start school earlier so there is enough time for sports and afterschool activities. Well, find another way to get it done. Have practices or meetings in the morning when you are currently sending students to school, if they are so motivated. Studies show that older students are more awake and more able to learn later in the morning than 7:30AM. Alternatively, these are the student who could feasibly get themselves to school yet they are one of the only groups of students that leaves for school when a parent normally would be able to drop off a younger child. Younger children are often up and ready earlier, but don’t start school until almost 9am? Then parents have to drop off at a school early for “day care” because they need to go to work
    • I would suggest Elementary starts earliest around 7am, then middle school, then high school. But whatever we do, lets back it up with some research not “after school activities.” You can make the buses work with a schedule like I’ve outlined
  • School Discipline & School Counseling – This is a topic I’ve spoke at length about please see: What unions should advocate for to allow teachers to teach
  • Teachers Unions & the laws around teacher salary scales – There was a time when unions were needed to help protect the public and employees. But now we have plenty of labor laws in place and even if you can argue that workers who have jobs where it is difficult to determine performance (such as a factory job) teaching is one where effectiveness can be measured and no job is the same. Why can’t school districts and principals manage their negotiations of their own staff? Why can’t I negotiate my own salary as a potential school counselor? It actually demeans teachers that there is a salary scale.
  • Function of our school buildings – We’ve done a good job I would say with new buildings, but those schools which are stuck in older building are suffering greatly.
  • Learning strategies – it is an antiquated process to have all students sit, all day long and have the teacher “lecture” to the class. Research doesn’t demonstrate that anyone, especially children and young adults are benefited or should be expected to sit all day long. Students should benefit from strategies I’ve seen work with my own sister at the Met Center in Providence, RI which incorporates internships, project based learning, small teacher lead advisories and student presentations on what they’ve learned.
  • Curriculum – I’m ok with common core, but my problem is more related to this common denominator of math, science, social studies & English. Cant we teach the standards without specifically labeling each class one of these 4 subjects? Why can’t every class be more elective based, while also teaching those standards. Can’t you have an astronomy class where you learn math and science? Can’t you have a law class where you learn writing (English) and history and public speaking and how to make arguments?…etc If one room school houses could teach all their students, we could have 9-12 in the same elective based class and provide roles to the student who could do that specific part of the project. Middle School students have an after school class called Model UN, why cant that be a class instead of just an afterschool program?

I could go on…but this getting to be a long post and what else do you think is antiquated about our schools that we should be looking at??