The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Good News About a New Type of High School

on October 13, 2016

Maybe not everyone would agree, but I think that today’s post is good news about education. It’s the summary of an article from the Los Angeles Times that describes a new kind of school at which students who‘ve had difficulties at regular high schools can earn credits to graduate on time and prepare for further education and careers.

John R. Wooden High School is a continuation school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, devoted to students who have been enrolled at other schools but were in danger of not graduating. Instead of taking Chemistry or Biology, Wooden’s students take Environmental Studies or Plant and Soil Science, both of which include hands-on experiences along with academic classes. Also, while the ordinary high schools in the district turn to online credit recovery courses to allow more students to graduate on time, Wooden’s students take the credit courses they need on campus. The school’s philosophy is that many students who have been doing poorly at regular high schools can learn effectively with personal attentions and classes that involve hands-on activities.

In a significant move toward the future, California and several other states have adopted Next Generation Science Standards that focus on making connections between science courses and including scientific investigation as part of each course. Although the state’s primary goal for the new standards is to attract students in populations that are currently under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math careers, and to prepare them for those fields; it also serves students who have not been successful in regular high schools.

Many of the classes at Wooden are held outside part of the time, with students taking care of animals at a farm or attending to plants in an organic garden. As students work, teachers move among them to supervise their activities. They also hold conversations with students, providing technical information to go along with the practical experiences underway.

One concern that educational leaders have expressed about such schools as Wooden is whether they are rigorous enough to prepare students for college. The school offers  courses in Animal Behavior, Plant and Soil Science, and Environmental Studies. All of them meet the requirements for admission to California State University, but only the Plant and Soil Science course is acceptable at the University of California. Students who need additional courses for admission to that university or other more demanding schools, can take them at a community college after graduating from Wooden.

Although academic qualifications are important for students, there are certainly other benefits from schools such as this one. In meeting with students, reporters have observed their positive attitudes toward the work they are doing in and out of classrooms, their good attendance records, and their positive plans for the future.

My reaction to the information in this article is that schools such as Wooden are a significant step toward the changes that are needed in all high schools; first in providing the kinds of learning experiences that serve currently un-motivated students, and second in introducing courses that are more up-to-date than the traditional ones. For some time I have been thinking that the existing high school curriculum needs to change to meet the needs of our world today and tomorrow. When I get my suggestions for that change as complete and realistic as possible, I plan to share them here before enlightening the rest of the world.


3 responses to “Good News About a New Type of High School

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    “…many students who have been doing poorly at regular high schools can learn effectively with personal attentions and classes that involve hands-on activities.”
    Why does this insight not apply to ALL students? Are we not punishing the students who are capable of self-teaching, who can read chapters and answer questions about subject matter? And labeling kids who can’t a “unsuccessful.”
    Kids should always be producing. They can self-evaluate if they have real stuff that they TRIED to do. Self-evaluations are great when every body’s got skin in the game.
    Schools like Wooden are given some freedom and enough personnel to show kids individual attention…but ALL kids need that. All kids should be getting some personal guidance and feedback while creating projects in groups, where they constantly practice choosing leaders, collecting data, planning, procuring supplies,achieving a goal!
    For many teachers, this personal attention is just easier with kids who smell good and whose moms know people on the school board. That’s why we need separate places, sadly.
    Wooden’s project-based learning curriculum is not really new but it IS important…and should not be limited to kids who can’t jump through curriculum hoops.
    A good team of teachers can build a nice holistic unit on raising a calf. Kids can write and do research, accumulate data, solve problems, practice math and algebra, work within a team toward a measurable goal…and have a pretty good relationship with a cute animal.
    Lesson plans that assign projects that require teams of students to work beyond self-interest to reach a measurable goal–that’s future education (and should be contemporary education). Wooden has a nice start and, if its leaders can retain funding, will probably benefit from consistent upward tweaks to its academic offerings. If the staff is committed, they could create a workable model for others to emulate.


  2. lmcnabb2016 says:

    Great post, Joanne. Thank you for sharing.


  3. […] post is a response by Don Bellairs, an experienced and talented teacher, to my piece posted six days ago. Both of us were intrigued by the description of a new type of high school that […]


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