The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

“Oh Brave New World” that Has Such Schools in It

on January 28, 2017

Yesterday I read an article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “The Upside, and the Downside, of  Working ‘as Fast as You Want and as Slow as you Need’ ” by Karen Hannigan Machado that was about a new and innovative school that is meeting the needs and interests of today’s students in smart ways. Since the article described  several structures and actions that support student learning and prepare students for life after high schools, I am pleased to write about it in today’s post. However, I must caution readers about the incompleteness of some explanations in the text and the possibility of exaggeration because the author of the piece is also the school principal.

 In 1982, the time when school districts were just beginning to move away from the concept of vocational schools, The Manchester School of Technology (MST) was founded. Its purpose was to be a career and technology center for students who wanted a strong educational background, but were not necessarily aiming at college.

But now times are changing, and MST is offering a program that includes both academic learning and career preparation. The first two years are dedicated solely to traditional academic classes, while the last two years combine academics and career preparation by having some classes that include both and an extended school day.

The school uses a project–based model to give all students rich educational experiences in which they rely on technology for information rather than textbooks. It also uses a competency-based model to assess student progress and to award credits in the areas where they have performed successfully. In addition, the school gives students opportunities to participate in internships, early college classes, and dual high school enrollment.

Another characteristic of MST is the integration of various skills in single classes. For example, in a humanities class, students have lessons on civil rights while reading literature focused on the same topic. As a result, they are able to earn credits in English and social studies at the same time. When classes are integrated students may earn more than one credit for completion and meet some graduation requirements at the same time. Thus, they can move faster than students in an ordinary high school and also take advantage of career opportunities at the same time.

When MST teachers find patterns of student weaknesses, new courses, often with teachers from different areas, are created. For example, in the past year a team-taught course was originated that integrates physical science with algebra.

Over the summer months students are able to complete their work on a particular competency by enrolling in a “Competency Recovery Program.” During the school year there is a “Learning Lab” where they can also finish class requirements.

MST celebrated its first graduating class in 2016. Out of the 50 students who graduated, two of them had completed their work in three years.  Along with a diploma, graduating students received a competency-based transcript.

During the past year the school earned a “Nellie Mae” grant that gave it $25,000 to spend on a workshop, substitute teachers, and stipends to teachers who were working together to create new classes or add new dimensions to existing classes.

As the school principal, Karen Hanniga Machado noted,“blazing a trial often means that you are creating the wheel and often using trial and error. The main objective is to always keep the students’ best interests at heart.”

Although I could not fully understand all the dimensions of the current school operations as described in the article, I was very impressed by the willingness of the administrators and teachers to try new ways to facilitate student learning. I also felt that there was evidence of students responding well to the school structure and the multiple opportunities to learn and demonstrate new abilities. I suspect that MST will continue to change and expand over time, and ultimately prove itself to be a model for many other high schools across the country.

To my mind the most important thing that schools such as MST are doing is to respond to the changes in science, technology, industrial operations, and the nature of our society. With so many American leaders stubbornly hanging on to the old ways, it gives us hope when a few schools are willing and able to meet the world as it is or may soon become.

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