It was so gratifying to be immersed in the 20’s museum last night. There are countless wonderful aspects of this event, including having all these people interacting, chatting with parents, enjoying live music and catered food, and seeing all the kids dressed up in period costume. Beyond simply seeing students engaged and committed to their schoolwork, ultimately we value the quality of their academic work, and in this regard, I was so impressed by what I saw.
The work was noteworthy, to me, on at least two fronts. First, the quality of student work was evident not only in the strong writing displayed (which also reflected on solid research) but also in the attention to detail in layout of text and images on student displays. Second, events like this engage every student. So many times in schools you will see some impressive work highlighted but this only represents some small number of “good students.” Looking at the 20’s museum, you could see the successes of each student here on a well designed, wide ranging learning experience in which each was able to find parts of this project in which he or she could shine.
Most of all, Julia deserves tremendous recognition and appreciation for the incredible work it takes to get the students to do work at this quality, to do all this set up (and clean up), and to manage the whole 9th and 10th grade to work together for this big event. We also want to thank all those who also helped make this a success, including Cher for her food prep, Brian for organizing the open house, all the teachers who helped Julia and the students with their projects, parents who helped out or donated artifacts and clothes, and to the students for devoting energy to hosting this wonderful evening.
I love the vibe around school during winterm. There is a nice sense of purpose and productivity without the pressure of academic classes and the more structured schedule. I think Winterm can “level the playing field” where students don’t have to worry so much about correct spelling and grammar or reading skill and everyone has a place in contributing to some worthy service project. Students and teachers have more responsibility for organizing their time, with a product due by Friday that the group decides how to tackle. Wandering through the building, you can see students engaged in a huge variety of activities—interviews being conducted in the library, minstrels loading up the bus to go out and perform, the science group tinkering with all sorts of materials in the lab, yearbook kids creating and editing in the computer lab, the landscape group designing gardens and reorganizing storage spaces, and the 1-1 computer group tallying surveys and connecting with educators throughout the state to research their programs…
At the same time we have all been working on Winterm, the 11th graders have been preparing to leave for the Dominican Republic and set off last night. I want to especially recognize Rory Struthers for his exceptional achievement in making a one-of-a-kind guitar with his dad, and then promoting a raffle for this unique piece of art to fundraise to help make this trip accessible to all. It is always wonderful to see a student so invested in a piece of work and so proud of his accomplishment. When we see students so committed to non-traditional work such as Rory’s creation or the work of Winterm, you wish every school assignment could be so engaging to all. We have aimed for this with the idea of 11th-12th grade comps, where each student has a set of individually designed competencies to meet following their own interest.
Rory loved that his guitar could meet one of these comp requirements. At the same time, in this first year of comps, it seems not every student is so engaged by every project. I think this is an important lesson we may need to learn about this kind of more independent work—it may be unrealistic to think high school students will always make perfect choices in pursuing individualized work. Yet it is still important that students have this opportunity to explore what interests them, to learn how to find focus and follow through on goals, and to sometimes struggle and sometimes thrive. The possibility of falling short, at times, may also afford the possibility to truly excel.