Communities Connect

In January of 2014, I had the opportunity to attend the “Looking at Student Work” Winter Residency at High Tech High in San Diego, CA. This is the school that was featured in the film “Most Likely to Succeed” that was viewed last Thursday at Harwood Union High School.  The showing of the film is part of the Washington West Supervisory Union’s Community Engagement initiative.  

Undoubtedly, during the film I experienced feelings of nostalgia about my own visit to High Tech High, and the inspiration I drew from their operational design and unique instruction and assessment components.  The film beautifully portrayed the heart and soul of the school as it traced the journey of two 9th grade students – one who struggled to meet proficiency, while the other gained momentum every step along the way.  Despite, the contrasting experience, both students clearly learned lessons beyond the content – the type of lessons that can not be derived from theory and text.

“Most Likely to Succeed” is the type of film in which all parts – the people, the place, and message, all resonate.  It is the type of film that in the end, you think “Wow”, and just want to sit and contemplate.  I am quite sure everyone in the audience – approximately 150 people, wanted to do just that. And some did.

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I rose from my contemplative state and found Fayston Principal, Jean Berthiaume. Together, we set up the planned mini-dialog station.  It was the intent of the Community Coalition, who organized the event, to have 4 or 5 stations around the auditorium to facilitate mini-dialogs around 3 sets of questions.  As folks were trickling out, and we were trying to rally those interested in staying, just one group formed.  “Most Likely to Succeed” is the type of film that brings folks together, and the connection that seemingly formed in the hour after the film far surpassed the experience I had watching it.

The mini-dialog included twenty-five people or so, ages 7 to 70 and representing the towns of Waterbury, Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury.  The collective spirit of the group was awe-inspiring.  Students spoke about their current school experience and the pressure to perform versus the opportunity to explore and learn. Community members and parents highlighted their devotion to having quality, diverse experiences available for every youth. Educators shared their hopes for a true shift to interdisciplinary, project-based opportunities for every teacher and student.  We began to draft a shared vision.  Then the dialog shifted to challenges – the barriers that make change difficult, even in our own small community schools.  At this point, the conversation – from all members perspectives, centered around law and policy, deeply seeded systems like schedules, roles and responsibilities, and the traditional beliefs about efficient school practices.  It was late, it was time to end; however, I believe momentum is brewing.  Seemingly, and perhaps for the first time, educators, students, parents and community members are prepared to collectively launch a movement.  It is time to redesign school for the 21st. Century.