School Change for Burlington High School has been in the works for as long as I can remember. There was a couple hundred thousand dollars here, a few hundred there. All for “School Change.” I recall sitting in meetings with my mother about Nellie Mae grant applications, wondering if all the awesome stuff they were discussing would ever actually come to school. I’ve been up front and informed since the beginning, talking about new classroom design, independent studies, the real planning and dreaming. Unfortunately, until very recently, there has been a large disconnect between the dreaming and the thinking and what was actually happening between the four brick walls that we call school. I have often been the only student at meetings, one of the few who wanted to get involved. It seemed school would never actually be involved.
The Partnership for Change has done an incredible job actually getting school involved, getting into the day to day nitty gritty that would send a lot of adults running. We have seen many changes, such as the integration of technology in classrooms, and the beginnings of Personalized Learning Plans. The start has been wonderful and very helpful but it still seemed to involve mostly adults, students continuing to be anomalous in the room dedicated to bettering their learning.
This is where School Innovation Seminar steps in. School Innovation Seminar (S.I.S.), a class started by Benjamin Roesch and Dov Stucker, gets students involved with school change. The curriculum includes all the ideas that are being discussed by the Partnership for Change, as well as discussing and exploring neuroscience, learning styles, tracking, motivation and many other relevant topics. The class really helps students take ownership of their learning, they have identified their specific learning styles, taught the class lessons about subjects they were passionate about, and discussed open versus closed mindsets, among other wonderful things. S.I.S. is really the first of its kind, many of the projects and assignments don’t necessarily fit the typical grading system. Every quarter each student fills out a rubric about their growth and in class performance, they then have a discussion with the teachers about said growth. The hallmark project of School Innovation Seminar is ‘inquiry projects.’ These open ended, broad range projects really allow the students to explore school and questions they may have about the system. The projects are less about the product and more about the learning. Topics have ranged from Circadian Rhythm’s effects in school, to video game design. Everything in the class is geared toward school change, getting students to want to have a say and giving them the ability to express their opinions to more than just the class.
S.I.S. is the perfect culmination of all the wants and needs of school change. It is both a pilot class that tries out new and different ways of learning, teaching, and grading, as well as being a place to get students’ voices involved in school change. It allows kids to get a tangible grasp on what the rest of school could be like while allowing them to dream bigger and really plug into what is happening in their community.
Lily Weissgold is a member of the class of 2016 at Burlington High School and a student in the School Innovation Seminar for 2013-14.