19 March 2008

Alternative Schools Offer Incredible Outlook

New England seems to be the place to discover some of the coolest alternatives to a traditional high school experience. As some may not know, my first and longstanding passion was always public education and more specifically, how to improve it. Like health care, I think education is a basic human right. Every child, regardless of their socio-economic background, deserves an equal shot at a successful future.

The first stop was at the Match School in downtown Boston. A friend of mine and long-time Youth Venture supporter is in the middle of a one-year Americorps VISTA placement there, where he is a 24-hour tutor for the 220 or so students at the charter school. The school focuses on at-risk youth and is open to any student who is willing to commit to their rigorous program – a schedule that would all but exhaust me. The kids are at school from 7am to 7pm, eating ALL THREE meals on campus. Beyond the amazing teachers there are 45 full-time tutors that work with the kids in small groups to ensure that they understand EVERYTHING they’re learning. The tutors live on the top floor of the building three-to-a-room, often times never going outside from Monday to Friday. Talk about intense! The most incredible thing about Match? 100% OF THEIR GRADUATING SENIORS GO TO COLLEGE EVERY SINGLE YEAR, PERIOD. How’s that for a guarantee? I did the usual song and dance and the kids just loved it. I’m guessing we’ve got the chance to launch 10, 20 Ventures from Match THIS YEAR.

From there it was down south to Providence, Rhode Island, where Youth Venture is working with an equally impressive, yet entirely different alternative high school program. Called the “MET ‘Big Picture’ Schools,” these 50-plus campuses place their focus on educating the “whole person,” with no artifical boundary existing between school and life. That is, the teachers spend time with kids outside school, days are schedule flexibly with internships, service projects and travel opportunities and there are no grades in the tradition sense. Instead, every trimester the students present an exhibition of their work, highlighting what they’ve learned on their terms, by applying math, science and literature to their own passions. Talk about an amazing way to learn! Again, I did the song and dance and the kids responded, primarily because they’ve already build an environment of service and giving back. I also got to meet one of the team leaders of Recycos, a just-launched Youth Venture that focuses on educating the many campuses of MET about why it’s important to recycle. GREAT idea, no question.

Needless to say, I’ve spent the last few days wondering why on earth we’re not focusing more on out-of-the-box ways of educating young people. If it can be done at Match and if it can be done at MET (they’ll soon have 150 campuses across the country) then I belive it can be done in every city, town and rural community of America. Educating our young people has GOT to be priority one and clearly, the current system isn’t working. Lets get back into that innovative state of mind that is uniquely American and come up with some new ways of creating change in our school system. I only hope it’s not too late…

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