Steller Secondary School (Anchorage, AK). Steller Secondary School, a lottery-based magnet school (grades 7-12), emphasizes student responsibility to self and to the Steller community. Students, parents, and staff participate in the democratic process of setting school policy and procedures. Students play an integral role in planning school activities. Through the Passages Program and independent study programs, students create semester classes, Passages, tailored to their own interests. Students choose a subject of interest in one of six categories: creativity, practical skills, logic and inquiry, adventure, career exploration, or community involvement. Students work with teachers to develop their course of study, methods, resources, and goals. They spend the semester pursuing their goals, sharing their progress, and getting feedback from their peers, teachers, and outside mentors. Students may also teach their own peer-taught classes, co-teach classes (with a teacher), and/or act as seminar coaches where they work with groups of eighth graders within a seminar class. Students are required to graduate with a minimum of three Passages courses and earn general elective credits.
Western Center Academy (WCA) (Hemet, CA). Given its location, WCA’s central goal is to integrate a “museum discovery” based approach with formal educational methods. The school is located on the site of the Western Science Center that has a large collection of Native American artifacts and Ice Age fossils. The Museum Discovery approach includes experiential, participatory activities with real specimens. It often takes the form of technology-infused, project-based learning in small groups. Museum Learning models how adults learn by researching, discussing with colleagues, and communicating conclusions. For example, students: may dig up artifacts in the simulated archaeology/paleontology dig site; or become detectives using forensic examination to solve simulated crimes. Classrooms are set up to facilitate group work and project-based learning with wheeled tables that can be easily changed or grouped together. Middle school students study core subjects in the morning and in the afternoon have STEM classes (e.g., robotics, aquatic engineering, archaeology, or programming). Students rotate though a lab every 9 weeks and experience 12 courses during their middle school years. These engaging methodologies contribute to increased student attendance, improved morale, and greater completion of classwork and homework.
Paddock Road Elementary School (Omaha, NE). Paddock Road Elementary emphasizes personalized learning for all students. To increase student engagement and learning, the school focuses on getting to know students’ strengths, interests, skills, and abilities. Using that information, the school creates a variety of classroom, schoolwide, and after-school opportunities for student voice and choice. In the spring, Paddock offers enrichment clusters in which students have a voice and choice in classes based on their interests. Third through sixth grade teachers use I/E (intervention and Enrichment) time to actively involve students in their learning through passion projects. For six weeks, students participate in school-wide enrichment classes (e.g., sea animals, movie-making) to create authentic products of interest. For differentiated student interventions, teachers use screenings, intervention graphs and logs, for instruction in small groups. During the school year, the Personalized Learning Workgroup provides additional resources and ideas for teachers to differentiate instruction. The school’s library has a Tinker Lab for students to explore and create various robots and kits (e.g., building circuits or structures). Other learning opportunities include 6-8 weeks of Fine Arts Clubs after school. Teachers, parent volunteers, and paraprofessionals teach these clubs. Topics may include writing, performing arts, dance, and yoga.
Hastings High School (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY). Hastings High School is committed to keeping the curriculum engaging and relevant for all its students. It offers rigorous academic courses as well as non-traditional electives. Hastings encourages teachers to develop half-year non-traditional electives focused on student and faculty interests while aligned with the state standards. These electives address a range of subject areas, from Forensics, Detectives in Film and Fiction, Race and Gender in Contemporary Society, to MythBusters. Students can build their own physical education curriculum by choosing from among a group of ‘selectives’ so that their experience follows their interests. For example, students can focus on healthy lifestyle choices and design their own fitness routines as part of their experience. Seniors can take Economics for a semester and choose an elective from among Anthropology, Trial Law, Criminal Justice, Arts Perspectives, Sociology, or Modern Middle East.