Lupita is 9 years old with black curls that bounce when she moves, which is most of the time when she is awake. She loves fourth grade, wants to be a good student, and meets all of her teacher’s expectations.
Lupe, as her friends call her, aspires to be a nurse when she grows up, just like her Aunt Jackie. But Lupita, like many of her peers across the country, faces a serious challenge for her academic success.
The problem is captured in a 2018 study titled “The Opportunity Myth”. The study finds that despite years of school reform, the American education system remains one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, with students enjoying radically different learning opportunities depending on their social status. In schools with black, brown, and poor students, children are seldom engaged in rigorous and active learning experiences tied to learning standards that prepare them for success in college and career.
The authors of Opportunity Myth illustrate this with a poignant conclusion from their research: While students like Lupe meet their schoolwork demands 71% of the time (and earn A’s and B’s half the time), they don’t meet schoolwork. grade standards only 17 percent of the time. Low teacher expectations, coupled with a lack of emphasis on learning standards and a traditional “sit and get” curriculum, do little to prepare students like Lupita for a bright future.
Despite the millions of dollars in school reform that we have invested in schools over the past four decades, we have left many students underserved.
The Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leadership is partnering with schools in the United States (including Santa Fe) and abroad to give schools a new way of thinking about school change. It is an approach that aims to empower teachers and learners to deepen their learning and create a strong learning culture from the inside out, not from the top down. This human-centered approach casts the remnants of industrialism into schools and is our best thinking for fostering in-depth school change.
The center is currently working with two schools in Santa Fe – Amy Biehl and Aspen Community Schools. Both are entering the third year of a three-year program that engages students, parents and teachers in creating the schools they envision. At both schools, you will find a strong partnership with parents, student leadership groups who participate in decision-making, and an active team of teacher-leaders who work with principals to involve teachers and students in the design. and support for school change.
Santa Fe Center partners are developing school cultures that offer a radical departure from traditional schools where far too much time is spent judging, sorting, and repairing children.
Our partner teachers develop a practical and active curriculum for their students. This summer, for example, teachers at Aspen worked together to create incredible project-based learning units with strong interdisciplinary connections. During this school year, first year students will design a 21st century playground; fourth grade students will study sustainable energy sources for neighborhoods; and grade two students create a topographic map of New Mexico within walking distance of a nearby wasteland.
The Santa Fe Center urges schools to rediscover their communities as a rich learning ground that provides opportunities for children to build relationships, find and solve problems, and discover the importance of the collective good. The geography, history, economics and sociology of each community provide schools with opportunities to create unique learning experiences for their students. In Aspen, for example, the kids will study their prairie dog village and build rich relationships with their neighbors next door in the retreat center.
“Our learning opportunities are multiplied by 100 when we look to our community,” said school principal Tina Morris.
These experiences transform and counteract the bland, mechanistic similarity that often accompanies textbook addiction.
Our partners develop detailed exhibits to explain and celebrate their students’ learning and make their thinking visible. Visitors who enter Amy Biehl as the school opens are greeted by an incredible display of geometric thinking with brightly colored paintings filled with sophisticated geometric patterns developed by third-grade mathematicians.
The Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leadership is committed to helping kids like Lupe experience learning at its best. We’re excited to partner with Santa Fe Schools to demonstrate what Human-Centered School Transformation can accomplish.
Linda Henke is Executive Director of the Santa Fe Center for Transformational School Leaders. Zach Taylor is director of international programming and Santa Fe.