The Biden-appointed Education Secretary elect, Miguel Cardona, recently said, "We must embrace this opportunity to reimagine education."
I have mentioned envisioning a different type of school for Native American students in many of my earlier columns. The comments of Cardona made me revisit some of my thoughts. What group of educators or parents will be first in the area to reimagine a truly different school for not only Native American students but for other students who do not find much success and often drop out?
Let’s imagine that a few parents, teachers, community members and students sit down over coffee and tea, cheese and crackers and reimagine this new kind of "school." As we tackle this exercise, there is one caveat. We need to remember that the closer our school resembles schools of today, the greater the likelihood it will not do what we want it to do. The greater the difference, the more likely it will be what we are looking for. What could it look like?
Our reimagined school will focus on five essentials. 1. Student/teacher relationships. 2. Community partnerships. 3. Discovering the future. 4. Finding enjoyment in learning. 5. Learning how to learn.
Our school will have no grades as we know them today.
Every student will have a personalized learning plan dependent upon needs and interests.
There will be three requirements for all students. 1. Each student must show how he or she is helping others. 2. Each student must learn another language of their choice. 3. When students are ready to graduate, they must present in a video format and in front of parents, staff and peers why they feel they are ready. There will be no other requirements that every student has to complete.
Our school will be open seven days a week, 12 months of the year.
Every student will have a personal advisor(s) who the student will select.
Every day will be different. There will be no predetermined schedules.
There will be no waiting lists. Everyone is welcome.
The Seven Sacred Teachings of Native Americans will be the guiding codes of behavior for all students.
All learning will be based on the goals set by the student and the advisor.
When a student is lacking in an area deemed necessary by the advisor and parent, the student will be counseled into taking more experiences in that area.
Our school will partner with a community college or a four-year college to make it a K-16 school to use traditional terms.
Graduation from “high school” will be determined by the successful completion of goals rather than credits.
The younger the student the more structured their day will be. The older the student the less structured their day will be. The students will learn that with more freedom more responsibility will follow.
The total community will be engaged in helping our students find success.
Parents will be our partners in learning and must pledge to do so.
Older students will be teachers and tutors for younger students.
Native American culture will be woven into all areas of learning.
Getting along with fellow students and teachers will be an integral part of all learning.
A question to be asked of students for all new learning will be, “How will this be helpful to you today and in the future?”
Will our new “school” be the answer for every student? No, but it will be a huge start towards creating a different kind of school for every student who is not finding success.
The thinking behind a virtual school, which is now being entertained by our local school district, is headed in the right direction as a “different” kind of school. Every school in the area should have one. I hope they follow through with it.
As students become more proficient at learning how to learn, more likely than not, most learning in the future will be done virtually. This will gradually eliminate those huge expensive boxes we call schools today.
Which district will be the first to imagine a truly different school? One thing is for sure, whoever does it first they better open their doors wide because students will come flocking in.
To quote Cardona, “For too many students your zip code and skin color remain the best predictors of your opportunities you will have later in your lifetime.” Reimagining a different school will change this.
Riddle: Which one of Santa’s reindeer is the fastest? (Answer: Dasher.) Hundreds of students in our area are looking for the school that best fits them. Who will be first and fastest to imagine and create such a school?
Imagining new and different kinds of schools is challenging but the rewards are unbelievable when one considers how many more students will enjoy learning and will graduate.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.