Rethinking High School

How we educate high school students in the U.S. needs to change. Our high schools are no longer relevant to the needs of 21st century learners and the system must be restructured. This restructuring will allow students to choose from a variety of new study options. The days of “one size fits all” for secondary education services are coming to a close – it is now about providing students with a “customized” course of study in their pursuit of a high school diploma. Students should have a choice among the traditional high school model, a community high-school model (a hybrid between traditional and online instruction), and an early-college model that will allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree by taking a fifth year of high school.

Central to all three high school study options, or combination of options, is an intensive focus on making each learner’s secondary school experience a successful one (particularly at the freshman level), and offering ubiquitous student access to the Internet both in school and at home (using a variety of mobile computing devices). A synopsis of each program option required in a restructured high school include:

Freshman Academy

Research has shown that the transition between middle and high school is one of the most difficult developmental challenges a person faces in life. Students who are not successful in 9th grade are six times more likely to drop out before completing high school compared to their peers. The reasons for such a high failure rate include a variety of student factors upon entering high school:

– Physically and emotionally changing;

– Different setting with different expectations and experiences;

– Moving from a school environment designed to nurture children to one that

is designed to produce independent young adults;

– Academics are more challenging;

– Young teenagers are immersed with older teens.

A Freshman Academy helps to ameliorate these potential problems and issues by creating a “school within a school” environment as part of the larger high school student population. This is done by clustering 9th grade teaching teams and classrooms together, and utilizing group of upper classmen that will provide peer support. The program ensures that teachers have adequate student-focused common planning time and engage in cross-curricular instruction. Parent involvement and peer mentoring are also key components of the Academy.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Technology plays a large role in our students’ lives today. Personal devices can enhance and enrich learning opportunities both at home and at school. High schools today must be committed to allowing responsible, learning-centered use of personal devices at school so as to provide as many pathways to understanding and learning as possible for students.

Access to robust wireless networks is vital to student success these days using a variety of mobile computing devices. These devices can be either school-provided or personal laptops, tablets, or smart phone; however access to the Internet must be filtered to be in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Access from a personal device should be primarily for Internet use, but students can be given access to their own email account and document folder on the school’s network server.

For purposes of allowing students ubiquitous access to the Internet for instructional purposes, “technology” means a privately-owned wireless and/or portable electronic hand-held equipment that includes, but is not limited to: existing and emerging mobile communication systems and smart technologies, portable Internet devices, hand-held entertainment systems or portable information technology systems that can be used for word processing, wireless Internet access, image capture/recording, sound recording, and information transmitting / receiving/storing.

Hybrid Community High School

The creation of a hybrid community high school, in addition to traditional high, merges traditional and online learning into one customizable secondary education program. This hybrid is particularly attractive to students who do not do well in the traditional high school setting, such students at-risk of academic failure, gifted students, or students who are just plain bored and need something different. This merger results in one, united flexible-program high school for “non-traditional” high school students who, for one reason or another, would prefer to complete many of their required credits online instead of in the classroom.

Every student attending the hybrid program receives a graduation plan during their enrollment period that best meets their individual needs. To ensure that students have the best opportunity for success with a program of this sort, a mandatory three-week (15 day) orientation is required of all new students designed to prepare them for independent online work using an online curriculum (such as e2020), while the faculty assesses each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

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