Was it more like the Final Four of March Madness or a roller coaster ride at Six Flags? There were lots of students with sweaty palms as if they were about to hurl down a fifty foot drop. However, I think it was probably more like the queasy stomach they might get before playing before thousands of screaming fans. It was “Exhibition” week at ACE Leadership High School, and after weeks of preparation, our students performed and triumphed.
I remember being fifteen, and I remember being so awkward and unsure of myself that I doubt I could have summoned the courage to talk to adults about complex ideas that I had learned at school. Let alone explain these ideas to working professionals who actually create the buildings that I used as the inspiration for my project. During the week of March 5 2012, we had 140 budding 15 and 16 year-old architects, engineers, and contractors taking turns to present their ideas to at least 60 industry volunteers. It was a thrilling high stakes public exhibition of their learning and watching it take place rivaled the Final Four.
From Judge to Coach
At ACE Leadership High School, 80 percent of our students are off-track to graduation. They have failed at traditional school and their talent has gone unrecognized. Many of them have convinced themselves that school is the problem in their lives rather than the pathway to a prosperous future. It is hard for successful adults to understand, but school has been a low-stakes experience for our students because they have coped with the pressure by avoiding it. Their experiences in class have been proprietary—one dimensional relationship built on the supremacy of the teacher and there has been little at stake for the student when they fail. Instead, it is just the latest in a string of indicators that school is not for them, and it is one more step toward foreclosing on the future.
Changing the proprietary nature of the student-teacher relationship is the most important thing we can do for our students. Their queasy stomachs are a sign that there is something at stake in their performance. They care what others think and the anticipation of being judged may be scary for now, but it will soon be exhilarating. Exhibitions also change the nature of schooling for the teacher. They move from being the judge to the coach and the student is the public example of preparation and performance. After all, coaches do not actually play the game; their job is to get the athletes ready to compete.
The horizon you see is a function of where you choose to be, and our students have chosen to be at ACE Leadership High School preparing themselves for reality—a career in an industry that cares deeply about their intellectual and emotional growth as future professionals. The learning comes from the authentic industry practice that is the basis for the curriculum and school culture. Meanwhile, the regular presence of industry leaders on campus gives students a glimpse of the horizon. It is a future with a career rooted in a network of industry professionals that
will know them well. The school provides the social capital that affluent families take for granted and the daily experiences of school force students to see a prosperous future rather than foreclosing on it.
Exhibitions are the culmination of the best things at ACE Leadership. They reflect our school at its apex and it is evidence that we are serious about re-engineering high school. To do this, everyone at our school must be a learner and we benefit greatly from partnerships with some of the most talented school reformers in the country. Our outward focus gives us the expertise to turn our passion for young people to successful strategies that can change their lives:
- Larry Myatt, Education Resources Consortium, has taught us that a high leverage strategy to improve achievement was through high stakes public assessment that is matched with high levels of social and emotional support. He was right. These exhibitions are game changers for our students, because they feel supported enough to rise to the occasion.
- Michael Soguero, Eagle Rock Professional Development Center, has helped us build a professional development system that gives regular systematic attention to the growth of our faculty. Becoming a coach that prepares their team to play is a difficult transition for many teachers and it demands consistent support for faculty.
- Dr. Pedro Noguera, New York University, is an Advisory Member of our professional development center and he tells us that school by itself is not enough. School must provide a new context for the future that is full of hope and opportunity for students—a powerful re-framing of a young person’s identity because of what they are asked to do and who they associate with.
- Everette Hill from the New Mexico Forum Foundation, has pushed us to think beyond the walls of our school and to find partners as part of a Positive Youth Development strategy. Caring and knowledgeable adults help our students grow their potential, and
- Tim Kubik form the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), has taught us how project-based learning can be a powerful instructional method that gets results. He has helped us see beyond the false trade-off between state standards and relevant engaging learning. Instead, with Tim’s help we live the mantra, “learning by doing.”
Written by Tony Monfiletto
Principal/Executive Director of ACE Leadership High School
Executive Director of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership