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Teachers, students, administrators and community members are writing a proposal to be considered for the XQ Super School challenge, a $50 million grant that will be used to create five new super schools.
“The Super School Project is an open contest inviting teams to reimagine the American high school to prepare our students for the challenges they face today and tomorrow: in college, in the workplace and in life,” according to XQ The Super School Project.
The XQ Institute works with students, parents, educators, administrators and others to reimagine the American education system and revolutionize learning.
The group meets to decide on roles, does research and then meets to share its findings and add to its proposal. For example, English teacher Adam Conway, music teacher Jill Young and sophomore Trinity Madison created a survey to hand out to AC lab students.
The team members are in part basing their proposal on a study assistant superintendent John Simpson and other educators conducted in 2014. They explored “what are contexts and cultures that support learning” inside and outside of schools.
Simpson and his team invited community members to explore all parts of the school. Then they went to places outside the school, the art museum, the YMCA, to observe learning.
“What would schools be like if they were like this? What if students never knew a desk? A bell? Credits or three years of required math?” Simpson said.
The grant will be a multi-step process, which will get more specific as they go on and spread out to be district-wide. If the proposal is accepted, the district, with help from XQ, will get to rethink education.
“The number one problem [with the American education system] is that it’s not designed to provide students with opportunities of relevance and meaning… you’re the only one who can sit in a course and say, ‘Is this relevant?’” Simpson said.
When teacher and Chelsea Center director Julie Burchett first heard of The Super School Project, she called principal Dr. Jon Clark and, kidding, suggested they apply for it.
To her surprise, Dr. Clark said, “Yes,” and for the past four months, the Webster Groves XQ Super School committee has been conceptualizing and re-designing Webster Groves High School, or as they would call it, North Star High School.
“I love the fact that we have a team of staff looking for ways to change the way students learn,” Dr. Clark said.
One of the main themes of North Star High School is democracy. The name itself is derived from Frederick Douglass, who, after escaping slavery, started an anti-slavery newspaper called North Star.
The educational system at North Star is student-centered, not teacher-driven. Students have more room to explore their passions and explore career ideas, and their learning is completely personalized.
While students around St. Louis are waking up to the alarms around 6 a.m., North Star students would be sleeping in. The North Star school day would start later to accommodate for the recommended amount of sleep for teenagers.
According to Burchett, the school system of today was designed during the industrial revolution. With the influx of uneducated immigrants coming into the United States, a school system was needed that could educate students quickly and efficiently, just like an assembly line. Students went down the conveyor belt, learning their required math, English, social studies and science just like a car getting its parts.
With a bell marking each class, students confined to their individual desks and single-file lines in the hallways, the school system of today reflects factories, Burchett said.
“It worked back then because they had a lot of kids that they needed to educate from the immigrants that were coming in, but our world has changed a lot since 1900,” Burchett said.
Their first deadline is Feb. 1, and if approved, the Webster Groves XQ Super School committee will continue designing North Star High School in the hopes to pass more deadlines
“Even if we don’t win, I think it’s a really useful exercise to go through as a school,” Burchett said.