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The Focused Student: Thinking beyond the traditional

One of the major functions of school is to teach students to be flexible and creative in their thinking, so there is some irony to the fact that the educational process itself so often lacks those properties.

“School” has been structured pretty much the same way for more than half a century, which is as far back as my memory goes. Start at 8 a.m., out at 3 p.m., six periods each with a different subject.

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The subjects, too, are largely what they’ve always been with minor changes to infer that “shop” is less relevant and tech more so.

Perhaps it’s time to infuse school with some new ideas and options.

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What about a more flexible day? College is definitely not an 8-to-2 type of institution. What if you had two time frames? The early birds could start and end at the regular time, for those in athletics or who have other after-school commitments. The second set would run from 10:30 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. Under this plan, everyone is present from 10:30 to 2:30 for lunch, assemblies, announcements and social engagement.

Studies say that some teens would do better if they started later in the day, and I’m sure many teachers would like that option as well. Since teacher contracts appear to be tied to the number of classes or minutes, all this plan would do is shift the minutes back. Department meetings might be a little tougher to schedule, but that could be worked out. Students would still have a six-period day but would there be an option of a seventh period either at the beginning or end of their day for those who were interested.

Another idea, and it’s not new because Pasadena Unified has done it for years, is an academy school or classes. Students would take core classes in the morning and then go to the “academy” for specialty training in an academic or vocational realm of their choosing. Two potential partners locally could be the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just up the street from four area high schools, and/or USC-Verdugo Hills Hospital. One would be a science academy and the other would be a medical academy. There are blueprints for such a structure already out there. Both venues would offer an exciting and wide range of opportunities for students, and would provide a unique and nontraditional learning environment that didn’t look like “school.”

Implementing such a plan would of course involve clearing some hurdles, from the practical (transportation) to the logistical (available space) to the legal (liability and supervision). But this might be offset by the significant benefits to both sides.

Here is another idea: What about a collaboration of area schools on an elective course such as leadership or some other subject? St. Francis, Flintridge Preparatory School, La Cañada High School, and The Hillside School are all within walking distance of one another. Imagine each school selecting a group of students that would come together for a semester to hear guest speakers and exchange ideas on corporate, political and individual leadership, ethics and values. With the technology capabilities we have today, this could even be done on a regional, national or international basis with resources being contributed by many to create a rich and exciting experience that would challenge and involve students while showing them other perspectives.

The possibilities are unlimited, but none will be realized until schools as institutions begin the process of thinking about “school” as being something more than what it has been. The ultimate goal is engaged, enthusiastic learners. There are a lot of things we can and should do to make that happen.

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