#RethinkSchool: Creating an Ecosystem of Innovative Learning

To rethink school, each of us needs to contribute to creating an ecosystem of innovative learning. Apprenticeships can be a key cornerstone to providing innovative opportunities for students to take learning outside the classroom walls. Knoxville Leadership Foundation partners with local businesses to offer apprenticeships for their students to learn how to build homes for families in need within their community. This innovative public/private partnership affords the opportunity for students to learn multiple “hands on” home building techniques along with providing soft skills that guide students toward successful apprenticeship experiences. As students are building homes for families, this community is partnering to build an apprenticeship-friendly ecosystem.

Innovation sparks innovation. As a part of the “Back to School” week, Dr. Andrea Ramirez, Director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives (CFOI), visited faith-driven institutions and mission-minded organizations practicing innovative approaches to student driven education.

In the Austin area, Ramirez visited an independent Catholic K-8 school where innovation is connected with both technology and service learning. A team of three directors work together to make this innovative approach come to life for students. The director of innovation works with teachers to discuss upcoming learning objectives and then works to create projects that serve the community with both the director of technology and the director of service learning. The campus has a Maker Space where students can design and create modules and products that help their community while learning meaningful skillsets along the way. For example, the students recently built a dog house using the materials and tools in the maker space and are participating in a competition to raise awareness for local animal shelter adoptions.

Dr. Andrea Ramirez attended a second grade class at Little Rock Christian Academy where students built mini-homes with cardboard, tape, and straw to illustrate the “Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs” story.

At Little Rock Christian Academy (LRCA) in Pulaski, Arkansas, juniors and seniors shared how they learned transferable skills from their apprenticeship experiences such as problem solving, patient care, building solid relationships with colleagues and critical thinking. Directors of STEM subjects shared how “Project Lead the Way” has provided professional development opportunities for teachers while allowing students to engage in “design to build” projects. One of their middle schoolers became interested in learning about and building prosthetics. In the process of learning how to build a prosthetic, he discovered that a second grader at his own school needed a prosthetic hand. He was able to design and build a hot pink prosthetic hand that she is currently learning to use. Many teachers at LRCA offer students the opportunity to use 20% of their class time to learn about an individual topic of interest. In roundtables, students shared how they had utilized the time to learn about cooking, robotics and drone building. Creating a problem-solving mentality begins in elementary school at LRCA as second graders build mini-homes with cardboard, tape and straw to illustrate the “Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs” story. Different grades of wind were used in a team competition to see which mini-home could withstand the varying wind levels.

Dr. Andrea Ramirez visited Wilson Central High School, a local public high school that has partnered with Cumberland University.

In Middle Tennessee, a private university committed to being “a part of the community” versus “apart from the community” has partnered with four local public high schools to offer dual-enrollment courses. Ramirez visited Wilson Central High School (WCHS), one of the local public high schools in Wilson County that has partnered with Cumberland University. WCHS students shared that taking college courses on their high school campus has helped them develop self-efficacy toward pursuing multiple pathways to success. The dual enrollment courses are available to public, private and homeschool students. Administrators from both WCHS and Cumberland University attributed strong communication and incorporating suggestions from feedback sessions as being keys to ensuring this partnership thrives. They do not view the partnership as a “public/private” partnership as much as a community partnership.

Dr. Andrea Ramirez visited KnoxWorx of Knoxville Leadership Foundation, a faith-driven non-profit organization, and discussed pre-apprenticeship training.

Apprenticeships can be a key cornerstone to providing innovative opportunities for students to take learning outside of the classroom walls. The last visit on Ramirez’s “Back to School” tour was to Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF), a faith-driven non-profit organization, to discuss their efforts in partnering with local businesses in offering apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship training to ensure students have solid footing before entering the workforce. KnoxWorx, an initiative of KLF, focuses on workforce development for youth and young adults that are out of school and/or unemployed. The majorities either dropped out of high school or are coming out of juvenile detention. KnoxWorx leadership shared that in most cases, traditional schooling models were not a good fit for their students. KnoxWorx’s pre-apprenticeship training includes modules covering topics such as punctuality, sociability, interviewing skills, ethics, mental toughness and presentation. Construction students learn skillsets to build and repair houses. KLF has a separate home owning readiness program and the homes that are built in the apprenticeship are available to many first-time home buyers in their local community. In addition, when students are employed or in an apprenticeship, this faith-driven non-profit continues to help walk alongside them to address identified barriers. This innovative partnership affords the opportunity for students to learn multiple “hands on” home building techniques along with providing essential soft skills that equip students toward successful apprenticeship experiences. As students are building homes for families, this community is partnering to build an apprenticeship-friendly ecosystem.  These visits highlighted a few ways educators, administrators and organizational leaders are taking “out of the box” steps to rethink school.

 

Dr. Andrea Ramirez is Acting Director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.