Jennings Community School (JCS) recognizes the large difference between active and passive learning experiences. The brain learns more, deeper, and with longer lasting effects from real life learning experiences. In one-way learning experiences such as listening to a lecture or merely observing, learning can occur but has less impact and fades more quickly as compared to getting involved and participating actively. The school places its students in situations where they have to think, solve problems, interact with others in situations as close to real life as possible. Students must establish goals, create learning plans, establish courses of action and be held accountable for results. This happens most effectively through experience and activities where students hold important roles and exercise responsibility. This is learning by doing. With experiential learning everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. JCS teachers see themselves as “facilitators of learning” in helping students be responsible citizens, achieve fulfilling careers, become self-directed, lead healthy lives and become lifelong learners. The various items around this wheel describe key features of the school.
Service learning offers opportunities for students to make a difference in their school and the community through their own efforts and applying school learning. This results in the good feelings of self-efficacy or agency that “I can make a difference.” Examples include volunteering at a community agency such as the Goodwill, helping in a food kitchen and helping maintain the school’s computers or touring visitors. JCS expects every student to serve in a role that accomplishes important school tasks. Community service is expected of very student.
Personal Learning Plans
Every student has a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) at Jennings Community School. The PLP, tailored to their needs, learning styles and school expectations is developed by the student in consultation with their advisor and their parents. It contains goals, how to achieve those goals and progress toward goals, projects and graduation. The PLP is reviewed and updated periodically by the student, advisor and parents. Goal setting and its attainment are elements for success at the school and in life.
Trips to various places in the United States and beyond increase understanding of different cultures, history, geography and other important learnings. Students plan trips by researching budgets, meals, lodging, maps and using the Internet for learning about destinations and route highlights. Trips include journals, interviews, photography and reflection. Many students report that trips have been among the most important stimulating eye-opening learning experiences of their schooling years.
Courses, Seminars, Workshops
The school provides specific courses on topics of importance and standard school subjects often in a seminar or workshop mode to increase active learning by participation and involvement. These might include, for example, the science of nutrition or modern politics with students carrying out activities that stimulate interest and further exploration or community action. Many seminars or workshops emerge from world, state or local current news events. Community experts and local resource people share their experiences with students as “sparks,” activities to spur interests, excite ideas and serve as jumping off points to new vocabulary and concepts. The world and all of its complexity and variety need to be understood by students.
Restorative justice is a process where all people affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the wrong and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. Three key ideas support restorative justice. First is the understanding that the victim and the surrounding community have both been affected by the action of the offender. Second, the offender’s obligation is to make amends with both the victim and the involved community. Third, and the most important process of restorative justice, is the concept of ‘healing,’ or the collaborative unburdening of pain for the victim, offender, and community. All parties engage in creating agreements in order to avoid recidivism and to restore safety for how the wrongdoing can be righted which allows the victim to have direct say in the judgment process. This gives offenders the opportunity to understand the harm they have caused, while demonstrating to the community that the offender might also have also suffered harm. Healing by reintegration of offenders into the community, strives to restore harmony, health, and well-being by comprising personal accountability, decision-making and the making right of harm.
Exchanges help students to understand how another community or culture works by exchanging positions for a time. For example, a student or several students go to a rural community for two weeks and live in homes of their students and attend their school. This is often followed by a reverse exchange in which the rural students attend JCS. Exchanges have occurred across town and across national borders. Students report these as very powerful and stimulating learning experiences. They learn how other families manage, how other schools work and experience community resources. Often these involve values very different from their own background and students broaden understandings. Such experiences better prepare students for the real world of great diversity that they will experience for the rest of their lives.
Project-based learning involves a student or several students working on a topic of interest. The process includes researching the topic, gathering information, organizing information and reporting on their findings. The reports may take the form of a written essay, a dramatic presentation such as a play or musical, considerable discussion with adult resources and always include a public presentation before an audience of peers and adults. Student interest areas vary enormously and projects provide an outlet for exploring what may range from a passing interest to a lifelong career or avocation. Exploring a topic requires a fairly rigorous application and demonstration of many skills and knowledge areas. For this reason project-based learning has become an important part of the school’s curriculum and mode of operation.
The advisor-advisee program is the heart of the JCS school. Each student is assigned to an advisor with an advisory group, the major subdivision of the school. The advisor works with the student to establish a Personal Learning Plan and its accomplishment. This requires daily contact, regular meetings and parental involvement. The advisor’s role includes many functions: friend, helper, guide, counselor, appraiser, record keeper, critic, facilitator, expediter, and arranger. The advisor helps the student grow in all areas–intellectual, social, physical–and to develop talents and uniqueness. The advisor is an educational broker. Like a travel agent, the advisor asks students where they want to go and helps make the best educational plans and schedules for getting there. The advisor helps parents and students fashion and design programs that best fit the needs of students. The advisory group of 15-20 students establishes a supportive home base where the group can plan activities and feel included.
Students as Resource
Students as resource is a concept that recognizes the worth and value of every student and that each has gifts and talents to share with the community. Schools short of resources such as money and staff often overlook the greatest resource in their midst, that of the students themselves. Students can teach, handle responsibilities, initiate, manage and make decisions given an environment where their talents are given rein and appreciated. For example, students can tutor, teach about a passion to others and participate on the school’s Board of Directors.
By serving an internship in an organization for a period of time, students learn a great deal about how an organization works, how adults interact and their own abilities and potential. These include internships and formal Work Experience programs for pay. Both immerse students in real world community organizations and businesses outside the school. Students learn the importance of record keeping, writing skills, and math skills which increases their motivation to improve their academic learning in school. Students learn that punctuality is critically important, schedules must be met, behavior must conform to norms, dress is important and courtesy is essential to the organization’s bottom line. These are real world learnings of great importance and have a great impact on students.
Online and Technology
JCS give every student an “office” meaning a desk with a computer linked to the Internet exclusively for them. The Internet and other technology resources are greatly valued by students carrying out their projects, satisfying interests or other learning activities. All students are expected to become proficient at word processing, e-mail, graphic programs, social media, presentation programs, Internet searching and other technology tools. Online learning programs are used for specific skill and knowledge development. For example, Kahn Academy provides an individualized program in math and other topics that has proven of value.
Cooperative learning refers to a learning strategy in which small teams–often as an aspect of project-based learning—each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a topic.
Each member of a team is responsible for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students collaborate through the task until all group members successfully understand and complete it. Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members gain from each other’s efforts as in (Your success benefits me and my success benefits you); Recognizes that all group members share a common fate. (We all sink or swim together here.); knows that one’s performance is mutually caused by oneself and one’s team members (We can not do it without you.); feel proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is recognized for achievement. (We congratulate you on your accomplishment!).
An interdisciplinary curriculum removes the boundaries between school subjects and increases the likelihood that skills and knowledge from different disciplines are applied to solving problems or learning about new topics. This departs from standard school curricula of separate subjects or what is sometimes referred to as “silos of knowledge.” The real world is not made up of just biology or just literature. Rather the brain sees the world in totality with a mixture of understandings and learnings. It learns from complexity although it sometimes requires highly specific knowledge. The mistake many schools make is to assume that dividing knowledge into separate areas will somehow combine in the brain as a more generalized picture of the world and knowledge. This does not happen for most people. It is important that students see the broader picture of the world, its features, its problems; its triumphs to better understand how the world works.
Excerpted from School Transformation and based on Jennings Community School (St. Paul, MN) website.