My 11 year old’s first day at her new school-almost like a continuation school

Brave Generation Academy Hub, Belem

When I walked my daughter in to school today I could not help but to feel that I am walking in to a high functioning continuation school in Los Angeles. Albeit there are differences but more importantly are the opportunities that can take place in sharing common ground in the models. Continuation schools in Los Angeles historically were designed for high school students who for various reasons were not being successful in the mainstream school. Either they failed many classes or got pregnant or dropped out and want to return to school. Typically these schools are the exception and are much smaller than the local high school; students are assigned the basics and are encouraged by the teachers to learn the material, take the assessment, get the grade and pass the class. The goals are for students to graduate from high school. On rare occasion students in continuation schools are encouraged to excel and go beyond high school requirements; some have been known to take community college courses earning college credit and being able to apply to attend university, but that is the rare exception. 28% graduation rate from continuation school is the norm.

What is interesting about the continuation school model is that there is tremendous opportunity to tailor the school design to increase opportunity for its students and their interests. Besides having to meet the required number of learning minutes and the school district calendar the schools are able to shape the bell schedule, maybe the curriculum material and put their students at the centre. I have not fully researched continuation schools but from those that I visited I always walked away wondering how it could be designed differently. Interestingly when I walked in to BGA with my daughter I thought how similar the space felt. I will share what some of the key differences are and then share ways that the two models could learn from one another to best serve their learners.

The differences:

For one- BGA is not intended for just dropouts or those who couldn’t be successful in a traditional school. The model could work for these students but it not deliberately designed with them in mind.

Brave Generation Academy is an ‘eco-system’ of hubs growing around the world that offers a recognized curriculum in a semi-flexible manner and design. The hubs all have common elements and structures: they are open from 8-6pm, Monday-Friday staffed with two learning coaches. In the hubs it looks like hip co-working spaces with a little kitchen area, bean bags, open tables to work on… Students trickle in as they please and are expected to be present and working for at least five hours, five days a week. It does not matter one’s physical location as all the curriculum and content is delivered virtually via content managers who are subject matter experts. The learning coach role is a cross between a camp counselor and mentor. The hubs run year long so starting in mid-July is not a problem.

Students engage at whatever curricular level they are on and can self pace- it is possible to finish one’s course earlier then the intended timeline and there is flexibility to be able to move ahead or do other activities. Students choose which subjects to work on when and can design their days of learning. At the end of each module they are assessed where they take a test and receive feedback from course managers who work centrally. Ultimately achievement will be measured based on their success taking the IGCSE exams, administered through Cambridge Assessment. Using Cambridge, BGA is able to systematize and replicate the expected learning that students do for their academics. Academically the hubs are nearly identical as a result of this centralized approach using online learning tools.

The hubs differ based on their location, the community and the expertise of the learning coaches. Also the students that are attracted to each of the hubs probably vary a bit. BGA tries to locate hubs near community resources/centres to help integrate students into the ‘real world’ and open up their opportunities. Similar to the high school I co-lead in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles located in a mid-rise skyscraper, BGA students attend hubs next to museums, innovation centres, boating centres, football clubs… Students each day walk in having taken different modes of transportation, passing different types of professionals and eventually will have opportunities that integrate them to their surroundings and interests. Each hub’s community will vary and in some cases the hub becomes the academic vehicle for a competitive sports team or perhaps students engaged in other types of activities such as professional acting. Within the hub the learning coaches are expected to get to know each of the learners, their interests and goals. They are there to keep the peace and unite the learners attending that location. They also are to sit down with each of the learners 1:1 and review their goals, achievements and help them set their next sprint. Learning coaches are not the academic teachers and are not expected to provide academic support. When learners need extra support academically they are expected to reach out to their classmates, Google it and then for last resort reach out to the course manager online.

Continuation schools in Los Angeles are not quite as ‘open’ as BGA and flexible. Perhaps this is because of the different types of learners? At BGA there are students who found the traditional system not working mixed with students like my daughter who’s family lifestyle needs something more flexible than the agrarian calendar. There are also students who are part of a sports team that instead of playing sports at a club and attending a different school the club has brought in BGA to be the educational component. The hub design compared to ‘school’ implies a more open, trusting and goal driven setting. Grouping students by age is less significant; in fact my 11.5 year old daughter befriended a 15 year old and a 20 year old from Mozambique working on her A-levels.

Imagine if one were to say to students in continuation schools that you just need to attend five hours a day between 8-6pm. Continuation schools might be overwhelmed with applicants in that this kind of schedule allows students to have more say in how they organize their time.

The challenge thus far in BGA’s model is the exam focus and it seems that this is the ultimate motivator for the learners, learning coaches and organization. Though they promote building knowledge, skills, relationships using only one kind of assessment system may limit the real opportunity that exists.

Continuation schools (and others) may learn from the agility of the BGA model and expand the offer to incorporate real project based learning and perhaps adopt an agile mindset. A group of educators from the Netherlands designed an Edu-Scrum method of teaching where teachers provide learners with the why and what and students work together on the how. One could even build in the Gold Standard, Bucks Institute Project Based Learning and use their rubrics to help provide meaningful, aligned feedback to learners as well.

Ultimately we need an educational revolution that works with the mantra that every child can learn and grow; each at their own rate and in their own ways. The challenge is how do we support this on a systemic level and make sure no learner falls through the cracks. Learning coaches help to mitigate this role.

Published by marasimmons

A passionate educator turned world traveler embarking on a nomadic lifestyle with my family. Learning to appreciate a life where we have the privilege of choosing our destiny and embracing it.

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