School and community merge in Big Picture Learning

By Lisa Cooley | Nov 19, 2012

When I first joined the RSU 3 school board I participated in what was called a "future search" process. About 40 people came together over the course of a weekend and outlined our wishes and goals for our school system.

A lot of things were agreed upon in this small group, but none more strongly than the wish for our schools to be a larger part of our community.

Eight years later, a process was again undertaken to find our community’s vision for our education system. Eight years later, one very strong wish was to see our schools become a larger part of our community ... and our community to take a larger role in our schools.

What’s the trouble? They are our schools. Why can’t we take our own values and make them a part of the education of our children?

Students are so busy memorizing facts and taking tests that there is no time for them to build connections to Waldo County and make it part of their learning and their growth.

It’s not the fault of the school district. We are handed mandate after mandate from Washington, D.C., and from Augusta, and these all say, teach more facts, give more tests.

So what’s a school district to do?

Our schools will never truly become part of our community until we restructure teaching and learning, weave it together with this county’s people, places and resources.

That is one huge reason why I want to bring Big Picture Learning (BPL)to RSU 3.

This year, our RSU 3 Board of Directors voted to investigate starting an alternative school-within-a-school at Mount View. What should that school be like? What need will it fill? What will it do for our students that the regular schools do not?

BPL is a school model founded upon the idea that learning should be real, it should take place in the community, and it should wrap its curriculum around the passions and interests of each individual child.

Why should we create a BPL school instead of fashioning one ourselves? Because BPL has started 60 schools in the U.S. and more overseas. They have been around for 17 years and in all that time they have remained true to their fundamental ideal. They’ve done it before. They’re good at it. They successfully prepare students for the career or college of their dreams. (98 percent of BPL students are accepted to college.)

At BPL schools, learning happens in the real world. Their internship program (Learning Through Internships, or LTI) begins by helping students locate the right experience for them. Mentors at the internships are trained by BPL to provide a positive learning experience, while showing the student what it’s like to pursue their dreams in the real world. The student then develops a related project of her own, which she pursues at school. Through these projects, students explore their interests and meet their learning goals. Instead of tests, they do quarterly exhibitions of their work and accumulate a four-year portfolio.

The Advisory is the class unit of BPL schools, and is a hallmark of its success. Students stay with the same group and the same adviser for four years. This contributes to the family feeling and the culture of mutual respect and understanding that pervades BPL schools. They take relationships seriously. They make time in the schedule of school for those relationships to grow.

Big Picture students dig deeply into their passions and interests.

Big Picture students learn how to act and how to be responsible while doing what they love in the real world.

Big Picture students are respectful, because they receive respect in the most important way possible: they are given the time, support and resources they need to pursue their dreams. They learn to be good citizens because their passions connect them to the world.

Big Picture students don’t see a barrier between school and the world. The world is their school.

Imagine what it will be like when students of our Big Picture Learning school are spread throughout our area, participating in the activities of adults, learning our culture, our history, and contributing to our future success by taking part.

Bring Big Picture Learning to RSU 3, and our community’s dream will become a reality: Waldo County will play a huge role in the education of our children.

Questions? I’m sure you have them. Concerns? So do I. Let’s talk about it.

Lisa Cooley is a member of the RSU 3 School Board.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Lisa Cooley | Nov 19, 2012 17:32

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Posted by: Lisa Cooley | Nov 19, 2012 17:20 opinions, above, are my own and don't represent any other member of the RSU 3 School Board or the Board as a whole.

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