A 360° View of a Student Designed High School
A 360° View of a Student Designed High School
A student-designed school should be presented by the designers themselves. On November 14th, the 9th grade students of 360 High School in Providence RI did exactly that: plan and host the school’s first open house. Parents, friends, and community members came to catch a glimpse of life as a student in the nation’s first student-designed school.
But the story of 360’s open house doesn’t start here. It starts with a group of students who dared to think big about what they needed to succeed in their education. These students — with the help of community members — translated their needs into ideas, and the ideas into designs for a school that is truly student-centered. Integral in the process was Kerry Tuttlebee, the principal of 360 High School, who collaborated to bring the students’ designs to life. 360 High opened in September, and the current 9th grade students have stepped into leadership positions to continue to realize the original design team’s vision.
On a sunny autumn morning, I entered the familiar school house where I was greeted by a group of cheerful students at a sign-in table. “Welcome to 360 High School,” they exclaimed, while inviting me over to create a name tag and presenting me with a navy blue goody bag with the 360 logo printed on the front. I was greeted by Kerry, who I thanked for creating the event. She sternly replied, “We didn’t put this together, the students did! Thank them!” I was handed a schedule and guided to my first classroom, where students discussed their “hubs”: an advisory class where students begin their day. Students described examples of morning activities they do in their hubs. The activities were less about academic content and more about strengthening connections with their peers and teachers.
One of the key components of 360 High School that makes it so different than any education experience I’ve ever had is their emphasis on the importance of both academic and social-emotional growth. Based on the student design team’s vision of a new school, educators at 360 High have prioritized the importance of strong relationship building. This wasn’t all too surprising, given my experiences during 360 high’s first day of school, which was my first time visiting the school. My colleague and I showed up in order to shoot some photos, and interview a few teachers. On that first day, I was surprised to see that there was little talk about course content , and no speeches about rules and the disciplinary measures. Instead, I saw teachers and students engaging in team building exercises. I saw teachers sharing their passions and interests, and encouraging their students to do the same. Students laughed at silly ice-breaker games, and told stories of where they came from. This was surely very different from the traditional middle schools the students came from, and although visibly nervous (maybe even confused), students participated in a day filled of these types of activities — getting to know their peers, and getting to know their teachers and school leaders.
Even after just two months it is clear that the relationships between students are supportive and strong. During the open house, students seamlessly worked together during their presentations, assisting each other when their peers were struggling to find a way to describe their experiences in an education system that was very different from their previous one. It reminded me of how much of student learning can come from their peers if we give them the safe environments for collaborative learning.
Students confidently described what made 360 High School a unique learning experience. They explained how they use Google Classroom to organize and post their assignments, how they worked with a proficiency scale, allowing them to work at their own pace, and how they run town hall meetings for school decisions. They spoke openly to groups of parents and adults about their experiences, guiding us through aspects of the school that make it unique. Some students admitted being apprehensive when they first came to the school, but after two months in proclaiming that they “never wanted to go back to the old school.” One thing was certain, students were owning their education experience. “We’re expected to take our own education into our hands,” one student said.
By design, students didn’t much discuss what they were learning in class, but rather, how they were learning it. Although students mastery of core academic content is a high priority for Kerry and her team, the students are excited about the environment and relationships that are being built to foster such learning. It is amazing to see how close students and faculty have become in just a short amount of time, and it is clear how important students feel these relationships are for their learning. As the school continues to grow, and more grades are introduced, it will be interesting to see how 360 High will evolve.
At the end of the open house, we had a town hall meeting in which students wrapped up their presentation with a quiz built by 360 students that we accessed through our smartphones to help us recap what we had learned, and to see who could answer all the questions correctly as quickly as possible. With roaring laughter, and applause we finished up the quiz and hailed the victor (I came in 3rd place). Students invited Kerry to end the open house. She recognized all of 360’s students, teachers, and organizations and community members that helped bring the dream of a student designed school into the real world.
360 High School sometimes feels less like a school and more like a family. I felt both inspired and proud to have been a part of the creation of the school. Getting to see the growth and development of the school has been exciting, and I look forward to following students and educators at 360 High as they continue to build their school.